2016 BMW 3-Series vs. 2017 Infiniti Q50: Compare cars

October 6, 2016
2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

The BMW 3-Series, the benchmark for sport sedans, has fended off pretenders to its sporty throne time and again, but that's not necessarily the case any more. Strong efforts by Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Infiniti have posed real competition. At the same time, BMW's latest 3-Series has lost some of the driver engagement that has made it the flag-bearer for the brand's "Ultimate Driving Machine" tagline.

The BMW was last redesigned for the 2012 model year then tweaked slightly for 2016, and its contender in this battle of sport sedans, the Infiniti Q50, was completely redesigned for the 2014 model year then received a major update for 2016. How do they compare? It's closer than you might think.

MORE: Read our reviews of the 2016 BMW 3-Series and 2017 Infiniti Q50.

First, a disclaimer: It's not yet a fair fight. The Infiniti Q50 has been rated using our new system; the 3-Series hasn't. We're eager to even the playing field, and we're crunching the final numbers. Stay tuned to this space to see how it all shakes out because this is set to be a tight race. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling is a match of tried-and-true BMW looks versus Infiniti's striking creased surfaces. The 3-Series' design hasn't changed much from one generation to the next, but if it works, why change it? The lines are clean, classic, and elegant, with a sporty flair, on the sedan at least. BMW also offers a wagon and a hatchback called the GT that may not be as attractive, but they offer more utility.

Inside, the ambience is somewhat stark, and festooned with add-ons. Order the navigation system and you get the iDrive system with its center console control dial and a wide LCD screen that looks like an afterthought.

The Q50 is actually a half-size larger than the 3-Series. The sheet metal is simply striking. The creasing and sculpting on the sides is flowing and sensual, especially at the exaggerated intersection of curves and surfaces behind its rear doors.

The Q50's interior is organized around a sweeping theme that cordons off the controls to the driver with an arc that runs down the center console and also delineates a dual-cockpit look. At the center of the dash is the most controversial element: the dual-screen InTouch infotainment system. It features capacitive-touch displays, with a handful of redundant hard keys, but some controls are handled on one screen and displayed on the other.

2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

2016 BMW 3-Series

The BMW's cabin is spacious for those in the front seat, and there's plenty of room for cargo, but space in the rear seat is a bit tight. The Q50 benefits from comfortable front seats, more rear seat space than the class average, and a large trunk.

Driving pleasure is the main reason buyers choose luxury sport sedans, and while the Infiniti is a fine road car, it doesn't offer the ultimate control of the BMW.

A 3-Series delivers balanced handling and dynamics regardless of body style, but rear-wheel-drive sedans have a slight edge. It may have gotten softer and more comfortable with this generation, but it's still a capable back-road hustler that inspires confidence even at the limits of grip. And for those who want a track hero, BMW offers the 425-horsepower M3.

The Q50's driving experience is more programmable. Infiniti's "steer-by-wire" Direct Adaptive Steering offers nice heft and quick reactions in the Sport+ mode, but it lacks some of the feel of systems with a mechanical connection. The Q50 is a fun car to drive, but when pushed hard it won't readily take a set in a corner and it becomes unstable under braking. Infiniti tops the lineup with the 400-horspower Red Sport 400. It's a hot rod in a straight line, but it doesn't have the hardware to be a track athlete.

Both cars use turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engines. The BMW has fours in 180- and 240-horsepower configurations in the 320i and 328i, respectively. The 340i features 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 320 hp. While the base engine is under-powered in a premium car, the 328i feels stronger than its horsepower figure indicates and the 340i is a screamer.

Two green-oriented models are offered as well. The 328d delivers outstanding fuel efficiency with a turbodiesel inline-4 that makes 180 hp and a rip-snorting 280 pound-feet of torque. The 330e plug-in hybrid combines 248 horsepower with a 14-mile all-electric range and a 72 MPGe rating.

Infiniti's has a 208 hp 2.0-liter inline-4, and twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6s with either 300 or 400 horsepower. There is also a hybrid with a strong 360 hp and a fairly thrifty 30 mpg combined city/highway fuel economy figure.

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 3.0t 400

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 3.0t 400

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 3.0t 400

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 3.0t 400

2016 Infiniti Q50

2016 Infiniti Q50

BMW's volume model, the 328i, is EPA rated at 27 mpg combined. The 320i gets 28 mpg, the 340i delivers 23 mpg, and the 328d sips fuel to the tune of 36 mpg.

While our ratings are equal, the Q50 is slightly less thrifty. The 2.0t is rated at 26 mpg combined, the 300-hp version of the V-6 gets 23 mpg and the 400-hp version is rated one mpg lower.

With incomplete safety ratings for the Infiniti, and a "Marginal" rating for the BMW from the IIHS in the small overlap frontal test, it's hard to pick a winner in terms of safety. Both models are available with a wealth of active safety features, and we especially like Infiniti's 360-degree camera system.

As entry luxury models, both cars are priced reasonably, at least in base form, starting around $34,000. Standard equipment is somewhat sparse in the entry-level 320i, though, and we doubt you'll find many lightly optioned 3s on dealer lots. The base Q50 has a few more features, but both car's top models approach $50,000 and exceed it with options.

We're looking forward to the final result, when the overall scores indicate who comes out on top for 2017.

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Summary

8.2
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 3-Series delivers outstanding performance and comfort in a tastefully understated package.
7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Infiniti Q50 is an attractive sport sedan with good road feel, though some rivals have sharper track moves.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
2016 BMW 3-Series sedans and wagons provide the quintessential sporty experience, which is somewhat softened in the larger Gran Turismo hatchback.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Infiniti Q50 has flowing, organic lines and sensual, creased surfaces.
Read More

Performance

9.0
Expert Rating
Expect confident handling and excellent dynamics regardless of the 2016 3-Series model you choose.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
None of the various Infiniti Q50 sedans lacks for power; the Red Sport 400 is a rouged-up rocket.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 3-Series wagons and Gran Turismo provide more utility, but the sedans have good trunk space, too.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The Infiniti Q50's cabin is quiet, with great front seats and good room for the class.
Read More

Safety

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 3-Series doesn't have impeccable crash scores, but its available active-safety set helps make up for that.
Read More
The Q50 has incomplete crash test scores, but it has done well in limited testing. A wealth of active safety technologies inspires confidence.
Read More

Features

9.0
Expert Rating
A 2016 BMW 3-Series doesn't come cheaply, but with à la carte options you can get what you want without paying for anything you don't.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Infinti Q50 is very well equipped, but some may be put off by the twin-screen infotainment system.
Read More

Fuel Economy

7.0
Expert Rating
Fuel efficiency is pretty good for sport sedans, there's a highly efficient diesel, and a 330e plug-in hybrid with a projected 70+ MPGe is slated to make an appearance soon.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The 2.0-liter turbo delivers 26 mpg combined, while V-6 are thirstier and the hybrid tops out at 30 mpg combined.
Read More

MSRP

from $33,150
from $33,950

Invoice

from $31,000
from $31,574

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

28
26

Engine

Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L
Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L

Drivetrain

Rear Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Rear Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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