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BMW 4 series


Audi RS3

Summary

BMW 4 series

BMW's new 4 Series blasted onto the world stage with a chonky schnozz on it that only a mother could love. If BMW didn't want anyone to look at the rest of the car, it did a cracking job of it, because everyone had something to say about the big gnashers now grafted to the 4's front end.

I was nervous about it, too, because the 4 Series has always been so elegant and the current 3 Series - on which it is based - is quite nice to look at. It also threatened to overshadow just how good a car the BMW 4 should be, based as it is on the excellent 3 Series.

And, of course, one also had to wonder if a sports coupe like this would be any good around town. Limited vision? Hard to get in and out of? A true four-seater, or just a squishy 2+2? So many questions. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating4 seats

Audi RS3

You might have noticed that there are new rivals to the Audi RS3 sedan. 

The Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan could be considered a competitor. Or maybe the new-generation Mercedes-AMG CLA35, or the even more expensive Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S. And you can’t forget the all-new BMW M240i Gran Coupe

This is a segment with plenty of action. So where does one of the older players in this part of the market stand against its new competitors? Well, you might be surprised just how well it still stacks up, despite having first launched here more than three years ago.

There’s an all-new, powered-up RS3 expected in 2021, but the brand is seeing out the current model range with a new variant, the Carbon Edition, which is tested here. Is it still worth considering? You’ll have to read the lot to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.5L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

BMW 4 series7.8/10

The BMW 420i is a terrific car if you're after a bit of style and sophistication. Not everyone will warm to your car's nose, but if you get it de-chromed, like this white one, it really does look pretty good. It's a car that uses very little fuel, moves along smartly and is brimming with a decent amount of tech, even if it could do with a bit more safety gear at this price. 

I reckon this car is settling well into the automotive landscape and ignoring it because of a few loudmouths think the grille is too big would be a terrible waste.


Audi RS37.9/10

There may be newer competitors, but it could be said that the Audi RS3 - despite being a seasoned player in its segment - is a sweet spot offering for those after a compact, sporty and eye-catching car. I'd certainly have it over its closest rivals, even if it is getting long in the tooth.

It is due for some big changes soon and you just know the next-gen model will step up the game big time in terms of interior design and improved technology. But as a swan song, the final versions of the current RS3 in Carbon Edition trim see it out on a high.

Design

BMW 4 series

The internet exploded when it became clear the big kidney grille was for real. To be fair, BMW did itself absolutely no favours by ensuring the photos of the 4 Series made the twin grille look Easter Island statue sized. 

And it persisted in doing them naked, without number plates to break up the look. In the flesh, it all works, the nose is striking but not completely overblown. 

BMW coupe elegance reigns supreme in profile, however, with excellent proportions, and even in base form the wheels are the right size. The slim tail-lights and sculpted tail complete the look. It's a car I think most people love looking at. Hardly anyone mentioned the grille.

The cabin is excellent, as are all of the newer BMW interiors. It's not really a base model, given the price, but the mix of Alcantara and synthetic leather is very pleasing. 

The big screens for the media and instruments headline the cabin with high-tech style and while it's not avant-garde, it's sharp and feels premium, which is just as well.


Audi RS39/10

I’ve long thought the Audi A3 sedan, and therefore the Audi RS3, is the most compellingly design small sedan of the modern era - possibly ever. Not many compact three-box models have the proportions and lines that this model has, and even seven years after the current-gen A3 launched this body style still looks gorgeous.

And in RS3 guise it cuts a striking figure, with the Carbon Edition adding plenty of eye-catching elements including different gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels, a gloss black exterior styling pack (logos and Audi rings in black), a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, and Carbon mirrors. The Carbon Pack also gets rid of the matt aluminium window surrounds in exchange for black finishes. 

All told, it looks extremely sleek and surprisingly modern, given the age of the platform. The interior isn’t quite as up to date, though - more on that below.

