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"Middleweight" mightn't be the description a buyer might use for a prospective six-figure motoring purchase, but when shopping premium German brands that's the hard reality, be it size or stature.
You've skipped past 'small' straight to 'medium', hurdled the $50k-something base car tip-in point, bound up the model range ladder past bare essentials into indulgence territory and – why not? – splurged extra on a two-door coupe rather than the more affordable and more practical sedan alternative. You might even opine, as many do, that a real primo German deserves a full six cylinders rather than a make-do four.
The $100k mark is Audi S5 and BMW 440i territory and it's a very nice place to be. A nice, sporty, opulent, compelling place at that. And yet these fit and appealing coupes remain middleweight variants in middle-rung ranges in their respective maker's portfolios.
But as some readers have pointed out to us recently, why settle for middle ground when you have more power and more lavishness for a thriftier outlay... if you don't mind substituting Germanic badge cache for something more Asian-American.
"Where's Infiniti's Q50?" was questioned in commentary during our Audi S4 v Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan twin test back in April, around the time that the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport landed on local shores.
As luck would have it, the brand-spanking 2017 Audi S5 Coupe lobbed around the same time – an easy match-up – though we decided to cool our jets for the MY17.5 BMW 440i Coupe’s recent Australian release to assemble a solid three-way fight using a trio of fresh contenders, something of a rarity in CarAdvice comparison-land. So if you're wondering why there's no AMG C43 on the page before you...
There's nothing terribly subversive about the Infiniti's headlining pitch. The Q60 Red Sport lobs into the primo coupe stoush at $88,900 list packing a heady 298kW. Off the bat, the return in investment makes the $105,800 Audi S5’s 260kW and the $99,900 BMW 440i’s 240kW seem comparatively overpriced and undercooked (all prices before on-roads).
Further, this is no middleweight amongst its kin – in fact, the flagship variant of the Q60 range is also all the performance and sportiness you can currently buy wearing an Infiniti badge. Or so it might seem...
It's easy to presume that, if performance is the main barometer, Q60 Red Sport isn't merely fit for competition but the one to beat. Strangely, the heroic variant Infiniti Australia describes as "designed and engineered to perform" isn't accompanied by any performance claims. Anywhere.
After poring over brochures and long-form press releases, I can tell you its Drive Mode Selector allows 336 customisable driver settings and its tricky Direct Adaptive Steering can make 1000 corrections per second, but if the Japanese-made sports coupe has a 0-100km/h claim, it's harder to find than the Ark of the Convenant.
The Audi and BMW come with 4.7-second and 5.0sec promises respectively though, again, these are sports coupes, not high-performers. And the most highly specified of their ilk before you climb higher into RS- and M-branded halo models.
Logically, then, they should be judged on a balance of performance and comfort, their all-round on-road capabilities, the equipment, luxuries and tech their circa-$100k price tags demand.
And because the two-doors demand a premium over their respective, more practical four-door S4/340i/Q50 stablemates, how much sportiness each delivers will weigh heavily in the final verdict, be it measured in appearence, sonics, dynamics, driver engagement or sheer vibe.
Specification and equipment
With its flagship pretensions, the Q60 Red Sport has a lot going on inside and out. It easily scored the highly subjective gong as "the most special" of the pack for presence and attention grabbing fanfare.
It's not merely the retina-burning Dynamic Sunstone Red paintwork – the boldest of nine available body colours – but it also hunkers down on its rolling stock with a nice, low stance, with 19-inch wheels fitted as standard. Ditto the adaptive LED headlights.
And three interior trim and three different metallic or carbon-fibre-style inlay choices offer nice breadth for personalisation.
The Germans adopt a more austere take on the sports luxury theme, though our 440i does look striking in its Snapper Rocks Blue paint – one of two new Aussie-inspired colours, says its maker – resplendent on the standard-fit M Sport appearance accoutrements: bodykit, dark Shadow Line accents, M Double-Spoke 19-inch wheels, and mid-life LCI facelift framed by BMW's own techy looking adaptive LED headlights and L-shaped LED taillights with dynamic illumination which have been revised for this update.
