Audi A8 VS BMW 3 Series
- Unmistakably Audi
- Amazing interior design
- Groundbreaking safety features
- Pricey options
- Most of its autonomous tech locked out for Aus
BMW 3 Series
- A PHEV keen drivers can embrace at last
- Useable real-world pure-EV commuting ability
- Quality BMW cabin design and presentation
- Lofty pricing, and that's before expensive options
- Reduced boot capacity compared to regular 3 Series
- 2.0-litre turbo four lacks BMW six-cylinder refinement at higher revs
In a world where genuine wood trim and nappa leather comes in a Mazda6 for under $50,000, premium brands like Audi have been forced to come up with new hallmarks to underpin their status and asking prices.
The new, fourth-generation Audi A8 is no different, packing hardware capable of autonomous driving well ahead of what is currently allowed on any public roads, along with an array of safety, efficiency and convenience firsts for the brand that cement the model's position at the top of the four-ringed luxury tree.
The current S-Class may measure your vital signs and aim to improve your general well-being, but it won't give you a foot massage. If you tick the right options boxes, the new A8 will.
We were among the first to drive the new A8 at its Australian launch around Sydney last week.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
BMW 3 Series
Is the 330e the best of both worlds?
A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), it’s a part-time electric car for the city and a full-time sports sedan for everywhere else.
Both were based on the previous F30 3 Series shape. However, this year’s all-new G20 iteration improves the breed with a bigger boot, up to 50 per cent better range and brawnier performance.
The thing is, it shares showrooms with the 330i and M340i xDrive, which represent a powerful return-to-form for the 3 Series.
So, the question isn’t so much ‘Is the 330e a good enough PHEV?’ more so than ‘Is the PHEV worthy of the BMW badge?’ Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
The new A8 is a very accomplished machine, and can certainly be optioned up with enough toys to entertain and comfort whether you're riding in the front or back.
It's not possible to say if its better than the S-Class or 7 Series in isolation, but it has a unique design ambience that's unmistakably Audi. If you're a four-ring devotee, you won't be missing out.
Based on this test, the sweet spot of the range is the long-wheelbase 55 TFSI. At this end of the market, it's fair to say the extra $12,000 for the added length and $3000 for the smoothest and most powerful engine are worth it.
Regardless of the bigger wheels, we'd probably spring for the Premium plus package and the Executive package's rear seat with the Entertainment package for all the most impressive toys. This would mean a total list of almost $250k, but it's arguably how Audi intended the new model to be.
Also check out Peter Anderson's video review from the A8's international launch:
Would you consider the new A8 over an S-Class or 7 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW 3 Series9/10
You know about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right?
Well, its themes of too little or too much apply for buyers of an eco-focused luxury sports sedan. If a hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h isn’t electrified enough, and a pure EV such as the Tesla Model 3 is going too far, then a PHEV like the 330e plugs the gap just about perfectly.
Yes, prices are high (and especially so with a few choice options), boot capacity is on the low side for a 4.7-metre long sedan and that lusty four-pot turbo is sonically no match for a turbine-smooth BMW inline six as per the M340i, but the 330e does most of the expected things well and some of the ones you might not exceptionally.
Pay the price and you can have your cake and eat it too.
At first glance the new A8's exterior styling may look a tad obvious, with unmistakably Audi design adding a bunch of straight lines to make things look more serious.
The reality is far more considered, being the first whole design to emerge under Audi Design boss Marc Lichte's stewardship. Previewed by the first Prologue concept in 2014, the result has an elegance that underlines its position as Audi's flagship and is less likely to be confused with an A6 than the S-Class can be with the E-Class.
If you're after the ultimate in design details and lighting performance, you can also opt for $13,200 laser headlights that can double the range of LED headlights to 600m ahead. This option also brings OLED tail-lights with jewel-like filaments less than 1.0mm thick.
Compared with the third-generation model it replaces, the size of the new A8 is 37mm longer, 13mm taller but 4.0mm narrower, riding on a 6.0mm longer (2998mm) wheelbase. The long wheelbase version is 130mm longer again in wheelbase and overall.