But this particular test car had the RS design package inside, which adds a number of nice additions such as black armrests with red stitching, Alcantara trimmed knee pads on the centre console (also with red stitching) to stop you bumping your knees against hard plastic when you’re out on the track, as well as red surrounds on the air vents, red trim on the outboard seat belts, and floor mats with RS3 logos and red stitch. 

In terms of size, it is still a compact and urban-friendly offering, with dimensions of 4479mm long (on a 2628mm wheelbase), 1802mm wide and 1406mm tall.

Have a look at our A35 sedan review, and our CLA45 review, and our 2 Series Gran Coupe review… then let us know which would be your pick based on styling and design alone.

Practicality

BMW 4 series

As a sports coupe, it's hardly a practical all-rounder but it's not a squishy 2+2 either. The rear seats are sculpted for maximum headroom and have the added bonus of holding onto rear passengers. 

Six footers won't be super-comfortable but it's bearable for short trips. There are two ISOFIX points back there, too. 

The front seats electrically fold out of the way for ingress and egress, but it's not an elegant process.

Front-seat passengers score two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors and a black hole for your phone and its wireless charging pad.

The boot takes an impressive 440 litres and the rear seats split and fold like good little soldiers.


Audi RS37/10

I mentioned the interior is starting to look a bit old, and that’s because this design - while revolutionary back in 2013 when this generation of A3 sedan launched - hasn’t changed much over the years.

Sure you can now get it with the tech you’d want, like the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster which looks amazing, and the media system with the latest smartphone mirroring tech and wireless phone charging. But the screen itself isn’t touch-capacitive, and that means you have to use the rotary dial to go through menus - that’s not how smartphones were designed. You’re supposed to touch the screen.

So the concept of phone mirroring is flawed, here. It is good to be able to use your phone’s apps, but it’s not as easy to use as it should be.

Thankfully the media unit is teamed to an excellent, punchy sound system, and it’s the sort of car you’ll want to listen to your favourite albums in, rather than boring time-burning podcasts. It takes a certain drive experience to elicit that reaction - well, for me it does.

It’s a shame the dashboard design is looking rather plain by modern standards. The pop-up (even retractable) media screen is comparatively tiny, and while the ergonomics are good and all the buttons and switches feel of a high quality, it just isn’t quite as special feeling inside as the price tag suggests it should be.

Well, that’s until you see the sports seats. These are artworks, with beautiful stitching and superb bolstering and comfort. They really lift the ambience, and combined with the high-quality materials it feels sporty, but luxurious too. And the interior has the option of the black and red trim seen here, or black with rock grey stitching, or the blue-jeans-repelling Moon Silver with grey trim. 

The seats are great, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to sit myself a little lower. I loved the feel of the part-Alcanatra steering wheel, too. There’s something about an abundance of Alcantara that just works (it’s on the door trims and the optional padded knee sections, too).

Of course there is dual zone climate control, seat heating and rear seat air-vents, and the aforementioned wireless phone charger is hidden in the centre covered armrest, and that also has twin USB ports plus a auxiliary jack. 

Most other newer models have those ports and charge pads in front of the gear selector, but in the RS3 there’s not much usable space there. You can fit a wallet, but not much else, and behind it there are twin cup holders, and there are bottle holders in the doors. 

Back seat space is okay but not great. My knees were hard up against the seat in front when it was set for my 182cm (6’0”) frame, and my head was scraping the lining as well. If you’re taller, you’ll also have to watch your noggin getting in an out as the door apertures are quite small. 

There’s also limited foot space because of the transmission tunnel reaching from front to rear. But the seat comfort is very good.

The back seat amenities comprise a 12-volt outlet but no USB ports, and in the doors your find bottle holders while there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders as well, plus twin mesh map pockets.

While adults might find things a bit squishy in the rear (don’t expect things to be much better in any of its rivals!), there are dual ISOFIX outboard seat anchors, and three top-tether child seat points. 

