Audi A3 VS BMW 2 Series
- Sedan styling looks superb
- Quattro all-wheel drive on highest grade
- AEB on all grades
- Plain standard interior
- Limited rear legroom
- Low on standard features
BMW 2 Series
- Short warranty
- No full AEB standard
Audi’s A3 is one of the most affordable ways into this prestige German brand. But like some amusement park mirror maze you’ll find with so many A3 variations there are numerous, seemingly identical ways into the model.
Which one do you choose? There’s a sedan, a hatch, and a convertible with four different engines, not to mention front- or all-wheel drive.
That’s why this range review is here – to guide you through the A3 hall of mirrors, and identify the right model for you.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 2 Series
There’s occasional wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the question of whether a four-door car can be called a coupe.
Rover set tongues wagging close to 60 years ago with its P5 Coupe; to all intents and purposes a sedan with a lower, slightly swoopier roofline.
So, rather than call in the coupe police, after they’ve visited Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, we’ll go with the flow and introduce you to the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, launching in two variants - the 218i (front-wheel drive, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo), and M235i xDrive (all-wheel drive, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo).
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A3 is now five years into this current generation and it’s beginning to show its age in terms of tech and styling in the cabin, despite updates adding new equipment. It’s expensive compared to most small cars but is spot-on for a prestige vehicle.
The Sedan is, in my view, the best looking small sedan on the planet and offers the biggest boot space in the A3 range. The Sportback, however, is arguably more practical, with better legroom, headroom and cargo carrying ability (with the rear seats down). The Cabriolet has the same perfect proportions as the sedan, but like all good convertibles doesn’t make practicality a priority.
The sweet spot of the range would have to be the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line with its $50,000 list price making it the most affordable but most 'specced up' A3 in the entire range.
You have $50,000. Do you buy an entry-grade Audi A3 Cabriolet, a 2.0 TFSI Sport Sedan or a Volkswagen Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
BMW 2 Series7.8/10
Small four-door cars aren’t exactly flavour-of-the-month in the current Australian new car market, but this newcomer offers solid value, and good dynamic balance in a premium compact package. It’s aimed at a niche within a niche, but for seekers of sleek, inner-city-sized four-door luxury, the 2 Series Gran Coupe has a lot to offer.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The A3 comes in three body styles: a five-door hatch, which Audi calls the Sportback; the four-door Sedan, and a two-door convertible which it refers to as the Cabriolet. It may not surprise you to learn they're all different sizes, too.
The Sportback doesn’t look like the shortest of the three but at 4313mm end-to-end it’s 145mm shy of the Sedan and 110mm shorter than the Cabriolet. But those exterior dimensions don’t tell the whole story on interior space. So, which one is more practical? We’ll get to that.
But first, the looks. The Sportback has a wagon-like appearance with its large (for a hatch) rear quarter windows. If you think it looks longer than a regular hatchback, you’re right: a Volkswagen Golf is 50mm shorter even though it shares the same platform as the A3.
However, unlike the Golf, there’s something about the Sportback’s proportions which doesn’t seem balanced.
Then there’s the A3 sedan. Now this is a perfectly proportioned car. Looking like a miniature version of the A8 limo, the A3 is one of the only tiny sedans on the planet that looks fantastic.
The Cabriolet is based on the Sedan, and it too looks beautifully proportioned. Soft tops, when they’re up, never do much for a car’s profile. Be it a Bentley or an A3, they always look better down. When the roof is down the A3 appears lower, sleeker, and tougher.
While all A3’s have the same grille and headlight design the rear treatment of the Sedan and Cabriolet is more refined with their blade-like tail-lights and boot lid lip, than the Sportback, even if it does have a roof-top spoiler.
Interiors are identical across each A3 grade, the cabin benefiting from excellent fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials. But if you like bling-tastic cockpits, maybe you should be looking at a Benz A-Class because even the fanciest A3 money can buy, the RS3, comes with a small display screen and a rather low-key interior design.
As for rivals, the new A-Class (which I’ve just reviewed) is a glitzy competitor in hatch form, with a soon-to-arrive sedan going head-to-head with the little Audi as well.
BMW 2 Series8/10
The whole BMW Gran Coupe ‘thing’ kicked off in 2012 with a lower, longer, extra-doored version of the 6 Series coupe.
The formula is broadly similar in each case. Take the two-door coupe, stretch it length-wise, add a couple of doors and remove the frames from all of them, then let the wind tunnel smooth out the overall form.
