Audi RS4 VS BMW 3 Series
- Immense traction
- Easy to drive fast
- Practical, too
- Steering not perfect
- Missing one or two things
- S4 makes better financial sense
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
Think about the word ‘functional'. You might notice that there are three letters at the start of the word that people don't often associate with station wagons. That's not the case for the 2018 Audi RS 4.
This isn't your everyday station wagon. It's a hyperbole-generating monster - a family-friendly estate with a licence to punish. Audi goes as far as to suggest that it offers "supercar performance and everyday practicality".
And why wouldn't it? With a bolshie engine, all-wheel drive and more grunt than a pair of conjoined twin hot-hatches, it's a model that has little to prove... especially to those people who appreciate what those precious first three letters can do to improve a drab drive in city traffic.
But there's something that can't be understated about this new-generation RS 4: it isn't like the model that came before it. There's no V8 engine under that shapely bonnet, because of the the new RS 4 isn't like the old one. The V8 is gone... and yes, when I first read that Audi had done the unthinkable and pulled the bahnstorming eight-cylinder screamer in favour of a downsized twin-turbo six I was shocked and horrified.
Without its star attraction, could it still be fun? I don't want to spoil the story, so be sure to read on to find out...
|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 is no doubting that the all-new Audi RS 4 is a pragmatic option, probably more so now than ever before. It does the dual-personality thing better than the model that came before it, and perhaps better than anything else at this price point, too.
If you want a practical family wagon that just also happens to be punishingly fast, and you have the budget to consider something like the new Audi RS 4, it should be on your shopping list. And probably towards the top, too.
Are you a fan of fast station wagons? Let us know 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.
If you like wagons, you'll totally get it. If you're a hater, or even ambivalent, then you'll probably still get it.
Admittedly it could look even more aggressive, but it has to balance practicality with pouncing killy animal aggression. Even so, I think there's a lot to like here, from the squared-off front and rear quarter panels, the broad (even broader than the regular A4 range, in fact) 'single-frame' grille, and the bejewelled looking LED headlights.
It looks even better from behind, with the broad rear haunches really hunkering it down, and the wide tail-lights and sneaky little fake vents on the side adding extra back-end bulk. Note: the rear light-edge vents may be fake, but the front ones actually work to channel air to cool the brakes.
There are 20-inch wheels in a few different designs, but my personal choice would be the milled aluminium single-piece ones you see on the blue car in these images. They're gorgeous, even if they cost more. And I couldn't not have the signature Nogaro Blue Pearl, which was the same colour as the RS 2 wagon that started the hot wagon thing for Audi... again, at a high price.
Thankfully, I wouldn't need to spend an extra cent inside, because the interior is lush. There are all the typically Audi finishes - it's a high-end and luxurious environment, but with lashings of sporty elements that help it feel almost like a leather tracksuit. Take a look at the pictures of the interior to make up your own mind.
Compared with, say, a regular A4 Avant, the RS 4 Avant is bigger in every way except height. It measures 4781mm long (up 56mm), 1886mm wide (up 44mm) and 1404mm tall (down 30mm). It's quite heavy, too, weighing in at 1800kg, which is about 150kg more than the entry-level wagon.
As good as it looks, I just can't help but think maybe it could have been even more aggressive. The last model certainly had muscle and more macho with its even more angular guards. But maybe the world has moved on a bit, and I'm just not ready for it.
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.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a very, very pleasant place to be. Typically Teutonic, typecast technical Audi, but with some sporty flourishes. The hard-backed sport bucket seats up front offer a great amount of adjustment (though the driver's seat base is a little too high), and depending on what interior trim you opt for, you may see aluminium or carbon finishes throughout.
The quilted leather is lovely, and the materials are all superb - so is the fit and finish. One of the cars I drove had an optional pack with Alcantara trim, with that material covering the shifter and steering wheel - the latter of which I love, because it's smooth yet grippy. I'm not so sold on manual steering adjustment for a car at this price point, however.
With the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital screen spreading 12.3-inches in front of the driver, there's no shortage of info to choose from. It's been around a few years now, but I still love the look of Google Maps in front of me.