In A8 guise, it combines aluminium, steel, magnesium and CFRP to result in the biggest material variety used in an Audi to date. Kerb weight ranges from 1995kg for the short-wheelbase petrol model to 2020kg for the long-wheelbase version, with the diesel versions adding 55kg respectively.
A 15-spoke, 19-inch wheel design is standard for Australia, but the Premium plus package fitted to all the cars we tested brings a 10-spoke 20-inch design, while the options list includes another three choices of 20-inch wheels. You can also get 21-inch alloys with the optional Sport package.
As you'll see in the interior images, the A8 represents another significant step forward for Audi design, with horizontal themes and numerous traditional controls now hidden beneath touchpads.
Key among these is the deletion of the centre console controller for the multimedia system, which has been replaced by an 8.6-inch secondary touchscreen beneath the 10.1-inch main screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfaces are available via USB connection, and the A8 will act as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot if you sign up for a data plan.
This split layout is less imposing than using one giant screen as in a Tesla, and both give haptic and acoustic feedback to commands to simplify use while driving. All versions also score the excellent 12.3-inch 'Virtual Cockpit' display ahead of the driver.
All A8s also now get a smartphone-like back seat remote controller, which enables control of temperature settings, seat adjustment, lighting, media functions and window blinds (when optioned) via its 5.7-inch OLED touchscreen.
Another surprise detail is that the interior door handles are now power assisted, which represents the lengths Audi has gone to in reducing control weights.
BMW 3 Series
Remember when BMW 3 Series were compact three-box sedans that looked like nothing else? Today’s version seems so close in size to a 5 Series that only an anorak can instantly tell them apart. In fact, at a glance, differentiating the current G20 from the old F30 generation isn’t so easy, either.
It’s no surprise, then, to learn that both the 3- and 5 Series share the company’s scalable, light but super-strong ‘Cluster Architecture’. Imbued with a large-car feel, the 330e is elegant in silhouette and handsomely detailed, its imposing stance highlighted by the M Sport lowered suspension (by 10mm) and bi-colour five-prong double-spoke 19-inch alloys and (optional) Laser-light LEDs.
Flying under the radar for an eco-warrior, there is nothing other than two ‘filler’ flaps to give the PHEV game away externally. It’s all business as usual.
The same cool insouciance permeates our 3 Series’ leather-laden and metallic-accented cabin, that is now properly spacious for four adults. It still retains the signature-BMW driver-centric dashboard angle, but the style certainly isn’t retro, with twin large digital displays and a myriad of personalisation and vehicle configuration choices underlining the 330e’s modernity.
Aided by plenty of eco incentives to go PHEV, in Europe, BMW expects the 330e to be the best selling version; that said, given the inherent conservatism of premium medium sedan buyers globally, there is virtually nothing about this model’s overall execution that is too futuristic, intimidating or oddball.
Choosing the biggest sedan in the line-up isn't just about outdoing your neighbours, it's also fair to expect enough room to stretch out and ponder your stock options.
Despite the new A8's minor 6.0mm wheelbase growth, the interior dimensions have grown 32mm in length, which has expanded legroom as well as headroom.
Fundamental practicality elements are covered as well, with a cupholder and bottle holder for each outboard passenger, an array of USB and 12-volt charge points and two ISOFIX child seat mounts for the back seat. There's also a Qi wireless phone charger within the centre console.
Boot space is a useful 505 litres, and while there's no split-fold for the back seat, there is the capacity to bring curtain rods home from Bunnings via the ski port. There is also a space saver spare wheel beneath the boot floor.
BMW 3 Series
For a swoopy sports sedan, the 330e’s interior is pleasingly practical and – after a little familiarisation – user-friendly. As the biggest-ever 3 Series, four average-sized adults can fit in easily, while a smaller fifth person can crowd in on the rear-centre cushion. For short periods, anyway.
One surprise is the lightness of the doors due to them being partly aluminium, which means while they close with a reassuring thud, they’re might feel flimsy at first.
No such misconceptions await once inside the cocoon-quiet cabin, thanks to solid and lush materials everywhere the eye lands and hands touch. Even the plastics seem expensive.