In line with that design approach, at just over 4.5m long the Gran Coupe is 94mm longer than the 2 Series two-door, as well as fractionally wider (+26mm), and a little taller (+7.0mm).
A big grille is a key part of BMW’s current design language, and the 2 Series Gran Coupe obliges with a suitably large version of the brand’s signature ‘kidney’ grille with a single surround unifying it graphically.
Angry, angular LED headlights combine with large air vents either side of the front clip to conjure up a confident, assertive face.
The car’s profile conforms to the BMW Gran Coupe template with the roofline tapering markedly towards the rear and strategically placed character lines along the car’s flanks adding visual interest and enhancing the its lengthy look.
BMW devotees will recognise the term ‘Hofmeister Kink’, a characteristic up-turn of the trailing edge of a BMW’s side window glass, This time around BMW refers to the element as an ‘upright’ Hofmeister Kink, which is a misnomer, because it’s so upright it no longer conforms to the vision of Wilhelm Hofmeister (the Bavarian maker’s head of design in the early 1960s).
Slim, long, distinctly horizontal LED tail-lights define the rear view, with other lateral lines and trim elements enhancing the car’s wide, planted stance.
The interior will be instantly familiar to any current model BMW owner with the neatly arranged dash featuring the ‘Cockpit Professional’ set-up including a 10.25-inch configurable instrument display, and another same-size multimedia screen annexed to the main binnacle.
All instrumentation and key controls are angled towards the driver and attention to detail in terms of quality is high.
It’s now an accepted truth that lights and screens are the new chrome in terms of automotive design, and the 2 Series Gran Coupe compliments its sleek screens with an interior ambient lighting package, as well as brushed metal elements and BMW’s usual array of logically arranged, legible and user-friendly switchgear.
The Sportback and Sedan have five seats, while the Cabriolet has four. Leg and headroom in the back row for all body styles is limited. The Sportback will give you the most rear legroom, while the sedan has a few millimetres more space for your knees than the Cabriolet.
At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position in the Sportback with a pinkie finger’s space, while my knees brush the seatback in the Sedan, and the Cabriolet won’t accommodate my long legs back there at all.
Rear headroom in the Sportback isn’t bad with enough room for my big head to clear the ceiling thanks to that tall(-ish) flat roofline while the sedan is a tighter fit but I just make it under. The Cabriolet’s low fabric roof means only small adults or kids will be able to sit up straight back there – unless the top is down and then you have literally unlimited headroom.
Boot space varies obviously depending on the body style. The Sedan has biggest cargo capacity with 425 litres, the Sportback offers up 340 litres, but fold those rear seats down and you have 1180 litres at your disposal, plus a bigger aperture to fit stuff in. The Cabriolet’s folding roof eats into the boot space, but you’re still left with 320 litres even when it’s down.
The folding roof is automatic and can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h, but it’s slow - I’ve timed it and it takes about 20 seconds to open or shut.
Storage throughout the cabin is limited, too. There are two cupholders up front in all cars, while the Cabriolet is the only A3 to have two cupholders in the back (they’re between the rear seats). If you want cupholders in the rear of the Sedan and Sportback you’ll have to option the $450 fold-down armrest which houses them.
All grades above the 1.0 TFSI come with storage nets in the seatback and front passenger footwell, 12-volt sockets in the rear centre console and boot, plus cargo nets back there, too. There’s a USB jack in the centre console of all A3s.
BMW 2 Series6/10
No matter how hard you shut your eyes and spit out a Harry Potter-style incantation, you can’t magic-up a big interior in a small car.
BMW’s packaging boffins will have sweated bullets to eke out every extra millimetre, but the hard fact is this 2 Series Gran Coupe is diminutive.
Cozy is the best way to describe the front section, and the front seats are snug, be they the cloth-trimmed sports seats in the 218i, or even racier leather-trimmed chairs in the 235i xDrive.
Access to the rear requires mild gymnastic prowess because the door aperture is modest, and once you’re in there it’s tight. Sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position, my shiny pate made firm contact with the headliner, and my knees were striking up a close relationship with the front seatback.
Forget three grown-ups abreast in there. I’d describe the 2 Series Gran Coupe’s seating arrangement as a ‘2+2+1’.
Storage is provided in all the right places, but scaled down to suit the available space. There’s a lidded storage box between the front seats, two cupholders and a wireless charging bay in the front centre console, decent door bins with room for bottles, and a glove box (able to accommodate several pairs of gloves).
Backseaters have access to small door bins and a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders in it. The primo M235i xDrive features adjustable rear air vents, while the entry-level 218i misses out.