BMW takes choice in individualisation leaps ahead with a dizzying array of appearance options: two standard and 15 different cost optional paint colours; six standard and five extra-cost interior trim options; 11 different trim inlay choices... the list goes on.
Audi S5, though, is a whole new generation with a more angular and broader look than its forebear, signified by its wide, blunt front fascia framed by LED headlights – the all-singing, all-dancing Matrix LEDs cost extra – and the largest single-frame grille yet in the A5/S5 linage. In the rear, the LED taillights gets dynamic indictors once exclusive to Audi's most high-end sports and luxury models.
The S5 was always a handsome car but now it's more squat and arguably more masculine and muscular, thought the pedestrian grey metallic paintwork – of a choice of two standard and nine metallics or pearls – doesn't exact scream 'go fast'.
There are three 19-inch wheel styles to choose from and one Titanium Black exterior trim option, though buyers are offered little deviation from what's a fully loaded take on Audi's typically rich, high-quality interior treatment in design and materials. Bar splurging on a sunroof or rear seat heating, the S5's cabin wants for little, no option box ticks required.
Each competitors covers off its rivals in key premium-level equipment.
All cars get high-beam assist, fully electric, heated front seats, leather trim – Fine Nappa for Audi, semi-aniline for Infiniti, 'Dakota' for BMW – throughout, high-end infotainment systems, DAB+, 360-camera facility and adaptive cruise control, though it's Germans that both have stop and go functionality.
The Audi and BMW also get digital instrumentation, whereas the Infiniti is fitted with more conventional analogue main gauges flanking a digital central driver's screen.
Above: Audi S5's Virtual Cockpit
Worth noting is the BMW gets a head-up display and high-end Harmon/Kardon 16-speaker surround sound system as standard whereas you need to option the Technik package ($5600) in the S5 to get Bang & Olufsen 19-speaker '3D' sound and added head-up to supplement its Virtual Cockpit display.
Meanwhile, the Infiniti gets high-end Bose 13-speaker audio if no added 'pop-up' information floating in the lower part of the windscreen.
In terms of smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is standard on the Audi, while BMW charges a whopping $623 premium for CarPlay only, perhaps because the carmaker would prefer you use their proprietary Connected App technology instead. Infiniti offers neither.
All three cars feature autonomous emergency braking and offer a host of safety and driver assistance systems, though the make-up of each car's warning and active intervention systems do vary. The Infiniti gets forward collision warning, reversing autonomous braking, pedestrian detection, active blind-spot collision and lane-departure prevention via automated steering intervention.
Above: BMW 44oi
Meanwhile, the Audi gets rear-cross traffic alert (in lieu of reversing autonomous braking) and fits blind-spot monitoring rather than active collision prevention, but offers a more all-encompassing Collision Avoidance Assist and broader umbrella of warning systems that includes Exit Warning for opening doors and Turn Assist which senses oncoming traffic at right-hand intersection turns.
The BMW's assistance systems include lane departure and lane change warning systems. Worth a shout out, too, is both Germans get parking assistance aids which helps steer either car into parallel or perpendicular car spaces.
Above: Infiniti Q60 Red Sport
It's worth a shout out that the Infiniti comes standard with an electric sunroof where the Germans don't. But perhaps one item worth a huge shout out for traditionalist driving enthusiasts out there is that it's the BMW alone that offers a (no-cost) choice of opting for a conventional six-speed manual transmission – on special order – instead of a standard-issue automatic, though you do lose adaptive cruise control in the process.
While we're at it, Audi charges an extra ($2950) sting for a quattro sport differential and BMW charges a nominal cost ($1400) for M Sport four-piston front brakes. Also, variable-rate steering wants for an extra outlay for either the S5 ($2210) and 440i ($520) whereas the Q60 Red Sport's unorthodox fly-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering is standard. Adaptive suspension, however, is fitted as standard on all three cars.
The newest car here, the 440i, also feels the most traditional on the inside, though not necessarily in a bad way. Indeed, some of the most conspicuous of the LCI updates – an upgrade of which won't appear in mainline 3 Series until next year – centre around the aforementioned digital instrumentation and the excellent new iDrive 6 system.