As the 3 Series is famous for, the 330e’s dash is driver-centric, with ample adjustability of the fat-rimmed wheel and unimpeded reach for most of the important switchgear. Sat low and cosily ensconced between door and bisecting centre console, the mood is definitely grand-touring sports sedan.
For this generation, BMW has honed the once-controversial 'iDrive' controller into an artful yet logical example of on-the-move multimedia interface and data retrieval, with a concerted effort to simplify what is a mountain of available information.
Of course, familiarisation is essential, but even a short tuition will open up a world of configuration and customisation of every single facet of the car – chassis, powertrain, climate control, audio, communication and media being the main platforms. Sounds intimidating but isn’t.
To help relax (or energise), there’s even a ‘Caring Car’ feature in the sub menus with appropriately chilled ambient lighting, audio and climate control.
Indeed, the Germans have made strides in improving the perceived quality and functionality in other areas of the latest 3 Series, such as the gear lever operation, thoughtful storage and effortlessly effective ventilation.
However, the digital instrumentation has ignored decades of classy analogue style for a messy computerised multi-view layout that is just too Space Invaders.
Sure, it’s multi-configurable and includes a less-cluttered basic screen, but where’s the sophistication and beauty here? Notice to carmakers: would you wear a watch this ugly?
Moving to the back seat, the optional sunroof might eat into rear headroom, and really long-legged travellers need to ensure the front-seat occupants are as far forward as comfortably possible, but otherwise it’s the same story of well-sculptured cushions and backrests, set within a business-class style environment.
Twin USB-C ports, a 12V outlet and temperature controls are a bonus, hungry door pockets can take a large drink bottle and the essential cupholders are set within the centre armrest.
The only giveaway that this 3 Series is hauling extra electrification is inside the boot. Somewhat shallower than the regular 480-litre item, a higher floor than usual cuts that by 105L to 375L.
But at least the battery doesn’t intrude to the point where you can’t use the cabin load-through with the tri-sected backrests folded down (via a handy lever if you’re standing behind the vehicle). A through-loading system is part of the standard 40/20/40 split-fold backrest.
The floor itself is stepped half way, but if you require a flat surface, it can be lifted to even out the area. And remember, there is no spare wheel – just tyres that can be driven ‘flat’ as required to drive you to the nearest garage.
Price and features
The fact that the new A8's entry price has dropped almost $6000 to $192,000 is likely to have less impact than a $19,990 Hyundai i30 special, but Audi's claim that it offers up to $36,000 more value than before may lower a few bifocals.
Introducing Audi's new naming scheme, which no longer makes reference to engine capacity in preparation for electrification, the diesel base model wears a 50 TDI badge, before moving $3000 north to the petrol 55 TSFI. Either models can be had in long-wheelbase form (signified by a capital L after A8) which will cost you an additional $15,000 respectively.
The $210,000 A8 L 55 TFSI at the top of the price list is more than $42,000 cheaper than the previous V8 diesel 4.2 TDI and a more than $120,000 less than the previous S8 Plus, but a new performance flagship is due to appear in the near future.
Value is rather subjective at this end of the price scale, but by comparison the entry RRP for the new A8 undercuts the base 7 Series by $34,900, the S-Class by $3900, but starts $1871 above the Lexus LS.
Both the A8's 50 and 55 engines come with the same trim levels, but when the standard kit is this lengthy it's more a matter of features not included in the A8, rather than those that are.
As you might expect, there's an array of options available. These accessories range from the aforementioned wheel choices and laser lighting to $3600 Alcantara headlining, $4500 all-wheel steering, a $5200 night vision system, or $12,100 3D Bang & Olufsen sound system with 23 speakers.
There are five options packages also, starting with the $6690 'Entertainment package' which brings a six-disc DVD/CD changer (on top of the standard DVD/CD player) and twin tablets for the rear seats which mount to the front seat headrests.
The nappa leather trim can be expanded to the upper and lower dash and glovebox, door trims, headrests, centre console, steering wheel airbag cover and the backs of the front seats with the 'Full leather package' for an extra $9950.
