Audi and BMW have very different approaches, but they share a common goal: creating the world’s greatest sport sedans. Audi steps to the plate with the 2010 A4 while the boys from Munich send in a perennial favorite, the 2011 BMW 3 Series. After a good fight, mark another one off for Audi in the win column.
Audi’s approach is simple and smart: take something proven and apply it across the board. For instance, every standard A4 model has the same engine, the award-winning 2.0-liter TFSI, a turbocharged and intercooled direct-injected inline four-cylinder. This punchy I4, one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2010, doles out a very healthy 211 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque – enough to hustle the car from zero-to-60 mph in 6.4 seconds (with quattro all-wheel drive and a slick six-speed manual).
Even the base A4 2.0T with front-wheel drive brings a lot of performance and fuel economy to the equation. Starting at $31,450, it’s the only A4 to use a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Paired with the excellent 211-hp engine, the CVT squeezes out up to 30 mpg highway. That’s economy car territory there, but with a lot more style and standard luxury plus a 7.1-second zero-to-60 mph time. BMW’s answer is the 2011 328i sedan. Its 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder delivers 230 hp, making it a little quicker to 60 mph (6.3 seconds), but it can’t top the Audi’s fuel economy rating and, at a starting MSRP of $33,150, it’s more expensive right off the bat. Every BMW 3 Series model carries a higher sticker price than the comparable Audi A4.
The A4’s quattro-equipped all-wheel drive A4 models truly shine. Even though they make the same 211 horses, the all-wheel drive Audi A4s run like thoroughbreds. Better all-around performance is the norm, thanks to the race pedigree infused into every car wearing a quattro badge on its distinctive shield grille. The 2010 Audi A4 2.0T quattro is available with a slick and sublime six-speed manual or a reliably terrific S tronic automatic. Furthermore, adding quattro and either transmission essentially erases any minor performance advantage the BMW 328i might have in the run to 60 mph.
In a bid to keep pace with Audi, BMW offers its own xDrive all-wheel drive system, but the 2011 BMW 328i xDrive is substantially more expensive than the Audi A4 2.0T quattro, and it’s not as quick.
BMW’s turbocharged 3 Series sedans bring a lot of performance. The 2011 BMW 335i and 335i xDrive sedans have a muscular 300 hp. While they offer their own performance advantages, they cost a lot more than the all-around excellent A4 2.0T models. Audi has an answer to the turbo Bimmers anyway: the 2010 Audi S4. It is, put simply, the ultimate version of the Audi A4. This high-performance autobahn-scorcher takes no prisoners, lashing out with 333 hp from a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that’s hooked to either a super-slick six-speed manual or a cutting-edge seven-speed twin-clutch automated gearbox. Zero-to-60 mph is a blistering 4.9 seconds, and quattro (along with an optional active rear differential) helps to ensure unsurpassed composure on the tarmac in any weather condition.
Both the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series have great quality and safety reputations, and both offer long lists of standard and optional equipment. The less-expensive Audi A4 simply works on a higher level, though, with authentic leather seats standard (versus BMW’s standard “leatherette”), and interior design that critics gush over every time they take the driver’s seat. Add in the superstar engine lineup and the amazing traction afforded by quattro, and it’s pretty clear: the Audi A4 is the best German sport sedan on the road – and hopefully in your driveway.