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Audi A3 Sportback v BMW 1 Series v Infiniti Q30: Can Nissan’s upmarket brand match its German rivals?

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Audi A3 Sportback v BMW 1 Series v Infiniti Q30: Can Nissan’s upmarket brand match its German rivals?

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From left to right: The BMW 1 Series, Infiniti Q30 and Audi A3 Sportback

Nissan’s upmarket brand Infiniti was launched in Britain eight years ago. The Q30 is Infiniti’s smallest model so far. It’s actually based on the Mercedes A-Class rather than a Nissan but the suspension has been fettled and there’s a new interior.

Competing against it here are the highly regarded Audi A3 Sportback and the BMW 1 Series.

The BMW’s new and more efficient three-cylinder petrol engine beats the other two on both power and torque but it’s the slowest here thanks to long gearing and slow throttle response.

audi-bmw-infin-4.jpgThe BMW is the slowest car tested

The Q30 gives the impression of extra sportiness but in reality the progressive Audi is the quickest car here. It also has the nicest controls, especially the gearchange and brakes. By comparison the 1 Series’s box feels stiff while the Q30’s controls are mushy with a lazy accelerator pedal, floppy gearchange and snatchy brakes.

Our test A3’s Sport-spec ride (on non-standard 18in alloys) is firm but never jarring. Still, we’d go for the softer SE suspension and standard 17in wheels.

BMW 1 Series 118i Sport 5dr ***

  • Engine size: 1.5-litre, petrol, turbo
  • List price: £22,460
  • Target price: £20,455
  • Power: 134bhp
  • Torque: 162lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 9.3sec
  • Top speed: 130mph
  • Fuel economy: 35.0mpg (True MPG)
  • CO2: 123g/km

The 1 Series lulls you into an impression of softness until you hit a big bump or drive on ripply roads. That initial feeling is the same on the Q30 but it keeps its composure better than the BMW on less than perfect surfaces. Its downsides are numb steering, body sway in curves and an earlier loss of grip.

To be fair to the Infiniti, the 1 Series also leans heavily in corners and also offers little steering feel. Its standard run-flat tyres probably don’t help to keep it out of lorry ruts. The A3 is the most fun to drive with very good steering and predictable, quick responses to driver input.

audi-bmw-infin-3.jpgThe Q30 keeps its composure better than the BMW on rough surfaces

Inside, the Infiniti Q30 is quite polished with its leather-look dash, chrome trim, and good quality switchgear. It’s less ‘premium’ than the BMW though, which in turn is shaded by the Audi. There’s a precision about the A3’s controls and a quality to its materials that the others can’t match.

Both German cars are easy to use, but some of the Q30’s controls aren’t as well placed. We didn’t like its air-con switches being behind the gearlever.

Infiniti Q30 1.6t Premium ***

  • Engine size: 1.6-litre, petrol, turbo
  • List price: £21,575
  • Target price: £20,875
  • Power: 121bhp
  • Torque: 148lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 9.2sec
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • Fuel economy: 35.2mpg (True MPG)
  • CO2: 138g/km

You can find a good driving position in all three cars, though the Q30’s could do with a lower seat and less offset pedals (a quirk it shares with the 1 Series). The BMW’s seats grip you best, followed not far behind by the Audi. The Q30’s are lacking in side or under-thigh support, but it’s the only one here with standard adjustable lumbar support, and with rear parking sensors to make up for its less than ideal over-the-shoulder visibility.

Two six foot adults will be comfortable up front, with the 1 Series having the most leg room and the Q30 the least head room (reduced slightly in our test car by the optional panoramic glass roof). Those two adults will be OK in the back of the A3 and 1 Series but inadequate leg and head room and shallow side windows create a feeling of claustrophobia in the Q30.

audi-bmw-infin-2.jpgOur test A3’s Sport-spec ride is firm but never jarring

On the positive side, the Q30’s boot plus underfloor storage area give the most space, even if it’s the narrowest of the three. The BMW’s load bay is the smallest and least practicably shaped. The A3 wins the boot war with good width and shape  and a height-adjustable floor.

All three have split-fold rear seats and effectively flat load areas with the seats down. They all have Bluetooth and climate control. Infiniti will demand another £1400 for sat-nav and a DAB radio but it will throw in the rear parking sensors, heated front seats, cruise control and power-folding door mirrors that are cost extras on the BMW and Audi. Auto lights and wipers are standard on the Q30 and 1 Series, and the Q30 is alone in having standard automatic emergency city braking and lane departure warning.

Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 125 Sport Nav *****

  • Engine size: 1.4-litre, petrol, turbo
  • List price: £22,185
  • Target price: £20,250
  • Power: 123bhp
  • Torque: 148lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 9.0sec
  • Top speed: 128mph
  • Fuel economy: 42.5mpg (True MPG)
  • CO2: 122g/km

As regards costs, the BMW 1 Series has the highest list price and the Infiniti Q30 the lowest, but the lack of big discounts makes the Q30 the dearest after you’ve haggled. Factoring in depreciation, servicing, insurance and fuel bills over three years and 36,000 miles, the Audi works out about £1800 cheaper to run than the 1 Series, and more than £4000 cheaper than the Q30. It’s also the cheapest lease proposition at £263 a month. The 1 Series is £276, and the Q30 £291 a month.

Go for a three-year PCP deal based on a £3000 deposit and a 12,000-mile annual limit, and you’ll pay £315 per month for the Q30, £300 for the A3 and £292 for the BMW.

Business users wanting a petrol car will find the Q30 to be the most expensive option. There’s just £2 between the benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax costs for the A3 and the 1 Series.

The Q30 is by far the best Infiniti yet, but it can’t challenge the big players in this ultra-competitive market. It’s relatively quiet, you get plenty of standard kit and it’s different, but the fiddly controls, tight rear cabin, high costs and average handling count against it.

The BMW 1 Series comes second. It’s more practical and cheaper to run than the Q30, and it has the best infotainment system, but its three-cylinder engine doesn’t thrill and the general driving experience isn’t as engaging as the A3’s or as comfy as the Q30’s.

The Audi A3 Sportback is an easy winner. It‘s great to drive, classy and the cheapest to run. Its only major flaw is the Sport’s over-firm low-speed ride but that’s easily fixed at the ordering stage.

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