If you can't hold out for the sport edition S8, you can almost look the part with the $9950 'Sport package', which brings a more aggressive front and rear bumper, 21-inch wheels, all-wheel steering and expanded 'piano black' interior trim.
Audi Australia tells us all A8s ordered to date (along with both cars pictured here) have ticked the $11,000 'Premium plus package', which brings 20-inch rims, adaptive windscreen wipers with integrated jets, chrome exterior details, ambient lighting with variable colours, black control buttons, digital TV, electric rear sunblinds, the full leather package mentioned above, interior fragrancing with ionisation technology, rear tinted windows, softer rear headrests and ventilated massage front seats.
If you've already selected the rear seat entertainment system, you can also choose the $18,500 'Executive package' which brings individual reclining back seats and extended centre console - which also eliminates the centre rear seat - with folding tables, front and rear seat ventilation and massage function, heated armrests all round and a heated steering wheel. It's the Executive package that also brings the heated rear passenger-side footrest and the foot massage USP.
BMW 3 Series
It’s clear that electrification will become the norm in the not-too-distant future, from hybrids combining internal combustion engines (ICE) with electric motors and batteries, to the full battery electric vehicle (EV) and eventually hydrogen EV experience.
Somewhere along that spectrum, and nestled between the 320i (from $68,900) and 330i (from $74,900), is the 330e.
Arriving from Germany in either racy M Sport or dreary Luxury grades from $81,900 (before on-road costs), it features an electric motor and battery pack for up to 60km of pure EV propulsion, before a four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine kicks in for in excess of 1800km between refills, officially. Range anxiety be damned.
Mind you, the similarly-engined 320i but minus the electrification is almost 300kg lighter. Blame all that extra electrification swag like an 83kW synchronous motor, 10.3kWh lithium ion battery and a five-metre 1.8kW charging cable.
Being a PHEV means it needs up to six hours to recharge from a regular 10-amp household plug, down to a minimum of around 3.5 hours from a larger power source.
In contrast, a non-plug-in, series-parallel hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h barely manages 2.0km of sub-40km/h-only EV range, before its ICE takes over to replenish a much-smaller battery pack, and relegate the electric motor to mere performance and/or economy boosters only. That’s why the Lexus is some $20,000 cheaper.
Though both promise slightly less EV range than the 330e, the former is comfort-biased while the latter is a bit of a Swedish hot-rod, blitzing all for sheer oomph while scoring all-wheel drive into the bargain.
Note, however, that from $75,425 (before tax and on-road costs) will buy you the mouthful Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus RWD (rear-wheel drive). As a pure EV, the Yank has kicked the ICE habit with a silent and furious need for speed.
Not that our 330e M Sport Package isn’t hot to trot, with its M Sport-enhanced suspension, brakes, aero body kit, 19-inch alloys shod with run-flat tyres (so no spare wheel), steering wheel, Alcantara/Sensonic vinyl upholstery and ‘Shadow Line’ gloss-grey trimmings. Menacing.
The BMW’s list of goodies is barely good enough for a sedan that’s over $90K drive-away. You’ll find adaptive dampers that switch seamlessly from firm to soft depending on how stiff/supple you want the ride to be, auto entry/start, stop/start, heated/folding/dipping mirrors, two USB and a single 12V ports, tri-zone climate control, electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, three-year subscription-based in-car emergency and concierge services, Apple CarPlay (but still not Android Auto at the time of publishing), 12.3-inch digital instrumentation with head-up display, a 10.25-inch central screen, satellite navigation, extended Bluetooth connectivity, an unreliable ‘Hey, BMW’ voice-activation system, digital radio, 205W amplifier audio, a 32GB hard drive, wireless smartphone charger and a personalisation function in the key saving all your preferred settings.
On the safety and security front there’s also autonomous emergency braking (AEB), warnings and active assistance/intervention for steering, lane-change, lane-departure and front/rear cross-traffic (with braking) situations, full-auto parking with surround-view 3D cameras and sensors, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go, auto high-beam LED headlights with delay/off, rain-sensing wipers, low-speed EV-mode acoustic warnings for pedestrians and localised recharging info including range radius. Handy.