But it's not merely the slickness and degree of personalisation afforded by the infotainment system, the excellent proprietary sav-nav, the high resolution of the camera system or the nifty instrument display – which reconfigures depending on drive mode chosen – that impresses.
It's also that BMW seems to have applied high-brow tech while maintaining a classic interior design language its long been known for. It's both fresh and yet familiar, upmarket without being showy. And BMW's current approach to cabins in upmarket models has a lot of fans here at CarAdvice.
The BMW's cabin is relatively surprise free and despite the neatness of the stitching and the quality feel of the materials, its ambience is closer to a base 420i than it is M4.
There are lot of positives in the cabin's general familiarity as there's an innate 'ready for action' vibe about the chunky wheel, the deeply-bucketed front seats with their huge side bolsters, the low-slung driving position, and sound driver ergonomics. It's a treatment not to every buyer's taste, perhaps, but this sporty theme free of excessive frills does impart a sense of genuine driving purpose.
Above: BMW 440i
Room in the second row of the BMW is quite decent, though the rear 'plus two' seating isn't quite as body sculpting as up front.
If there's a general markdown in the cabin, it's that the leather isn't quite as supple as its two rivals on test and there was some conspicuous and unsightly stretching, or waviness, of the leather in some of the larger areas of leather trim.
The Q60 Red Sport's cabin is bolder and lairier than the 440i's and not merely due to the white, perforated, leather trim. Clearly great effort has gone into making seats as stylised and expensive-looking as is humanly possible and the general theme throughout the cabin is nothing exceeds quite like excess.
However, a certain amount of that initial wow factor wanes with familiarity in a way that it doesn't in the BMW. There's a heavy-handed approach to the diversity of materials, though a lot of it falls down in the tactility stakes, be it in actual feel of the materials themselves or the integrity in which they applied.
The craftsmanship is impressive enough, it's just that materialistically some of the metal-look stuff feels too plastic-y, some of the plastics don't feel terribly upmarket, and the Japanese-made coupe can't quite mimic the air of solidity typical of its German competition.
Above: Infiniti Q60 Red Sport
The seats, too, are more form over functionality. The front buckets are amply supportive and well cushioned if you're cruising along the highway or around town, but the moment you tip the Q60 Red Sport into a corner with gusto, it becomes apparent they lack the ergonomic snugness necessary to keep driver and occupants pinned into place.
The leather itself is impressively supple – perhaps the softest of the trio – but everyone who drove it noted how slippery the seat surfaces are. And be it up front, where the sunroof impacts headroom, or in row two with its limited headroom, it's holistically less spacious than the BMW.
The dual-screen InTouch infotainment system is a bit of a mish-mash, too. The upper screen, a familiar and dated touchscreen affair that lacks the crisp resolution and sharp software of the Germans, is primarily for driving info and navigation. The lower screen, though, has a far slicker, smartphone-like glass touch interface and is skewed towards infotainment and climate control.
Why Infiniti didn't go the latter route for both screens for consistency's sake is a bit of a mystery, but include the old-school analogue button further below and the whole central stack seems a bit ad-hoc in design and integration.
Unanimously voted the class act of the cabins from the driver's seat is the S5. And not merely because it's clearly the most driver-focused with driving-centric seats, steering wheel and control placement. Where the Audi treatment wins is that at once it encourages engagement with on-road experience when you're having a hard punt while offering exceptional comfort – and long haul comfort – while you're cruising.
Be it the digital dash, the infotainment system or the placement of the switchgear, everything is clear to see, easy to use and a breeze to acclimatise to.
Be it the suede-effect door trims or the diamond-stitched seat facings, it looks upmarket and feels fantastic to touch. Sharp, neat and clean, there's an unmistakable lift in presentation above a basic A5 with a sense of quality that tops its present company.
Above: Audi S5
While it's an evidently tighter squeeze in the back than, say, its longer five-door S5 Sportback twin – the proper four-adult alternative offered for exactly the same list price – the Coupe version still affords decent head and shoulder room for its mid-sized, two-door format.
On the topic of spaciousness, the Audi boasts a class-leading 465 litres of boot space which edges out the BMW by just 20 litres and is quite a bit more generous than the comparatively compact 341 litres in the rear of the Infiniti.
