Audi A4 VS BMW 3 Series
- Classy cabin
- Looks terrific
- Great value
- No touchscreen - annoying!
- Squishy back seat with three on board
- Some hesitation at low speeds
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
The current-generation Audi A4 range has copped it. It was only a matter of time before there was a Black Edition version, because it seems every car these days gets the special treatment.
And, no, it isn’t actually black - but it gets a bunch of black bits and heaps of additional extras, at not much more than the standard A4 sedan it’s based on.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 3 Series
Over 44 years BMW has produced more than 15 million examples of the 3 Series. That's roughly one every minute and a half... for over four decades.
And the latest, seventh-generation version of what the famous German maker defines as the "heart and soul" of its brand has landed in Australia.
The new '3' is longer and wider. It's also claimed to be slicker aerodynamically, up to 55 kilos lighter, more fuel efficient, and faster.
And it'll need every advantage it can muster to take a chunk out of its arch rival, the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
There’s a good amount of value on offer with the Audi A4 Black Edition, not to mention a pretty flash cabin and sporty exterior design. I love the look of it, and that could be enough to get quite a few buyers over the line. For me, the wagon is the more appealing of the body types.
There’s no denying the A4 is often overlooked because shoppers gravitate towards the C-Class or 3 Series. Value-focused variants like this should help get people to look the A4’s way instead.
Would you take an A4 over a C-Class or 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite BMW's wholehearted embrace of the SUV its 3 Series is still a critically important model for the brand in Australia. And this new version certainly has the spec and tech to take the fight up to Merc's C-Class. And if you're in the happy position of making that choice, it's now a whole lot harder. For our money the 330i marks the sweet spot with extra performance, safety tech and standard features for only a fraction more than $3k over the 320d entry-point.
Could this new 3 Series steer you away from a Merc C-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The current-generation Audi A4 range may have been on sale for a while now, but it still looks as stylish as the day it debuted, back in 2015.
The angular LED headlights and rigid LED daytime running lights help give this car a strong signature on the road, with confident lines running from the front of the car to the rear, where the LED tail-lights anchor the powerful look.
Of course, the Black Edition takes the stylishness to a new level, with metallic paint included, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels in Audi’s signature ‘Rotor’ design, plus there’s standard-fit sports suspension that lowers the car down by 20mm over the top of those rims. It looks mean.
Plus the black exterior design package (encompassing door mirrors, a lip rear spoiler and side sill trims) and dark privacy tinted windows at the rear, along with the four-ring decal on the rear doors. The front doors get acoustic glass for better sound deadening, and there are four-ring LED puddle lights.
The cabin sees some nice Black Edition additions as well - check out the interior pictures below.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Changes to the exterior design are more evolutionary than revolutionary. You're never going to mistake this car for anything other than a BMW 3 Series.
But even if the face is familiar, aerodynamic efficiency is outstanding. BMW admits its claimed Cd of 0.23 was achieved with a base model running on 17-inch wheels (not offered here), but even if bigger rims knock a few fractions off that number it's still an amazing result for a conventional four door sedan.
Big contributors are a full width front spoiler, 'air curtains' managing flow around each corner of the nose, almost complete sealing of the largest areas underneath the car, and a functional rear diffuser section.
The signature kidney grille has grown and is delivered as a single piece, with active shutters incorporated to manage cooling air flow through to the engine. Twin adaptive LED headlights (standard on all models) feature a sharp notch on their lower edge, a big clue for new model spotters.
Broad, carefully managed surfaces characterise the bonnet and flanks of the car, with a distinct character line just above door handle height enhancing its confident stance.
The slightly smoked L-shaped LED tail-lights sit proud of the body, and 18-inch alloys are standard on the 320d, stepping up to 19s on the 330i.
The interior has been redesigned with revised controls and new materials, including slick 'aluminium teragon' finish on the console and dash in the M Sport.
As you can see in our interior images, it's been tidied up and simplified considerably, although it will still be instantly recognised by current BMW drivers.
Highlights are a 12.3-inch configurable digital 'Live Cockpit Professional' instrument display (lifted directly from the X5), a new 10.25-inch media touchscreen and a standard (larger) head-up display.
If you buy the Black Edition version of the A4, you get yourself some really nice additional bits and bobs, like colour ambient interior lighting front and rear, plus heated front seats and some S line sport interior trim elements like aluminium pedal facings, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Alcantara and leather trim with S embossing, brushed aluminium trim elements and additional adjustment to the front head rests.
The space on offer is pretty good - from a cabin storage standpoint, there’s little to complain about - bottle holders in all four doors, cupholders front and rear (the latter by way of a flip-down armrest) and there is a good storage area under the front armrest with a second USB port for charging - but you might find yourself using the cupholders for your phone, as that’s where the media USB port is. There are map pockets in the rear, too.