Still, a sunroof is optional, as are our car’s trick 'Laser-light' active/adaptive LEDs, ambient cabin lighting, motion-sensor electric bootlid, seat and steering wheel heaters, galvanised trim, and other goodies, amounting to over $10,000. All blow out pricing towards $100K. Ouch.
At least you can pre-set the climate control in your 330e via a BMW app. Cool!
Engine & trans
You might be surprised to learn there's no V8 in the new A8's arsenal - for now, the S8 could change that - but an even greater sign of the times is the return of a petrol version for the first time since 2013. Efficiency gains are the main reason for the petrol comeback, which is explained in detail under the fuel consumption heading below.
Both the 210kW/600Nm 50 TDI turbo-diesel and 250kW/500Nm 55 TFSI petrol specifications use 3.0-litre turbocharged V6s which may seem to be simply plucked from existing models, but they bring mild hybrid technology to the Audi line-up for the first time.
Unlike conventional hybrids that use an electric motor to provide horsepower to drive the vehicle, a mild hybrid (or MHEV) enables the combustion engine to be switched off when the vehicle is coasting or braking, or effectively as an extension of a start/stop system which conserves fuel when a car is stationary.
The A8's mild hybrid system is facilitated by the move to a 48 volt electrical system, with a supplementary 10Ah lithium-ion battery mounted in the boot to keep the electrical systems fed for up to 40 seconds with the engine switched off. Audi claims the system has the capacity to save up to 0.7L/100km.
An extra starter motor has been integrated with the alternator to restart the engine more smoothly via a belt, rather than the conventional cog and ring gear used by the dedicated starter motor for cold starts.
Both engine specs deliver their max torque rating from just above idle, with the 50 TDI at 1250rpm and the 55 TSFI at 1370. Claimed 0-100km/h acceleration performance figures are an impressive 5.9s and 5.6s respectively.
Like all recent longitudinal-engined Audis, the new A8 uses a version of ZF's much lauded eight-speed torque converter auto gearbox, and both engines send power to all four wheels via the 'quattro' all-wheel drive system.
The optional all-wheel steer system can twist the rear wheels by as much as five degrees, reducing the turning circle by around 1.0m at slow speeds. While at higher speeds, the rear wheels move parallel with the fronts by as much as two degrees to improve stability, particularly for rapid lane changes and evasive manoeuvres.
All new A8 variants carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 2300kg.
BMW 3 Series
BMW’s modular (B48) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine delivers 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque, and drives the rear wheels via a ZF eight-speed automatic. The latter is regarded as one of the best transmissions of its type in production today.
That transmission also houses the 83kW/105Nm synchronous motor, while the 10.3kWh battery pack is located underneath the back seat. Total outputs are 185kW/420Nm.
Each power source works together to create a smooth and quiet EV experience up to a published 60km, before the 2.0-litre takes over the main driving function, but powering down again when coasting or under very light throttle, to help eke out maximum mileage between refills.
There are three modes to choose from – 'Sport', 'Hybrid' and 'Electric' – with the latter allowing for pure EV driving as long as the batteries are juiced up enough; otherwise the default Hybrid setting kicks in, where both propulsion options are used to maximum efficiency.
Back in Electric mode, in Battery Control mode, the driver can pre-select a minimum battery charge level for use later on where conditions are better-suited to EV driving – such as in downtown.
There’s also a so-called ‘XtraBoost’ function, providing up to 30kW of extra power (topping out at 215kW) for short periods, and is accompanied by a fake/enhanced exhaust note. It’s a bit of a scorcher, actually, revving hungrily to the redline and reeling in the horizon like a proper BMW should.
Don't go searching for an evocative in-line six-cylinder soundtrack, however. Instead, there's simply a zingy metallic snarl as the tacho swings swiftly upwards. S mode loves holding on to each gear ratio, aided by a thoughtfully placed set of paddle shifters.
Overall, the 3 Series PHEV is surprisingly rapid – clearing the 100km/h marker needs just 5.9 seconds – but subjectively actually feels even faster. BMW limits the 330e's EV top speed to 140km/h, or 230km/h in dinosaur-fuel mode.
