Audi A4 vs BMW 3 Series
Who builds the best 2.0-litre diesel executive saloon – Audi or BMW? We've tested them back-to-back to find out...
Audi A4 2.0 TDI 190 S Line S Tronic (leather/Alc)
List price £36,695
Target Price £32,662
Best Lombardyexperience? deal £32,269
Audi no longer sells the front-wheel drive, 3.0-litre diesel A4 that we recommended, so here we're trying the 2.0-litre diesel
BMW 3 Series 320d M Sport step auto
List price £36,760
Target Price £33,898
Best Lombardyexperience? deal £31,148
The 320d remains one of the best executive saloons around and a tough test for any car – even the award-winning A4
In 3.0-litre diesel form, the Audi A4 won our Executive Car of the Year Award two years in a row, with its smooth and efficient engine one of the best things about it. However, the A4 is no longer available with this unless you also have Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system, which pushes up CO2 emissions – and tax bills – to a level that will put off many company car drivers. So, is the 2.0-litre diesel model a good alternative?
Well, to find out we're pitting it against a rival that's long been the fleet manager's favourite – the BMW 320d. Both test cars are in the sporty trims that most buyers choose.
What are they like to drive?
The 2.0-litre diesel engines in these executive saloons produce identical amounts of peak power and torque, with the latter available from just 1750rpm.
That low-rev pulling power means both cars provide similarly effortless acceleration in relaxed driving, although the A4 feels gutsier when you put your foot down hard and was ultimately quicker against the stopwatch in all of our acceleration tests. This is probably a result of it being the lighter car, although the fact its seven-speed automatic gearbox reacts more snappily to kickdown requests than the eight-speed 'box in the 3 Series also helps with high-speed overtakes. Mind you, the BMW’s 'box is slightly smoother in traffic and when parking.
Both cars resist body lean well through corners, but the rear-wheel-drive 3 Series is more fun on a twisting B-road than the front-wheel-drive A4 thanks to its more playful handling.
The A4 counters with steering that weights up in a more natural way than the overly heavy optional Servotronic set-up that was fitted to our 3 Series test car, although both cars can be placed with precision.
Both cars ride more firmly than they do in cheaper trims, although you can opt for an A4 S line with comfort suspension for no extra charge; we’d recommend doing so. More sophisticated adaptive dampers are optional on both cars, which allow you to vary the stiffness of the suspension by pressing a button. Our test 3 Series had these whereas the A4 didn’t.
Switch the BMW’s adaptive suspension to Comfort mode and it’ll take the sting out of most rutted surfaces and offer a settled ride at motorway speeds. Our Audi dealt well with speed bumps but was a little too firm to dial out small undulations as effectively, which meant it fidgeted more, particularly on the motorway.
That said, the A4’s interior is that bit quieter. Its engine is considerably smoother than its rival's and there’s far less wind noise and marginally less road noise at speed.