With two adults in the rear, there’s a decent amount of space - reasonable headroom, legroom and shoulder space.
But we had a few five-up trips in the car, and on one drive I decided to be a backseat passenger - I was in one of the outboard seats, and it wasn’t comfortable - there was a lack of leg and foot space, and the shape of the seat meant I was bending my neck inwards to avoid hitting the window / pillar on my side. This isn’t a car for five adults - but two adults and three compact kids could be fine.
I was pretty surprised at the boot capacity on offer in the A4 sedan. Personally, I’d go for the Avant wagon model in any instance, because I’m a wagon guy. But the sedan didn’t struggle with all the stuff I took with me on a four-day weekend trip (including supplies and bedding for four adults, two dogs and more!).
With 480 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up, the A4 sedan is bang-on against rivals like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 folding design, which allows a bit of extra flexibility, but they don’t quite fold completely flat.
BMW 3 Series8/10
A longer wheelbase (+41mm) has helped increase overall cabin space and rear room specifically.
There's plenty of storage provided with a large lidded box between the front seats as well as two large size cupholders in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are big bins in the doors with separate holders for full-size bottles.
Rear legroom is generous. At 183cm, sitting behind my own driving position, there was plenty of fresh air between knees and seatback, with lots of foot room to boot.
Headroom was more marginal with a straight back leading to a bonce/roof interface. But there are adjustable rear vents, twin cupholders in a fold-down centre armrest, and big bottle holders in the doors. Multiple USB ports (Type A and Type C) and a 12-volt power outlet are provided front and rear.
The boot space offers up a 480-litre luggage capacity with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. Local towing capacity is yet to be confirmed, but indicative (European) ratings for both models are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg braked.
Standard rubber is run-flat so there's no spare of any description.
Price and features
When I told my extended family that this car was $63,900 plus on-road costs, they were beyond impressed. Some thought it was a $120,000 car - which shows they aren’t car people, but also tells you that it looks more special than its price tag suggests.
That $63,900 price is just $2500 over the odds for the ‘regular’ A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW) model it’s based on - and for that money you get $7000 of additional kit. See the sections above for what the Black Edition adds - it’s mostly visual.
You can get a wagon version of the A4 Black Edition, too. It’ll cost you $3000 more, with a list price of $66,900 for the 140kW front-wheel drive version.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the standard equipment on this spec of A4 is the S line styling package with sportier front and rear bumpers than you’ll see on lower-grade European-spec A4 models, and in addition to the LED exterior lighting all around, you’d usually get 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel, where our Black Edition has 19s.
Other standard inclusions on this spec include auto headlights and auto wipers, tyre pressure monitoring, drive mode selection, smart key entry and push-button start, gesture boot opening, electric front seat adjustment, leather-appointed seats (including some fake leather elements), a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, three-zone climate control air conditioning, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Plus there’s a 7.0-inch media screen (not a touchscreen) with a rotary dial controller, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (which was patchy at best during our test), two USB ports, two SD card inputs, and DAB+ digital radio.
The safety specification of the Audi A4 is decent - see below for more detail.
As for colour options for the standard A4 model range there are only two are no-cost options, 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White'. There are 12 other hues available in metallic and pearl finishes, including two red, two blue, three grey, one brown, one green, one white, one black and one silver (all $1420 extra). This Black Edition model has four colours to choose, all included in the cost.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Pricing for the two-model launch line-up starts at just under $67,900 before on-road costs for the 320d, rising to $70,990 for the 330i.
Given many previous Australia-bound 3 Series models have been built in South Africa it's fair to ask where is the BMW 3 Series built, and the answer this time around is Germany.
And the standard features list is long, including 'Adaptive LED headlights' (with 'High-Beam Assistant'), LED fog lights and tail-lights, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (with electric fold-in function), rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, electrically-adjustable sports front seats (with memory function for driver and front passenger), wireless smartphone charging, 'Aluminium Tetragon' interior trim finishers, 12.3-inch 'BMW Live Cockpit Professional' digital instrument display, 'Navigation System Professional' with 10.25-inch digital touchscreen display also managing a 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system, including a 20GB hard drive and DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay is included.
Also included are 'BMW TeleServices' taking in 'ConnectedDrive'(free use of vehicle apps via 'BMW Online'), real-time traffic info and 'Concierge Services'. The 'BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant' responds to a "Hey BMW' voice command with a range of hands-free functions like nav, calls and texts. We had mixed success in challenging this friendly PA.
The default M Sport trim includes 18-inch 'M Double-spoke' light alloy wheels, BMW Individual high-gloss 'Shadow Line' black treatment on the window frame and air breather surround, the 'M Aerodynamics package' (aero front and rear bumper trims, and side sills), Alcantara/Sensatec (vinyl) upholstery (black with contrast blue stitching), Anthracite BMW Individual headliner, and an M leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons).
