Twin Test: BMW 335i Vs Audi A4 3.0 TFSI…
Same, same, but different. Very, very different…
By Shahzad Sheikh
On paper these two could be twins separated at birth. Both are compact German saloons, of almost equal dimensions, with six-cylinder engines capable of 250kph and hitting 100kph in 5.5 seconds or less. And in this particular instance, they’re both red too!
In fact, they are actually so distinct that the ‘chalk and cheese’ cliché is trying to push its way into this article – doh! It just did, didn’t it?
In the red corner we have a new age Audi 3.0 TFSI Quattro with a 3.0-litre V6 producing 272bhp and 292lb ft of torque and driving all four-wheels through a 7-speed S tronic gearbox. The basic starting price is AED177,000 but you’ll want the S-Line sports pack (including 30mm lower ride height and sports suspension) and all the kit of our tester which sees the price rise to AED206,900 for this actual car.
And in the other… er… red corner we have a BMW 335i in Sport trim. Also fitted with a 3.0-litre engine featuring six-cylinders but in a straight line rather than V configuration. Power is 306bhp and torque an identical 295lb ft from a considerably lower rpm. It drives only the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto, although could be had with a six-speed manual too. Compared to the Audi, this feels an old-skool BMW, moreso than its predecessors in fact.
The price is AED240,000. Now you could instantly argue that actually we should have put the AED180,000 328 against the A4. But that has less power and torque than the A4 and is half a second slower to 100kph. And it’s worth mentioning that this A4 is quoted as being one-tenth faster to 100kph than the 335i. No, these are the right two cars. The BMW is just quite a bit more expensive. So the Audi has a clear win on price and spec.
Both these cars have similarly useful-sized boots, and decent interior space with remarkably good rear legroom – though it’s a tad better in the BMW for taller people aided by the scooped-out front seat-backs. They’re reasonably well equipped with Bluetoothery and cameras for reversing. However the BMW lacks electrically adjustable seats (apart from lumber support). But then it does have an excellent heads-up display which the Audi lacks.
They’re both business-like inside, and certainly true to the quality dictate that seems core to German executives cars. From the outside this A4 really benefits from the 19-inch wheels (they’re also 19s on the 335i), deeper more aggressive front spoiler and air intakes, the side skirts, as well as the S-Line black trim (matching the high-gloss black of the Three’s Sports trim). It’s a very handsome car indeed, so much more eye-catching than your regular A4.
Then along comes the BMW 3-Series in its latest sixth generation guise launched late last year. It’s got that new slash from the lights to the kidney grill giving it more of a pinched shark-nosed profile. It’s sleeker, looks lower and is more swept back. To my eyes it’s the best looking 3-Series since my old E30 from the late 80s.
But between these two it’s close and will come down to personal preference more than anything. The striking colours of these cars certainly help, but most owners will probably spec these cars in strong dark metallic shades. Personally I like the Beemer, but consensus seemed to go with the Audi, so we’ll call it a draw then.
Okay, bear with me on this one, cause I’m about to not make any sense at all. From the spec sheet the Audi is the victor when it comes to performance being a fraction friskier in the 0-100 acceleration run (5.4s beats 5.5s). And sure enough its Quattro all-wheel traction grips and goes. The gear-changes are banged in almost imperceptibly by a 7-speed S-tronic double-clutch auto, with little fuss or drama, aiding acceleration.
The 3.0 TFSI certainly feels brisk and quicker than you might have imagined for something in the Audi range not wearing an S4 or RS4 badge. Undoubtedly fast as it is, with you having to wait to till just past 2100rpm for the torque to come in, this doesn’t feel anywhere near as punchy and purposeful as the ‘slower’ BMW. The same amount of torque on the 335i’s twin-scroll Turbo six comes in at just 1250rpm and continues to 5000rpm – that’s over 1000rpm more – and provides relentless acceleration.
An eight-speed ZF auto is a bit excessive in this car, and frankly I think it only needs six, but stick it in Sports and Sports Plus mode, having tugged the lever over to Sport, and the changes are snappy and quick. You find your fingertips fall very naturally onto the paddles behind the wheels, so keen drivers are encouraged to take over gear-change duties (though it will override for downshifts).