Boot capacity is small at 315 litres, especially for a sedan. That’s 20L less than the Sportback hatch’s rear capacity, but you can fold down the rear seats if you need extra room, with 770L available.

Price and features

BMW 4 series

The 420i starts at $71,900. That's a fair bit of money, I think you'll agree.

You get 19-inch wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather and Alcantara interior, 'Live Cockpit Professional' (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and digital radio.

The massive 10.25-inch touchscreen may be smaller than the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, but it still looks huge. BMW's Operating System 7.0. is a cracking set-up, and you can control it via either touch or the 'iDrive' rotary dial on the console. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of them, wireless. You don't read that every day.

You also get 'BMW ConnectedDrive', with some remote services that last for three years. The subscription includes things like the endearingly weird 'Caring Car' and the far less weird real-time traffic information.

The 4 Series is available in eight colours. 'Alpine White' is the only freebie while 'Black Sapphire', 'Arctic Race Blue', 'Portimao Blue', 'San Remo Green' and 'Mineral White' are $1538 each (or part of the 'Visibility Package'). 'Tanzanite Blue' and 'Dravit Grey' are a hefty $2962.

My car for the week had the $6300 Visibility Package (metallic paintwork, sunroof, BMW Laserlight, Ambient Light, which is worth it for the amazing Laserlights alone), the $2860 'Comfort Package' (lumbar support, electric boot, heated front seats, 'Comfort Access' with 'BMW Digital Key') and an $800 black pack. All this took the price to $81,860.


Audi RS38/10

The list price of the regular Audi RS3 sedan is now $86,500 plus on-road costs, which means it’s a bit pricier than when it first launched (at $84,900). That comes down to currency fluctuations over the past few years, as nothing has really changed over the period since launch in March 2017.

It’s worth noting there is a new addition to the 2020 RS3 sedan range - the RS3 Carbon Edition, as tested here - which lists at $89,900 (MSRP) and has no mechanical changes compared to the standard model, but gets a number of design changes which we’ll cover off in the next section. 

That means it is considerably more expensive than the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe ($72,990) and even the Mercedes CLA35 ($85,500), though the RS3 has considerably more grunt than those cars - in fact, it’s closer in terms of engine specs to the CLA45 S, though that model lists at a huge $111,200. More on horsepower below.

And of course, the RS3 sedan is only one part of the RS3 range - you might also be interested to look at the Sportback hatch version, which is more affordable ($83,800). You can get it in Carbon Edition trim, too, at $87,200.

What do you get in the RS3? Standard equipment includes: 19-inch alloy wheels in matt titanium, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights with dynamic indicators, matt aluminium window surrounds, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, a body kit, rear spoiler, auto headlights with auto high-beam, auto wipers, heated side mirrors with passenger’s-side auto-dipping when reversing.

Further standard gear includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic assist, Audi drive select with four different modes (Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Individual), electric front seat adjustment, front seat heating, Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, 7.0-inch media screen with MMI touch dial controller, sat nav, Audi connect online services and Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, wireless phone charging, two USB ports and DAB digital radio, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.

For a full breakdown of the standard safety inclusions, see the safety section below. 

Our test vehicle had Nardo Grey paint, one of several no-cost optional colours that also includes Mythos Black Metallic, Kyalami Green, Daytona Grey Pearl, Tango Red Metallic, Florett Silver metallic and Glacier White metallic. Two Crystal Peal colours will cost you an extra $728: Ara Blue and Panther Black.

Our car further had the RS design package for $1950. More on that in the design section below.

Engine & trans

BMW 4 series

The 420i’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, codenamed B48, spins up 135kW/300Nm. Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, you'll go from zip to the 100km/h mark in 7.5 seconds, which is brisk, if not staggering.


Audi RS39/10

Unlike all of its rivals, the Audi RS3 gets an engine with five cylinders instead of four.

Yep, it’s a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 294kW of power (at 5850-7000rpm) and 480Nm of torque (from 1950-5850rpm). As you can see, the power band is linear - despite the uneven number of cylinders. 

