Audi RS4 VS BMW 5 Series
- Immense traction
- Easy to drive fast
- Practical, too
- Steering not perfect
- Missing one or two things
- S4 makes better financial sense
BMW 5 Series
- Engaging dynamics
- Top-notch interiors
- Clever technology across the range
- Price hikes on almost every model
- Six-cylinder engine reserved for most expensive models
- Apple CarPlay a cost option
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 5 Series
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new BMW 5 Series 520d, 530i, 530d and 540i sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.
When we're all living under the cruel rule of our robot overlords, the few remaining human historians will track the genesis of our downfall to the technology explosion that occurred in 2017's new-car market.
Never before have car companies focused so hard on producing cars that can't just be driven, but that can drive themselves, negotiating corners, unexpected obstacles and changing traffic conditions without ever needing to consult the human actually sitting behind the steering wheel.
And BMW's all-new 5 Series sedan takes yet another a step forward, eliminating the need for said human to even be sitting in the car. Owners can instead move their 5 Series in and out of tight parking spaces simply by pressing a button on their key.
The Active Key function is admittedly a $1,600 cost option, but it proves the techno-focus applied to the seventh-generation of BMW's executive express, which will land in Australian dealerships this month. Every car is also fitted with what the German brand calls its personal co-pilot; a series of nifty cameras and radars that allow the car to be driven completely autonomously for spells of 30 seconds.
But the question is, has all this new technology come at the cost of regular, old-school driver enjoyment?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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 5 Series7.9/10
Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.
Would a new 5 Series tempt you away from an E-Class or A6? Tell us what you think in the comments 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 5 Series8/10
Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.
Its 8mm wider, 28mm longer and 2mm taller than the car it replaces, but it's also around 95kg lighter, thanks to its aluminium doors and boot and a clever magnesium frame for the instrument panel that saved another two kilograms. There's some other clever design elements, too. The kidney grille has active air flaps that open when extra cooling is required, closing when it isn't, reducing drag and helping accleration.
Inside, the 5 Series offers a beautifully crafted yet joyously understated cabin, with quality materials joining modern technology in a seamless way.
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 5 Series8/10
This is a full-size sedan, and every seat feels spacious and airy. The sloping, slightly coupe-style roofline does cut into headroom in the back, but human-sized people will have little trouble, even sitting behind a tall driver.
Each trim offers two cupholders in the front, with another two housed in a pull-down divider that seperates the rear seat. And there's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The 5 Series' boot opens to rival a surprisingly sizeable storage space, offering 530 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats in place.
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 5 Series7/10
BMW's venerable 5 Series is now 45 years old, and this all-new model arrives in four distinct flavours, with a fifth - an incoming M5 performance sedan - still some way off.
For now, though, the range kicks off with the 520d, before stepping up what BMW hopes to be the big seller of the range, the 530i (replacing the outgoing 528i). Next up is biggest diesel, the 530d (replacing the the 535d), before the current range tops out with the petrol-powered 540i (replacing the old 535i).
Be warned though, there's been some pretty serious price increases right across the line up, ranging from $9,145 to a whopping $19,245. In fact, only the 530d has seen its price come down, now $3,755 cheaper than the outgoing 535d. BMW justifies the hikes by pointing to an increase in standard inclusions across the range.
The 520d kicks off from $93,900, and arrives predictably well equipped for your money. Expect 18-inch alloys, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker stereo. You'll also get a technology overhaul, with a bigger and upgraded Head Up display (it can now read street signs and beam that info onto the screen), a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a wireless (insert link to chi charger story) charging pad.
Step up to the 530i ($108,900) or 530d ($119,900) and you'll add 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers with dynamic mode (that reads both driver input and navigation data and tweak suspension, gear and steering settings automatically) a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and a crystal-clear 12.3 high-resolution digital display in the driver's binnacle. You'll also find heated front seats, a powered boot and sports seats in the front.
Finally, spring for the 540i ($136,900) and you'll get 20-inch alloys, a sunroof and electric blinds for the rear windows. You'll also find better Nappa leather on the seats, which now also offer a cooling function. Under the skin, you'll get an active anti-roll bar at each axle designed to keep the car from rolling side-to-side on the twisty stuff.
One quirk, however, is the fact that BMW's very cool wireless Apple CarPlay is a cost option on every trim level, and one that will set you back $479.
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 5 Series8/10
The hunt for efficiency sees all but the most expensive 5 Series models equipped with four-cylinder engines, including the entry-level 520d, which is fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel unit that will produce 140kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm from 1,750rpm. That's enough to push the cheapest 5 Series to 100km/h in a not particularly inspiring 7.5 seconds, topping out at 235km/h.