Gone are the days where full-size luxury sedans got away with devil-may-care fuel consumption, and even though they still spin six cylinders and need to move around two tonnes, the 55 TFSI petrol versions manage an 8.2L/100km official combined figure. This is when using at least 95 RON Premium unleaded of course.
As you'd expect, the diesel fuel economy is even better with 5.9-6.0 official figures across wheelbases.
With a fuel tank capacity of 72 litres, this suggests a theoretical range between fills of 878km for the petrol models, and between 1200-1220km for the diesels. The A8's spec sheet lists the option of an 82-litre tank if they aren't quite far enough for you.
BMW 3 Series
On the flipside, BMW reckons over 1800km is possible, thanks to the official combined figure of only 2.2 litres per 100km. That’s outstanding range, especially considering the fuel tank is a teeny 40 litres.
Maybe it was the addictive allure of all that XtraBoost oomph, or perhaps it’s the porky 1740kg throwing its weight around, but we could not better 6.3L/100km during our week with the Bavarian wunderkind.
BMW recommends either premium unleaded (95 RON plus) or E10 ethanol, so no standard stuff, please.
Meanwhile, in EV mode, less than 40km is the real-world range, and that can drop dramatically with amenities running like the AC. The EU electricity consumption figure is 15.4kW/h/100km, which is reasonable for the 330e’s size and weight.
Our test started in the worst of Sydney morning traffic, which presented the chance to put the latest adaptive cruise assist (ACA) system through its paces on a very clogged Eastern Distributor.
I'm a huge fan of active cruise control systems that guide the vehicle from speed to a stop, but the A8's ability to start moving again is another step beyond. It helps you avoid being ‘that guy' who hasn't noticed the traffic moving, and would no doubt work wonders for traffic flow if all cars were so equipped. Given the chance, Audi says this system works all the way from 0-250km/h.
No matter what your reaction to the A8's exterior, the freshness of the interior design is like no other, and everything you touch feels first class.
The four-spoke steering wheel has a surprisingly large diameter and is shared with the upcoming A6, but uses thinner spokes than the norm to promote visibility of the virtual cockpit display as the wheel is twirled.
The haptic and acoustic screens make it as easy as we've experienced to handle a touchscreen while driving, but not quite as simple as the previous console controller.
Front and rear seats are softly padded for comfort rather than support, and unsurprisingly there's ample room in every direction for this 172cm tester, regardless of wheelbase.
All examples of the A8 we drove were optioned with the Premium plus package, which means one inch larger 20-inch alloys. Despite all A8s coming standard with adaptive air suspension, small bumps like cats eyes and expansion joints are more noticeable than you might expect. As is often the case, the standard 19-inch alloy wheels are likely to be the solution.
We drove both engines and wheelbase choices at the A8 launch event, and you need to be paying close attention to hear any extra noise from the diesel. It does make a muted groan under throttle, but likely worth the 300-plus kilometres of extra range if that's what you're after.
The diesel's smoothness is also no doubt aided by its use of active engine mounts. If you're after outright refinement and performance, the petrol is the one for you but neither feel in any way sluggish.
Heading through the bends of the Royal National Park and then back over the hills via Macquarie Pass at pace, there was no disguising the fact that the A8 is a big car, and it tends to float unless you select 'Dynamic' from the drive mode selector. Regardless of mode, it's more planted than any luxury SUV.
Making a bee-line back to Sydney via the Hume, the A8 simply wafted along at 110km/h in near silence. As you'd expect.
BMW 3 Series
The good news is that the 330e is designed for built-up and urban environments, since it benefits from a quiet electric motor to whoosh you along almost silently and always serenely for up to that 60km official range. Acceleration is instant, punchy and remains strong as speeds quickly rise, making the BMW ideal for darting in and out of traffic gaps.
In the real world, with the climate-control switched on and other drains on the car, that drops to under 40km, though that can often be more than enough for most commutes. If there’s access to a normal 10a socket, the BMW will be fully charged to get you back home in fewer than six hours.
Of course, the beauty of a PHEV is that the main form of motivation is a brilliantly muscular and responsive BMW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which really gives the 330e wings as a fast and fluent open-road grand tourer. It just laps the miles up.