The no-cost 'Luxury Line' treatment swaps in 'Vernasca' leather seats, ash grey-brown interior wood trim, a sport leather steering wheel, the instrument panel trimmed in Sensatec and standard level sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 19-inch alloys, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry to all doors), adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, 'Driving Assistant Professional' (active cruise control with 'Stop&Go' function, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and 'Evasion Aid'), and 'Parking Assistant Plus' ('Parking Assistant' with 'Active Park Distance Control' rear, 'Reversing Assistant', 'Surround View', 'Panorama View', and '3D View').
In terms of colours, 'Alpine White' and black are no-cost, wihle metallic shades - 'Black Saphire', 'Melbourne Red', 'Glacier Silver', 'Mineral White', 'Mineral Grey', 'Mediterranean Blue', 'Sunset Orange', 'Velmont Bronze' (brown), and 'Portimao Blue' add $2000 (rrp). And the 'BMW Individual' metallic shade of 'Dravit Grey' adds $2350.
Lots and lots of fruit without any change to the price. Clearly BMW is determined to bring the 3 Series back to prominence.
Engine & trans
The A4 2.0 TFSI model we have is the front-wheel drive model, which runs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 140kW of power (at 4200-6000rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1500-4200rpm).
It is available only with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic.
There’s a second Black Edition version of the A4, which is the one with quattro all-wheel drive and a higher tune of the 2.0-litre engine (185kW/370Nm). That’s the one I’d go for, if the budget allowed.
BMW 3 Series8/10
The 320d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, featuring common-rail direct-injection and variable inlet timing. It produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
The turbo's multi-stage design incorporates a small, high-pressure, fixed-vane turbocharger as well as a larger, low-pressure, variable-vane turbo to maximise response, performance and efficiency.
A 2.0-litre single turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine sits under the 330i's bonnet incorporating direct-injection, as well as variable valve and cam timing. Peak outputs are 190kW from 5000-6500rpm and 400Nm between 1550-4400rpm.
Mark the date because this is the first time the BMW 3 Series has been offered in Australia without a manual gearbox option. Both launch models send drive to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic (with wheel-mounted shift paddles) only.
Over my week with the car, I did more about 1000 kilometres. A lot of the time I had the boot full, two adults and two dogs on board. But in other instances I had five adults on board, running from town to town on a long weekend holiday.
My fuel use on test was just 7.1L/100km, which I was very impressed with.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite each car's performance potential claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is commendably low.
BMW says the 320d delivers excellent diesel fuel economy, consuming a miserly 4.5L/100km, emitting 119g/km of CO2 in the process, with the 330i's fuel consumption figure coming in at 6.4L/100km and 147g/km.
You'll need minimum 95 RON premium unleaded in the 330i, with both petrol and diesel requiring 59 litres to fill the tank to full capacity.
This particular version of the Audi A4 range has always perplexed me a bit.
There’s another front-wheel drive model below it with a 1.4-litre turbo engine (with 110kW/250Nm), which I’ve driven and I liked quite a bit. And it costs about $5000 less than the non-Black Edition version of this grade.
Then there’s the model above it, which uses the same 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but has quattro all-wheel drive and more power (185kW) and torque (370Nm). To me, that version is a lot more appealing, although it does cost about $8000 more.
The 2.0-litre in this version, with 140kW/320Nm, isn’t necessarily short of grunt, with Audi claiming a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering, but it’s quick enough.
At low speeds the engine and transmission can be a little slow to act, with some turbo lag and dual-clutch transmission hesitation to contend with, but you do get used to it.
At higher speeds the gearshifts are clever and brilliantly slick, and the gearbox has a decoupling mode, which allows fuel saving because the transmission can be disengaged when you’re coasting down hills.
Even with the sports suspension and bigger wheels with low-profile tyres, the A4 was mostly comfortable when it came to handling inconsistencies in the road surface. There was some twitching over mid-corner bumps, but it never got out of hand, and around town with five on-board I had to ensure I slowed down for speedhumps, as it could be a bit sharp.
The steering isn’t as involving as a BMW 3 series, but it is light and easy to twirl, making for super easy low speed moves. At pace, there’s a reasonable amount of feel and feedback, but twister bends made for a little bit of understeer if you hit them with pace.
I didn’t particularly love the drive experience of this Audi A4, but nor did it upset me to any great degree. Sure, you get more handling purity in one of its rear-wheel drive competitors, but in regular day-to-day driving, it was decent. Just not overly exciting.