Audi/VW’s DSG used to be cutting-edge magnificent, so it’s quite amazing that ZF has evolved the regular torque-converter auto to this level that it feels faster, sharper and more satisfying to use. Having said that it’s a bit much to blip all the way back down to second for a tight corner if you’ve plipped up to eighth. Plus I don’t like that lever – any system that constantly has to depict illustrations on the monitor about how to use it is fundamentally flawed, plus it won’t go into gear if a door is open. For feel the Audi’s traditional lever is better.
Overall though it’s another close one with the Audi being technically faster, but the BMW feeling more exciting and harder edged. Hmm… let’s call it a draw again.
Ride and handling
How we doing? One to Audi and two draws.
Now here’s where we set the cat amongst the pigeons (think I just hit my two cliché limit there) and you’d expect the Quattro to figuratively do an impression of that boisterous feline flitting this way and that. Driven along, you’d probably believe it to be true too. Jump back in after a workout in the Beemer though and the A4 feels cumbersome in comparison; in full lock the Quattro groans, fling it into a corner and you’ll wash out from understeer.
Chase down the 335i in the A4 and you find yourself having to brake earlier, turn in harder to shift the weight balance to the back, before bringing the torque back into play and letting the wheels bite – as with most all-wheel drive sporty cars you have to trust the system, keeping your foot in past the understeer to eventually find the front recovering and the back blasting you forward.
It’s probably slightly quicker, and safer, around a corner than the Three, especially for a novice driver, but it doesn’t feel as enjoyable and you seem to be waiting a long time to get back on the power, all whilst the BMW wags its butt at you and pulls away, even if the inside wheel is squealing away.
And that’s the thing with the 335i. The tread on this particular press-beater might be more than a little worn on the rear boots, but even so I like to think this is something of an old-fashioned tail-happy BMW.
The traction systems go into delightfully unobtrusive mode when you’re in Sports Plus – which is where I drove the car 99% of the time, and it allows quite a bit of slide before letting you think you’ve collected it all up and blasting away heroically (yes it’s the computers actually doing all the work).
It’s a total hoon-merchant though, and goads you on to go faster everywhere. It rewards with an extraordinarily good chassis feel and feedback, and pretty decent response, weighting and communication from the electrically-assisted power steering.
You can powerslide out of slow speed corners and yet let the car dig in and grip tightly through fast sweepers for total confident. It’s a real ego-booster this car, making you feel like proper wheel-man. It leaves you with a grin and real sense of contentment that cars designed around the driver, are still not quite dead yet.
And the ride on the BMW is more pliant than the A4, even if it’s a tad more fidegty. The Audi’s lowered right-height and large wheels clearly having compromised things, so that it jolts in surprise where the BMW merely flinches over bumps.
To reiterate, there is nothing wrong with the Audi, and viewed in isolation, its ride and handling would be deemed amongst the best and you wouldn’t necessarily have any real cause for complaint. The problem for the 3.0 TFSI is that the 335i is just better.
So that’s a point each with two draws.
It’s down to the wire then for these remarkably evenly-matched cars. But what we really have here are two distinct personalities. The Audi is the car for the driver that wants to feel good about owning a quality product but generally likes to ease around town looking good, rather than blasting from meeting to meeting.
From its overly eager engine, to its crisp steering and ride, gleefully unhinged handling and even its roartier, louder more exciting engine note from that sweet straight six, the BMW is clearly the hard charger. You feel like you get to where you’re going really quickly in this car.
Here’s the difference – with the A4 3.0 TFSI once you park it, you look back and grin with smug satisfaction as you walk away. With the BMW you do that too, but then you turn around get back in it and convince yourself that there’s still time before the meeting and a few times around the block (sideways) won’t hurt.
The final decision then, is a purely personal one, and it goes to the BMW.
2012 BMW 335i
Price: AED240,000 ($65,000)
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder inline, 306bhp @ 5800-6000rpm, 295lb ft @ 1200-5000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5.5seconds, 250kph, 7.2L/100km (PDK)
Transmission: six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, rear wheel drive
2012 Audi A4 3.0 TFSI Quattro
Price: AED177,000 ($48,250)
As tested with options including Audi Exclusive for S Line and S Line Sports package: AED206,900 ($56,400)
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, 272bhp @ 4780-6500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2150-4780rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5.4seconds, 250kph, 8.1L/100km
Transmission: Seven-speed S tronic auto, four-wheel drive