The boot chips in with 430 litres of load space, which is okay rather than cavernous, and it’s worth remembering the opening is narrow relative to a similarly-sized hatch. But a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increases flexibility, and liberates more space.
Don’t bother looking for a spare of any description as a repair/inflator kit is your only option.
Towing is possible in the 218i, but sadly the dual-axle caravan is off the agenda. Maximum capacity for a braked trailer is 1300kg (with a 75kg towball download), and 710kg unbraked. The M235i xDrive is a no-tow zone.
Price and features
The A3 isn’t great value for a small car, generally speaking, because while you are getting a high-quality prestige vehicle, it doesn’t come with a mountain of equipment that you might find on a more affordable little hatch or sedan.
Look at it this way: take $40 into a fish and chip shop and you’ll walk out with your arms full of food, take the same amount into a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’ll be lucky to get an entrée. Same with buying a prestige car – and the A3 really is a starter on the Audi menu.
Coming standard on the entry-grade $36,200 1.0 TFSI Sportback are xenon headlights with LED running lights, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, multimedia system with voice control, eight-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, CD player, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Only the Sportback comes in this 1.0 TFSI grade. The rest of the body styles start with the 1.4 TFSI ($40,300 for the Sportback; $41,900 for Sedan; $49,400 for Cabriolet) which comes with the 1.0 TFSI’s equipment but swaps the cloth seats for leather upholstery and adds paddles shifters, aluminium-look interior elements and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Stepping up to the 2.0 TFSI Sport ($46,400 for Sportback; $48,000 for Sedan; $55,500 for the Cabriolet) adds leather sports front seats, aluminium door sills, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch alloys with a different design.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ($50,000 for the Sportback; $51,600 for Sedan and $59,100 for the Cabriolet) brings in lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights.
Each grade also attains more safety equipment, which we’ll cover further on.
I’ve also reviewed Mercedes-Benz’s new A200, which is a good model comparison for the A3. At a list price of $48,200 the 1.3-litre four-cylinder A200 is pricier than the 1.4 TFSI, but offers better value than the A3 2.0TFSI with more equipment, including two 10.25-inch display screens.
As for paint colours, only 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White' won't cost you a cent more. Optional colours include 'Cosmos Blue', 'Tango Red' and 'Monsoon Grey'.
BMW 2 Series8/10
The two-model 2 Series Gran Coupe line-up kicks off with the 218i at $47,490, before on-road costs, and BMW’s aiming up at Merc’s CLA 200 ($60,700) with this car, at a more than $13K differential.
Aside from the standard active and passive safety tech (covered in the Safety section) that cost-of-entry includes: 18-inch alloy rims, a leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, sports front seats, head-up display, the 'Live Cockpit Professional’ pack (10.25-inch instrument cluster, 10.25-inch operating system 7.0 media display and ‘Intelligent Personal Assistant’), Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is coming later in 2020), cruise control, keyless entry and start, ambient interior lighting, LED headlights, tail-lights, and fog lights, ‘Parking Assistant’ (front and rear sensors, reversing camera, ‘Auto Parking Assistant’ and ‘Reversing Assistant’) and a six-speaker (100-watt) audio system.
Yes, the Merc features an AMG bodykit and rims, as well as active cruise, and it has a bit more oomph, but that’s a pretty handy batch of standard features for a lot less money.
In similar fashion, at $69,990, before on-road costs, the M235i xDrive lines up price-wise against Merc’s CLA 250 4Matic ($70,200), but knocks it for six in terms of performance. In fact, BMW wants a piece of the Merc-AMG CLA 35 ($85,500) with this mini-muscle coupe.
Over and above the 218i’s equipment list the top-spec car features: 19-inch alloys, M-Sport brakes (four-piston front calipers, up from single piston), M steering calibration, M rear spoiler, M Sport front seats, leather upholstery, electric front seat adjustment (including memory on the driver’s side), adaptive LED headlights (including ‘High-beam Assistant), and harman/kardon 16-speaker (464-watt) audio. Not bad at all.
Engine & trans
Now on to the engines. Yes, I’m doing this in what may seem a strange order, but trust me, it’s to guide you safely through the A3 range without anybody getting lost. We don’t leave anybody behind here, not on my watch.
The grades indicate the engines in the A3 line-up – the higher the grade, the more powerful the engine. So, the range starts with the 1.0 TFSI which has a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, and steps up to the 1.4 TFSI which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder with cylinder on demand (COD) letting it run on two cylinders when not under load). Both are front-wheel drive (FWD) cars.