The RS3 is only available with a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox, and exclusively with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system

With so much performance and traction on offer, it’s no surprise the Audi RS3 has a 0-100km/h claim of just 4.1 seconds. That’s whether you choose the hatch or the sedan.  

How does it compare to those rivals I mentioned earlier? The A35 sedan and CLA35 both have 225kW/400Nm, so you can see why I said it was a mismatch. The BMW M235i is closer, at 225kW/450Nm despite being a lot cheaper. And the CLA45? It punts them all on engine performance, with 310kW/500Nm.

Hey, there are rumours the next-generation RS3 will have as much as 331kW. So maybe wait for that car, if you’re really interested in horsepower heroism. But trust me - there’s ample grunt on offer here.

Fuel consumption

BMW 4 series

BMW's official combined-cycle figures seem to be slowly moving towards reality. The 420i's sticker figure of 6.4L/100km was met with an indicated 6.8L/100km, which was excellent going for almost exclusively suburban and urban running. 

It's a solid result, but being a BMW, it's premium unleaded only for its 59-litre tank.

With my generally unsympathetic (but not psychopathic) right foot, that means a real-world range of over 800km between fills.


Audi RS37/10

The claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Audi RS3 is 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which is reasonable for a car with this level of performance.

On test, across a mix of driving, I saw a return of 9.1L/100km. Not too bad.

The fuel tank capacity is 55 litres, but you need to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded petrol.

Driving

BMW 4 series

One of the main things that sets a BMW sedan or sedan-based coupe apart is that they're good everywhere, except perhaps in quicksand. 

As the platform has matured and BMW's persistence with run-flat tyres has yielded improvements in tyre construction, the 3/4 Series platform (and many others - the internal name for the platform is CLAR) has once again become the benchmark for ride and handling.

For some people reading this, that's a lot of blah blah blah but the main point is, it's a terrific thing to drive whether you're dawdling along in traffic, dealing with traffic calming or bombing down your favourite deserted road.

The Bridgestone tyres on the 420i aren't as ultimately grippy and sticky as the alternative rubber on the 430i but they work well in town and are quiet on the 80km/h roads so prevalent in Sydney. 

The steering is absolutely lovely, providing just the right weight at any given speed and throwing in the road feel to inspire confidence.

Ride around town is compliant but with the whiff of fun if you decide to push things outside of the city. 

Its capabilities are still more than worthwhile day-to-day, however, because the way it handles the need to duck in and out of spaces in traffic is extremely handy.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is as smooth as rival Audi's. It doesn't sound like much (with a few vestigial pops in Sport mode) but it's certainly got the power to get you out of sticky situations and a transmission that's willing to play ball, whether in Sport or Normal.

Without the adaptive suspension of its 430i and M 440i brethren, this is a very smooth, easygoing sports coupe, with just enough sportiness to keep you interested, if you're that way inclined.


Audi RS39/10

There’s something really special about a five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. 

The way that it builds pace and drama in such a linear fashion despite being inherently unbalanced is awe-inspiring.

The sound of your acceleration is actually more dramatic outside the car than in. When you’re driving and pushing the throttle hard, you’re rewarded with a muted roar - the sort you hear in movies when the kidnappee has been gagged with a cloth but can still make enough noise to get curious attention.

Outside the car it’s more prevalent, as the sports exhaust and heavy breathing air intake combine for plenty of road presence.

Audi has quite a history with this type of engine. And teamed with the brand’s “quattro” all wheel drive system and dual-clutch automatic transmission, the acceleration on offer is simply addictive. 

The transmission is smooth and snappy when it shifts. In the sportier driving modes - with Dynamic selected, or in S on the transmission - the revs will rise and hold, before the transmission rapidly snaps to the next gear. 