To be honest, my biggest testing gremlins were multimedia based. I had a lot of trouble connecting and reconnecting via Bluetooth, with audio problems aplenty. Plus the CarPlay system - when paired with a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen - is beyond painful.
It’s designed for a touchscreen, like a phone, strangely enough. That and the fact the screen looks out of date already, plus the reversing camera is pixelated… all of that let the drive experience down a bit.
BMW 3 Series8/10
First, the performance figures. BMW claims the 320d will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec, which is agreeably quick, while the 330i knocks that down to 5.8sec, which is properly fast.
Both engines deliver the same 400Nm of maximum torque at low rpm; 1750-2500rpm for the 320d, and a broader 1550-4400rpm spread for the 330i. Mid-range acceleration is strong and satisfyingly linear in each, the 330i that bit more urgent at the top end.
The eight-speed auto is velvety smooth, with the wheel-mounted shift paddles on hand for rapid 'manual' changes. Engine noise is muted at low revs but nice and rorty under pressure.
A stated aim in the development of this 3 Series was "dynamic engagement", and the standard strut front, multi-link rear suspension has been tuned to reinforce the driving part of the brand's long-standing 'ultimate driving machine' promise.
The standard suspension includes tricky two-stage dampers front and rear, but with all cars at the local launch fitted with the optional active damper system we'll have to wait to report on its quality (or otherwise).
This car's centre-of-gravity is 10mm lower than the model it replaces, which may not sound like much, but in engineering terms, absolutely is. In concert with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and wider tracks front and rear, it helps deliver an overall planted feel and predictable cornering balance.
The electro-mechanically assisted steering is accurate and linear with good road feel, which is not always the case in recent Beamers.
The launch fleet was also rolling on 19-inch rims (standard on 330i, optional on 320d) shod with Bridgestone Turanza run-flat rubber (225/40f - 255/35r) and despite that type of tyre's reputation for harsh characteristics and a moderate level of road noise, ride comfort on the typically coarse rural roads we covered in the Victorian high country was impressive.
Braking on both models is by ventilated disc front and rear, and even in spirited cornering maintained their power and efficiency. The M Sport brake package fitted to the 330i dials things up with four-piston alloy calipers (sourced from Brembo) up front.
The standard sports steering wheel is fat and grippy, the sports front seats combine firm location with long-distance comfort and overall noise levels are low. Overall, this is a super-impressive touring car.
The Audi A4 four-cylinder range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2015, and that still applies today.
The entire model range has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and Audi’s 'Exit Warning' system that will warn/stop you from opening your door into the path of pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. Driver attention assist is standard, too.
Also standard is a reversing camera (with a pretty poor, pixelated display, it has to be said) and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a package that includes a 360-degree surround view camera system and semi-autonomous parking, at an additional cost.
There are eight airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain), and the rear seat has three top-tether points for child seats and two ISOFIX anchors.
Missing from the safety package is any form of lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and radar / adaptive cruise control. If you’re willing to spend an extra $1900 you can have that stuff in a bundle with high-speed AEB, auto high-beam lights, and a system called 'Collision Avoidance Assist' which makes the steering extra responsive to avoid potential collisions.
BMW 3 Series9/10
The new 3's active safety package is exactly where it needs to be, with all the 'cost-of-entry' items like ASC, DSC, ABS, 'Braking Assist', and traction control included. But additional tech includes everything from all-speed AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Change Warning', head-up display and 'Front Collision Warning' (with brake intervention), to 'Cornering Brake Control', 'Rear Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Rear Collision Prevention', 'Speed Limit Information', 'Parking Assist' (with 'Reversing Assistant') and 'Dynamic Braking Lights'.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 'Steering and Lane Control Assist', 'Emergency Stop Assistant', 'Auto Speed Limit Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', 'Front Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Evasion Aid', 'Crossroads Warning' (with 'City Braking' function), 'Wrong Way Warning', as well as 'Parking Assistant Plus' (with 'Surround View Camera' and 'Remote 3D View').
On the passive side, the airbag count runs to eight (front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, and head airbags for all four outer seats). 'Intelligent Emergency Call' is also included.
There three top tether anchors for child seats/baby restraints across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
This seventh-generation 3 Series is yet to be assessed by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but it's a safe bet it will pick up a maximum five-star safety rating.
Audi - like its German luxury car competitors - offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is fine, but many mainstream brands are bettering that level of cover.
Further, there’s a three-year service plan you can choose, which covers the first 36 months / 45,000km of servicing (with intervals every 12 months / 15,000km). It’s not a capped price service plan, per se, as you have to pre-purchase it, and it will cost you $1620 (price correct at the time of writing).
Roadside assistance is included at the time of purchase, and spans three years - just like the warranty.
BMW 3 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is drifting off the pace now with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of service packages in 'Basic' and 'Plus' grades up to 10 years/200,000km.