The cheapest petrol, the 530i, arrives with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 185kW at 5,200rpm and 350Nm from 1,450rpm. That will see you clip 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.
The 530d introduces the first six-cylinder engine, a 3.0-litre unit that will produce 195kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 620Nm from 2,000rpm. That's enough to knock off the sprint in in 5.7 seconds and offers a top speed limited to 250km/h.
Finally, the top-spec petrol, the 540i, will produce 250kW at 5,500rpm and 450Nm from 1,380rpm from its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Those are healthy numbers, and enough to welcome 100km/h in a sprightly 5.1 seconds before topping out a limited 250km/h.
Every model is paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
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 5 Series8/10
BMW quotes a combined 4.3 litres per hundred kilometres from the 520d, which will also spit out 114g per kilometre of C02. The 530d lifts that number to 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres (which seems a small price to pay for all that extra torque), with C02 pegged at 124g per kilometre. Both diesels get a slightly smaller tank, at 66 litres.
The 530i will sip a claimed/combined 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 emissions a claimed 132g per kilometre, while the big 540i requires 6.7 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 pegged at 154g per kilometre. Both petrol models get a 68-litre tank and require 95RON fuel.
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 5 Series8/10
BMW's pre-drive briefing was so technology focused we half expected the black turtle neck and dad jean-wearing ghost of Steve Jobs to emerge from behind a curtain clutching an iPad. Only a minuscule portion was dedicated to the cars' drivetrains, with BMW instead hammering home autonomy functions, technology upgrades and the fact that its car was a preview to "the future".
But once we'd slipped behind the wheel of the all-new 5 Series, it all started to make more sense. Having briefly sampled three models (the 530i, 530d and 540i), we can safely report there's nothing particularly revolutionary about their on-road behaviour. That's not necessarily a bad thing - they do everything you could ask of a car in this bracket. They're mostly smooth and always quiet, the new chassis has done nothing to dampen engagement when you start to ask a little more of it, and it's generally a luxurious experience. But then so was the old car.
But what's new is the technology poured into the 5 Series. Every car gets what BMW is calling its personal co-pilot, for example, which is a set of tricky systems (there's six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors scattered around the car) that work with the active cruise control and allow the car to be driven completely autonomous for 30-second intervals. Now, it's not quite as advanced as some of its competitor's systems - it can't change lanes for example - but if you're out on a country road or on a highway, it will stay within its lane, turn around corners and keep up with the traffic, even if they stop in front of you.
While the cheapest diesel model has historically been the best seller, BMW is hoping the new 530i will prove the most popular this time around. And while you couldn't describe it as fast, the power from its four-cylinder engine is ample for all that will likely be asked of it, and it feels sorted and composed on more challenging roads. It's a smooth and comfortable ride, too, even with the optional 20-inch alloys fitted, though that's undoubtedly thanks to the adaptive dampers and ever-changing dynamic ride function, both of which are fitted as standard. In fact, we're yet to drive a car without those options fitted, so we're forced to reserve judgement on the as-standard ride quality of the cheaper models.
Be warned though, none in the 5 Series range offer the disconnected and perfectly smooth conveyance you might find in some true luxury offerings, and you'll still know when you're diving into deep pockmarks in the road. But the trade off is a an engaging ride and steering set up that always feels planted, with enough feedback to ensure you feel connected to what's happening beneath the tyres. And that's a trade we're more than willing to make.
Step up to the 540i and things take a much sportier turn. The turbocharged six-cylinder feels right at home in a car this size, with acceleration effortless and freeway overtaking manoeuvres an absolute breeze. And while we didn't find roads quite brutal enough to really test the active anti-roll bars housed at each axle, there's a wonderful and stable flatness to the way the biggest petrol handles corners.
It's not cheap, but thanks to the bigger engine and sorted dynamics, the 540i feels most like a 5 Series probably should.
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 5 Series9/10
Expect plenty of clever safety gear, with every 5 Series sedan arriving with six airbags (dual front and full-length side airbags, along with head protection bags for front passengers). You'll also find a surround-view reversing camera and parking sensors.
But the high-tech stuff arrives courtesy of active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist and cross-road alerts.
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 5 Series7/10
The BMW 5 Series is covered by a three year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires condition-based servicing (rather than a pre-defined service interval).
You can also prepay your maintenance costs for five years/80,000kms, with prices ranging from $1,640 for the basic package, and climbing to $4,600 for the all-inclusive option.