Each packs three litres of turbocharged six-cylinder action under its respective bonnet, though there are distinct differences in the engines at play.
The power-topping Infiniti uses a twin-turbocharged V6 format to generate 298kW at 6400rpm, with its 475Nm peak torque available from 1600rpm through to 5200rpm. The engine is paired to a seven-speed conventional automatic transmission feeding torque to the rear wheels.
Conspiring against the Q60 Red Sport, however, is weight. At 1784kg kerb, it's a portly bugger that surely must make those 245/40 RF19 Bridgestone Potenza S001s work hard for their keep. That said, the technological allies under the skin – in theory at least – are the Dynamic Digital suspension system and its fancy fly-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering system.
The once-supercharged S5 family also sports V6 power in this new iteration, though the three-litre unit is now turbocharged. But instead of using the more traditional turbocharger arrangement of mounting the hardware either side of the engine block, the Audi adopts the increasingly Germanic method of locating forced induction inside the valley of the engine and in a single, rather than twin, configuration.
The result? A more modest 260kW figure than the Infiniti, produced in a 5400-6400rpm band, if with a superior 500Nm lower in the rev range, from 1350rpm through to 4500rpm.
Energy is plied, of course, though all four 255/35 ZR19 Continental tyres, with a rear-biased 40/60-percent fore/aft static split with up to 85 per cent rearward torque bias when the system sees fit.
There's no dual-clutch gearbox like the rest of the A5 range, though, instead an eight-speed conventional automatic is fitted. At 1615kg, it's more lightweight than the Infiniti and by a decent margin.
The BMW sticks true to the brand's traditionalist roots by maintaining a straight six arrangement with a single turbocharger (nope, TwinPower branding doesn't necessarily mean 'twin turbocharging').
At 240kW at 5500rpm and 450Nm from 1380rpm to 5000rpm, it's also the least energetic of the trio. Like its nemeses, it adopts a conventional automatic, sending energy via eight forward ratios to 255/35 R19 rear Pirelli P-Zero rubber (fronts are narrower 225/40s).
But where the 440i flounders in herbs, it compensates for in its lightness of weight. Tipping the scales at 1555kg kerb, the Bimmer is patently the featherweight of the assembled pack.
Before we point the coupes towards the curves and yank their strings, it's worth mentioning how frugal all three are given the power on tap and the counteracting weights at play.
On our highway loop, the best figure we saw was the BMW's 6.4L/100km, the worst the Infiniti's 7.7L, with the Audi splitting the difference at 6.9L. Quite impressive given their respective combined cycle claims of 6.8, 8.9 and 7.5.
On The Road
The cavalcade would trek a loop exiting Melbourne and venturing as far as the Great Ocean Road by way of the excellent Otways and back. On the move impressions arrived thick and fast for judges David Zalstein, Mandy Turner and yours truly.
The BMW defaults more towards sporty grand tourer than 'M4-lite', with a nice muted exhaust bark and evenly tempered ride compliance. The LCI update’s generally firmer and lower suspension does translate into a fair amount of vertical movement, though it's nowhere near as jarring as its more heroic M4 kin.
Praise was heaped on the 440i for its sense of lightness, an innately sweet front and rear chassis balance and an ability to handle terrible road surface imperfections in an unflustered manner. Strangely, though, the BMW has tendency to 'tramline', pulling itself towards ruts in the road, while Mandy admitted to struggling with the chunky seat bolsters which limit elbow movement during steering inputs.
The crew couldn't agree on thoughts about the steering system – Dave found the direction finder "gross", though I thought the weight, feedback and the accuracy of the front end to be right on the mark.
If there's a glaring oversight in the LCI package it's that the new digital dash doesn't display numeric road speed in normal driving mode, though it does once you activate Sport and the display turns red. Frustrating when you're cruising around Victoria, with its 'zero tolerance' approach to speeding.
The 440i's straight six is smooth, lusty and toey – BMW does fine sixes – but down low in the rpm range it doesn't quite have the immediacy of the Q60, and up to it doesn't pull as hard as the S5. It's a nice match for the eight-speed auto, which is refined at a cruise and reasonably crisp and responsive once you dig in along a twisty back road.