Still, running on petrol, the Bavarian is as impressive around town, too, since there’s a hefty lump of low-down torque on tap for prompt throttle responses. The superb eight-speed torque-converter auto provides an almost supernatural ability to select the right ratio at the right time, and in a most harmonious manner too.
Perhaps this is a one-off blip in our test car, but a concerning powertrain jolt was discernible from somewhere in the transmission at step-off, as if the 330e is struggling to reconcile electric and petrol power seamlessly.
Every aspect of the BMW PHEV’s powertrain and chassis – engine, transmission, steering and suspension – can be altered from a cushy softness to a muscular firmness, according to the mood of the driver (or passengers).
Although never heavy, there is substance to the steering even at slower speeds, and the upshot is an engaging and involving experience. Switching to Sport intensifies everything, for an edgier, more athletic experience.
Great for keener folk seeking the 3 Series’ enthusiast’s machine reputation. That said, the turning circle is tight for easy manoeuvrability, while the auto parking feature helps getting the sedan into tighter spots, and generally works reliably.
Adaptive dampers do a great job in helping to smother out most of the bumps and ruts of suburbia’s roads, though larger speed humps can expose the limits of available suspension travel as well as ground clearance (147mm).
Out on the open road, the steering is a boon, working with the taut chassis for sharp handling and balanced roadholding. Displaying towering levels of roadholding, the 330e simply remains glued to the road, even at speed.
One small observation is that the 330e lacks a mechanical limited slip differential, so there isn’t quite the surgical handling crispness that elevates the latest 330i into the dynamic stratosphere.
That, plus the extra mass of the PHEV, do dull the steering’s sharpness and BMW’s overall agility slightly. Never stodgy, just not supernaturally athletic. That’s the price you pay for parsimony.
Finally, in the sportier settings, with the stability and traction controls’ hold loosened, the tail can be made to swing out, meaning the driver must remain alert and ready to reel it all back into place.
This isn’t as much a flaw as a playful aspect of the 330e’s very broad dynamic bandwidth. There’s something for everyone.
The airbag count has been further bolstered by an industry-first centre airbag, which has been designed to prevent head clashes between front seat occupants. This also represents Audi thinking beyond any Euro NCAP or ANCAP criteria.
It also comes with Audi's exit warning system, which warns the driver of passing cars or cyclists but can now delay the door opening in case the driver doesn't see the warning light.
A front-mounted laser scanner replaces the usual radar system for active cruise control and front AEB, which doubles the range of a radar scanner to 80m and enables both functions to work at speeds up to 250km/h.
This laser scanner is also key to the A8's Level 3 autonomous preparation, but local laws limit its capability to active cruise control with lane assist.
BMW 3 Series
As part of the G20 3 Series line-up, the 330e achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating in October, 2019.
There basically isn’t an active or passive safety item left unticked in this grade, meaning AEB (operational from 5km/h to 210km/h), stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control and brake-assist, active lane-change and lane-departure warnings and intervention, front and rear cross-traffic alert with braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Eight airbags are fitted – front and side airbags for driver and front passenger and head airbags for all outboard seat occupants.
There’s also adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, as well as a low-speed EV-mode acoustic warning for pedestrians and cyclists to get out of the way. That’s set to about 20km/h.
Like all Audis, the new A8 is covered by a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty. This is short of the five year-plus periods becoming more common among mainstream brands, but equal to the terms offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Lexus differs by offering a four year, 100,000km plan.
Service intervals and capped price servicing mirror the previous A8, with a 12 month/15,000km schedule, and maintenance costs for the first three services can be wrapped into a package for $1900.
We had no issues during our test, but any common faults, common problems or reliability issues are likely to appear on our A8 problems page.
BMW 3 Series
The 330e’s servicing is condition-based, depending on how it’s driven and other factors, with a dash warning appearing to let the driver/owner know when it’s time. In the UK, a two-year/30,000km interval is advised, if that helps.
No capped-price servicing regime is offered, but the 'BMW Service Inclusive Basic' packages cover scheduled servicing from three years/40,000km to five years/80,000km, and start from $1350.