In more sedate driving - in Comfort drive mode in D - you will notice a little bit of low-rev turbo lag and transmission spool-up from a standstill. But if you do suddenly plant your foot on the throttle, it responds mightily no matter the mode.

For me, the five-cylinder engine offers a more entertaining experience than its closest high-power four-cylinder rivals. It’s quick, tremendously enjoyable to accelerate in, and just a whole lot of potentially-licence-risking fun.

The adaptive magnetic ride suspension is firm but that’s to be expected of a sports sedan with this level of intent, and in Comfort mode it actually settles pretty well. Even over repetitive pockmarks it never felt like things were getting clumsy or that it was tripping over itself. In fact it’s a beautifully composed car even in the most sporting drive mode, Dynamic, and over my drive it never felt like it was doing the wrong thing despite some challenging road surfaces.

There was immense grip and traction in tight twisting corners, and while the steering mightn’t be as pinpoint accurate in Dynamic mode as I’d like, it was still really easy to sew together a series of bends without ever feeling like things were getting out of hand.

I actually preferred to set up my own Individual driving setting, with Comfort steering and suspension but Dynamic everything else. In regular Dynamic mode the steering is a little heavy and dull while in Comfort mode the steering is lighter and makes the car feel a little bit more agile.  

All told, I didn’t want to stop driving the RS3 - even after 700km. It bodes well for the next-generation model, that’s for sure. 

Safety

BMW 4 series

The 4 Series comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, reverse cross-traffic alert and reversing camera.

The 4 Series hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and the 3's five-star rating can only be a guide because of the very different structure of the 4. 

Sports cars rarely fare well in the sometimes complex rules so carmakers tend to keep them away from the clutches of crash testers.


Audi RS37/10

The Audi RS3 runs with a five-star ANCAP crash test rating that was awarded to the regular Audi A3 range way back in 2013, and things have changed a lot since then. But so has the safety offer in the A3/S3/RS3 line.

The RS3 has auto emergency braking (AEB) which Audi calls Audi pre sense front which includes low-speed pedestrian detection - but unlike other versions of the tech that run under the same banner, the one employed in this generation of A3/S3/RS3 doesn’t have cyclist detection - the next-gen model is certain to. Also missing is a surround view camera and front cross traffic alert, among others.

It does, however, have adaptive cruise control with stop and go traffic function, not to mention Audi’s active lane assist tech which can keep you in the centre of your lane, as well as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert. 

In the RS3 you get seven airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front side, full length curtain), and as mentioned above, there’s a reversing camera alongside front and rear parking sensors. 

As mentioned, the game has moved on a bit - and we expect the next-gen A3/S3/RS3 to get considerably more safety technology, even if this existing model’s offering isn’t terrible. 

Ownership

BMW 4 series

BMW offers a ho-hum length of three years and 100,000km of warranty coverage. Mercedes has gone to five years so one wonders why BMW (and Audi) hasn't joined its German rival.

Servicing is entirely reasonable at $1650 for a five-year/80,000km package that covers the 12 month/16,000km servicing regime. 

At $330 per service, it includes things many carmakers don't, such as brake fluid and spark plugs. 

You can go full noise with the 'Plus Package', which costs $4500 and chucks in brake pads, rotors and even windscreen-wiper replacement. That doesn't seem like terribly good value to me unless you drive like a lunatic.


Audi RS37/10

Audi offers buyers the option of choosing a pre-purchase servicing plan, rather than offering a conventional capped price service plan.

That means you’ve got the option of a three-year/45,000km service plan, at a cost of $2320, or a five-year/75,000km plan at $3420. It covers most standard items, excluding brake pads or discs and wiper blades. Compared to AMG rivals, those prices are actually pretty sharp.

As you may have guessed, service intervals are pegged at 12 months/15,000km. 

The brand hasn’t really kept up with rivals such as Genesis and Mercedes-Benz (both of which offer a five-year warranty), and as such Audi still offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan at the time of publishing. That warranty cover also includes roadside assistance at no cost.