The Infiniti certainly feels gutsy on initial throttle take up and clearly doesn't lack sheer energy. And it's perhaps at its best when manning battle stations in rolling punch for overtaking. But whether you're talking off the mark progress, or finding balance in the middle of the corner, the Q60 Red Sport quickly proves to be the curliest and least co-operative character of the trio.
The Q60 loves wheelspin, though not the joyous scrabbling motion driver's love. It just struggles to generate lateral grip or longitudinal traction from its Bridgestones.
Not helping matters for driver control, either on the straights or curves, is that there's little sensation transmitted up from the road to the driver's seat – it's tough to actually feel when it breaks traction – compounded by an engine that doles out most of its energy without much throttle input and isn't terribly linear in power delivery across its rev range.
The Infiniti is a reasonably convincing package at a decent clip – the steering, the ride, its responses – but it becomes less enjoyable the harder you push.
Start firing through corners and the front end, while direct, lacks anything like proper communication. It feels the heaviest and most ponderous of the three coupes, and it just doesn't really connect the driver with the road and the sporting experience.
The brakes have excellent power but lack progression and there's nothing like the sweet chassis balance of the BMW. Add in that those tyres break free quickly and with little warning, and the Q60 demands high concentration to drive swiftly, while lacking the payback of fun factor.
Perhaps it's user error – the Q60 has so many drive mode, steering and suspension adjustments that finding the right combination requires some patient application. In its Sport+ mode, Dave remarks that “it’s not even remotely visceral or much fun. There’s no change in response or a bolder soundtrack.”
That's said, there was no traction or grip issues with the Audi S5, not merely because it has the largest footprint on the road, but because its chassis and quattro system make the most of the rubber available, regardless of chosen drive mode. Of the three, the Audi is patently the car most pinned to the tarmac. But that's only just the start.
The torquiest engine here also pulls the hardest, with excellent initial punch and a heady top end rush, complemented by a satisfying metallic rasp. And the eight-speed auto, while not perhaps as immediate in up-changes as a dual-clutch transmission, is responsive, co-operative and really helps bring out the best of the lusty turbo-six.
At a pace at which the Infiniti is sloppy and sweating, and where the BMW squirms around and parades its sweet dynamic balance, the Audi digs in hard with poise and accuracy and begs to be pushed harder.
Of the three competitors, the S5 seems to be engineered and tuned to deliver a higher level of driver engagement, provides the most linear and accurate steering system, has the most confidence-inspiring brake pedal feel, and is not merely the most progressive performer on show but, importantly, gets better the harder and faster it goes. The sportiest drive of the pack? You bet.
It's not all plaudits for the steed from Ingolstadt, though. Dave found the steering to have "weird counterweight" and preferred the BMW in Sport drive mode to the character of the Audi in its most focused Dynamic mode. That said, in their respective Comfort modes, he found the S5 is be more pleasant and polished than the 440i. But as the best driver's tool for fair-weather punting, the crew gave a unanimous nod to the Audi.
"I'd take the Q60 Red Sport," says more than one CarAdvice pundit. And if you're not too concerned about the finer points of red-misted driving enjoyment across a twisty backroad, it's a choice easily justified.
It has the most presence, the most ostentation, and offers more stuff while wanting for little in terms of spec and equipment for something of a bargain price. And if wheelspin is right down your tyre-blackened alley, the Infiniti could well be the ideal foil.
But, these are three impressive and distinctively different takes on the sport luxury coupe theme. For the balance of driving each will be used for, they fit the brief well.
But the subtext at play after stretching their legs through all manner of driving is that, in measuring all-round capabilities, the Infiniti underachieved, the BMW met expectations and the Audi shone brighter than anticipated.
The 440i, for its part, maintains the intrinsic BMW classicisms – be it styling, be it driving character – while amping up the tech quotient. It's an easy car to recommend if you simply prefer Munich's particular take on mid-size sport coupes.
In fact, the Germans are so evenly matched on merit, it's a little rich to call either better. If there's a sweeter spot in BMW's entire medium-sized portfolio, we can't think of it.
But it's the Audi S5 which topped the heap by measure of sportiness alone, and sporting prowess represents a fair chunk of the entry price into this segment.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.