There's also Audi's MMI touch system, a rotary dial with a touchpad on top that is pretty simple to use, and it links up to a high-resolution 8.3-inch screen on the dash top. All the connectivity stuff you'd expect is included - Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio, DAB+ digital radio, and an inbuilt hard-drive for your own music storage. You won't be left wanting for entertainment.
There are reasonably good sized cup holders up front, a covered centre console, some loose-item storage areas and adequate bottle holders in all four doors. The back seat has mesh map pockets (set on hard plastic seatbacks - good for limited damage to fabric if you have children who like to kick the seat) and a flip-down armrest with cupholders.
Space in the rear is easily good enough for a six-foot (183cm) tall adult like myself to slot behind someone of the same size, with ample kneeroom, good toe room and enough headroom to ensure no hairs were out of place. The width is surprisingly decent, too.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and three top-tether attachments as well. And parents (and children alike) will appreciate the rear air vents, and three-zone climate control system that allows a seperate temperature in the back.
The boot is a good size, with 505 litres of capacity up to the multifunctional luggage cover (which includes an integrated mesh cargo barrier and operates electronically in conjunction with the boot lid). It also has a reversible floor section - carpet one side, plastic on the other - perfect for tying down wet clothes (using the included mesh elasticated web net) or even performing potentially messy nappy changes. The boot expands to 1510L with the seats down.
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
The new twin-turbo V6 model is priced at $152,900 plus on-road costs, which represents a slight hike over its V8-powered predecessor, but Audi claims to have added $22,000 of extra equipment.
Standard inclusions offered in the RS4 consist of 20-inch alloy wheels, red RS brake calipers, an adjustable sports exhaust system, Audi's sport differential, adaptive sports suspension, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, adaptive rear LED indicators and tinted rear windows with acoustic front glass.
Standard interior kit includes Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' 12.3-inch driver info screen with configurable RS display mode, an 8.3-inch tablet media screen with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, DAB+ digital radio, and a stonking 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system.
The front sports seats with Nappa leather trim and honeycomb quilting (which apparently mirrors the design of the grille mesh) also feature bolster adjustment, massage function, memory settings for the driver's seat and electric adjustment and heating for both sides. There is an ambient-lighting system with 30 different colour options, too.
A panoramic sunroof is fitted as standard, but for hot areas of the country it can be deleted if the buyer so chooses. Smart key entry and push-button start is standard, and there's an auto tailgate with gesture control.
Even though that list is long, there are still option boxes you can choose to tick. Things like the carbon and black styling pack ($11,900), the 'Technik Pack' (with head-up display, Matrix LED headlights, wireless phone charging - $3900) and other style-focused extras like the 20-inch milled aluminium wheels ($1600). There are several colour options to choose, including the Misano Red pearl finish ($1846), or the brilliant 'Nogaro Blue Pearl' ($5450)... but not all the colours cost money, with a selection available at no cost.
See below for the extensive safety kit list - because it's hugely lengthy!
As for where the competitors sit, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon lists a little higher, at $159,711 plus on-roads. There's no BMW M3 wagon, but the sedan version is $141,610 plus costs... and it's the only one with manual or auto to choose from. There's no Lexus, Infiniti or Volvo equivalent model. But I guess you could consider the S4 a good alternative at $50,000 less, and it's available as a sedan or a wagon...
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
This isn't the first time the Audi RS 4 has had a twin-turbo V6 engine under its bonnet. Back in 2000, the very first RS 4 launched with a 2.7-litre biturbo engine.
This all-new model has a 2.9-litre twin-turbo unit, which shares much with the Audi S4 and S5 models (they run a 3.0-litre turbo - the engine in the RS 4 is a smaller capacity and has a shorter stroke, but adds a turbo over the lesser S models).
It's no V8, however. The most recent model before this one had a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated unit with 331kW of power and 430Nm of torque.
This new version carries over the same power output - 331kW - but it hits between 5700-6700rpm, not at 8250rpm like the old V8. And torque has seen a substantial kick up the behind, now rated at 600Nm.
Not only has torque increased by about 45 per cent, it's also across a broader rev range - now it spans 1900-5000rpm, where it was not only lower but shorter-lived and less usable in the V8 (4000-6000rpm).