Next rung up is the 2.0 TFSI Sport and that has a 2.0-litre four making 140kW/320Nm with drive going to the front wheels. The top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI quattro S line which has the same engine but is all-wheel drive (AWD).
Those are all turbo-petrol engines – yes, no diesels and no manual gearbox option either. All have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatics shifting the gears.
If you’re after something more hardcore in the same package, there are two halo ‘models’ that sit above the A3 range: the S3 with a 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four and the RS3 with its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol making 294kW/480Nm.
BMW 2 Series9/10
The 218i Gran Coupe is powered by a version of BMW’s B38 in-line three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, used in various BMW and Mini models. The all-alloy unit features direct-injection, ‘Valvetronic’ variable valve timing and ‘Double-VANOS variable cam timing to produce 103kW from 4600-6500rpm, and 220Nm from 1480-4200rpm. It sends drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The M235i Gran Coupe is powered by a version of BMW’s B48 in-line four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, also used in various BMW and Mini models, including the Mini John Cooper Works GP.
Another all-alloy design, it also uses a twin-scroll turbo set-up, direct-injection, ‘Valvetronic’ variable valve timing and ‘Double-VANOS variable cam timing to produce no less than 225kW from 5000-6250rpm, and a whopping 450Nm from 1750-4500rpm.
It sends power to all four wheels through an eight-speed (conventional torque-converter) automatic transmission and a dedicated transfer gearbox, guided by multiple sensors and processors, to send drive to the wheels that can make best use of it.
Fuel usage depends on the engine and body style, with weights varying across the range. The most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.0-litre which is only offered on the Sportback, and Audi says over a combination of urban and open roads you should see it use 4.8L/100km.
The 1.4 TFSI Sportback uses 5.0L/100km, while the Sedan uses 4.9L/100km, but the heavier Cabriolet drinks more at 5.1L/100km.
My most recent A3 test car was a 1.4 TFSI Sportback and the trip computer reported 7.6L/100km over a mix of city and country kays - not bad.
The 2.0 TFSI Sport Sportback uses 5.9L/100km, the Sedan needs 5.8L/100km, the Cabriolet a bit more at 6.0L/100km.
The 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line Sportback uses 6.2L/100km, while the Sedan will go through 6.1L/100km and the Cabriolet again is highest with 6.4L/100km.
That raises the question of how much more does the Cabriolet weigh? About 170kg more than the Sedan and Sportback thanks to the extra reinforcement needed to strengthen the body to compensate for the rigidity it loses by not having a fixed metal roof.
BMW 2 Series8/10
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.9L/100km, the 218i, emitting 135g/km of CO2 in the process.
Not surprisingly, the high-performance M235i xDrive is thirstier, the combined cycle figure rising to 7.6L/100km, and emissions sitting at 173g/km of CO2. During a post-launch week of city, suburban and freeway running in this version, we recorded a real-world number of 10.2L/100km.
Stop-start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded in the 215i, and 98 RON premium in the M235i, and you’ll need 50 litres to brim the tank on both.
I’ve driven all A3 variants from the 1.0 TFSI to the 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, plus the S3 and RS3, but most recently I tested the 1.4 TFSI Sportback, which I’ll focus on here.
Our car was fitted with two optional packages – the 'Style Package' which adds LED headlights, 18-inch alloys and sports suspension, and the 'Technik Package' which brings a virtual instrument cluster, an 8.3-inch display and sports steering wheel.
Those larger 18-inch alloys wearing low profile 225/40 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres look great, but like thin-soled shoes you’ll feel every imperfection on the road giving a harsher texture to the ride, plus they can be noisy on course-chip bitumen.
I’d stick to the standard 16-inch wheels. Sure, they don’t look as racy, but the ride from those, on 55 profile tyres, is a lot more cushioned.
Despite that grittier feel from the tyres the sports suspension is excellent and manages to soften bigger bumps well. Handling is good too, thanks to that suspension keeping the body well controlled.
Good visibility, steering that’s light but offers decent feel, and a comfortable seating position make the A4 pleasant to pilot, but not hugely engaging. If you're after more of a driver’s car, the S3 and RS3 will deliver – trust me.
Acceleration isn’t bad from the 1.4-litre, with 0-100km/h claimed to be 8.2 seconds. That dual-clutch transmission is a quick shifter and smooth even in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but only if you turn off the stop-start engine system (jerky and hard to tolerate).
I’m also not a fan of the way the stop-start system switches the engine off as you coast to a stop at traffic lights and intersections. For me, that borders on a safety issue, particularly when needing to turn on an amber only to find you momentarily lack steering or power.