And the all important 0-100km/h time? It's now at 4.1 seconds, where it used to be 4.7sec. The top speed remains identical - 250km/h.
What about the sound, though? Read the driving section below... or better yet, watch the video!
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.
Fuel consumption for the 2018 Audi RS 4 is rated at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, which is fairly good for a vehicle with this much propulsion potential. CO2 emissions are rated at 202g/km.
Both of those are big improvements over the V8 that preceded it - the claimed consumption was 10.7L/100km and emissions were 249g/km.
But it's worth noting that Mercedes-AMG has the C63 wagon with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that has more power (375kW) and torque (700Nm) yet uses less fuel (8.7L/100km).
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.
It only took three corners for me to feel 100 per cent comfortable with the controls of the Audi RS 4. Some cars may take a few minutes before you become accustomed to how the throttle, brakes and steering want to be used, but it was mere seconds in this case.
That's because of the outright predictability of the RS 4 - it's hard to set a foot wrong, with excellent throttle response, strong but progressive braking, and better steering than I've experience in any Audi outside of the R8. It's not perfect - there's still a little bit of deadness or stickiness on centre - but I like the way it helps you pivot the car and apply lock at pace, thanks to nice weighting and resistance. The steering is light when you want it, and hefty when you need it.
The adaptive dampers and 20-inch wheels can't totally divorce the road surface from the bodies of the occupants in the cabin, and over patchy surfaces the ride can be a little pitchy, even in the Comfort setting.
But those dampers help stiffen the chassis up in Sport mode, negating body roll brilliantly. That, combined with the traction of the excellent quattro all-wheel drive system with a self-locking centre differential, and the grip of the Continental tyres makes for a really enjoyable way to cut through a series of corners.
Of course there are electronic helpers underneath, including a torque-vectoring-by-braking system and torque-splitting rear differential that pushes load to where it's needed most - but unless you had a screen in front of you telling when they were being used you wouldn't know. It all just feels really natural in the way it handles itself.
Now, that engine.
No, it isn't a V8, but what it is is a powerhouse weapon. It's still rev-happy, and the transmission allows it to be that way: in Dynamic mode with the shifter in S (not D) there is a brilliant willingness to the way it hangs on to gears - through a series of sweeping corners, getting on and off the throttle and brake pedal respectively, it had incredible intuition - third gear was the most usable, and gave the most, too.
The engine's sound isn't as visceral as the V8 of its predecessor, but it isn't what I'd call dull. There's a nice bit of chortle on the overrun, and it sounds pretty menacing when you punch the go pedal.
In normal driving, too, it's well suited to regular duties. It just so happens that its great at going fast, which is what you want from an RS model.
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.
There is no model-specific Audi RS 4 Avant crash-test rating, but the Audi A4 (four-cylinder) range managed the maximum five-star EuroNCAP / ANCAP test score in 2015.
Rest assured, though, the RS 4 has a lot of standard equipment.
The standard safety equipment list includes Audi's pre-sense front system with auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (which works up to 85km/h), plus a 360-degree camera with reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. Plus the traffic-jam assist system, which debuted in 2015 on the Q7 and uses two radars to read the road ahead - even scanning in front of the car directly in front of you.
There's active lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, turn assist (which will stop you from driving through an intersection if the car doesn't think you'll make it), auto high-beam lights, rear cross-traffic alert (with audible, visual and physical notification - it can jolt the brakes if you aren't paying attention), multi-collision braking (which will stop the car if you have an accident to prevent further mishap).
There's also Audi's clever "exit warning system" that will flash the ambient lights if an occupant is about to open their door into the path of oncoming cars or cyclists.
The RS 4 has eight airbags (dual front, front side, rear side and full-length curtains).
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 covers all of its models with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which, by market standards is starting to look a little low, but in the premium part of the market, not many brands do much better.
As for servicing costs, it's a bit of a guessing game. The entire RS model range, as well as the R8 supercar, isn't covered by the same Audi Genuine Care pre-purchase setup you can get on a regular (non RS) model. That plan covers three years/45,000km of maintenance, and in the case of the A4/S4, the cost is $1620. Expect more than that for the RS 4.
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.