As mentioned in the engine/transmission section, the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is a FWD car. Put it on a steep hill, as I did on our test incline, and even in dry conditions it’ll lose traction under hard acceleration. Traction control reins the slippage in, but AWD 'quattro' cars won’t struggle for traction in the same circumstances.
BMW 2 Series8/10
For most driving circumstances the 218i offers enough performance to get the job done, with 0-100km/h acceleration for the 1375kg four-door claimed at 8.7sec.
With more than twice the power and torque the M235i is able to blast it’s heavier (1570kg) frame to the same mark in just 4.9sec, and anything under five seconds is properly fast.
The three-cylinder car is smooth, surprisingly quiet, and responsive, the little turbo providing a satisfyingly linear response, with maximum torque available from just 1480rpm all the way to 4200rpm. The seven-speed auto is most un-dual-clutch like in that it’s unobtrusive, but very dual-clutch-like in that it shifts rapidly and precisely.
Step into the M235i and you’re entering an altogether more serious world of performance. The in-line four is crisp and lights up with only a modest flexing of the right ankle. The four-cylinder’s raspy engine induction noise is smile-inducing, and in Sport mode the exhaust adds furious blurts and bangs to full-throttle up-shifts, and entertaining crackles and pops on the way back down the ratios.
The eight-speed auto doesn’t give anything away to the 218i’s dual-clutch, especially in manual mode, where a flick of either wheel mounted paddle results in almost instant changes. And the xDrive system keeps the car planted, the transfer gearbox on the back of the main transmission seamlessly distributing torque to all four wheels on a needs basis.
Pushing along some B-road bends on the BMW launch drive program, the M235i remained planted and felt eager, picking up the throttle quickly out of tight corners, the bigger brakes keeping the car stable as load transfers to the front axle.
But no matter which version of the 2 Series Gran Coupe you’re in, the ride/handling balance is impressive. Suspension is strut front, multi-link rear in both, and the car’s ability to blend great cornering with a comfy ride is the mark of a company that knows its way around engineering dynamics. The 218i comes with an M Sport suspension tune, although the standard set-up is a no-cost option.,
Steering is accurate, feelsome, and nicely weighted in both models, the M235i upping the ante with meatier variable rate settings. And the sports seats in each car are grippy, although, despite adjustability of the side bolsters, the M235i runs the risk of sacrificing long-distance comfort for firm location.
The A3 has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from its 2013 crash test, which applies to the Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet.
While the Sedan and Sportback have seven airbags, the Cabriolet has just five, missing out on the head-level curtain bags.
The amount of advanced safety equipment increases as you step up through the grades, but AEB is standard across the range. Lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert becomes standard from the 2.0 TFSI Sport upwards, while the lower grades can attain these with the optional $1500 'Assistance Package'.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and two top tether anchor points across the back seats in the Sedan, Sportback and Cabriolet.
BMW 2 Series8/10
All the expected active safety tech is on-board, including ABS, EBD, BA and stability and traction controls. Then the 218i adds ‘Driving Assistant’ (including lane departure warning, lane change warning, ‘Approach control Warning’ with city-braking intervention, ‘Rear Cross Traffic Warning’, ‘Rear Collision Prevention’ and ‘Speed Limit Information’. As well as, Parking Assistant’ (front and rear sensors, reversing camera, ‘Auto Parking Assistant’ and ‘Reversing Assistant’). As well as, a dry braking function, fading compensation, ‘Start-Off Assistant’, ‘Electronic Differential Lock Control’, and trailer stability control.
All that, but no AEB. At urban speeds, the 'City Brake' system will detect a potential forward collision and slow the car if necessary, but not bring it to a complete stop. For that you'll need to option in adaptive cruise control at $654 for the 218i and $850 for the M235i.
If an impact is unavoidable there are head and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as curtain airbags covering both rows.
There are also three top tether points for baby capsules/child seats across the rear seat, which ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe hadn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP at the time of writing.
BMW 2 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is off the pace with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven. And the pressure is on with Mercedes-Benz announcing its shift to five years/unlimited km.
That said, the BMW's body is warranted against rust (perforation) for 12 years/unlimited km, and roadside assistance is provided free-of-charge for three years/unlimited km.
Maintenance is 'condition based' with sensors and on-board algorithms (mileage, time since last service, fuel consumption, driving style) determining whether an annual vehicle inspection or oil service is required.
The 'BMW Service Inclusive' package, offering a single, one-off advance payment to cover selected service and maintenance costs, is available in two levels - 'Basic' or 'Plus.'