There are few closer competitors than the BMW 535i xDrive and the Audi A6. Both premium five-passenger sedans hail from Germany and are infused with sport, technology and luxury. Both also feature all-wheel drive systems that enhance performance, but the BMW delivers more power, better efficiency and a better driving experience; the 2011 535i xDrive is the more pure driver’s car.
Although the two cars are similar in size, the BMW offers its occupants added comfort with more front and rear headroom, front legroom and more front and rear shoulder room.
Both the A6 and 535i xDrive feature six-cylinder engines, though BMW’s TwinPower Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder makes 300 hp and 300 lb/ft of torque in contrast to the standard 3.2-liter V6 in the A6 that’s good for just 265 hp and 243 lb/ft of torque. The uplevel A6 3.0T uses a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 to deliver 300 hp and 310 lb/ft of torque, but Audi’s use of drag-inducing supercharging costs efficiency while BMW harnesses energy from the exhaust that’s typically lost and uses it to drive a twin-scroll turbocharger for responsive, efficient power. The 535i xDrive’s peak torque is available from a low 1,200 rpm while the A6 must spin itself up to 2,500 rpm before all the torque checks in. The flexible powertrain in the 535i xDrive shows its reduced appetite at the pump, returning 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway versus 18/26 for the A6 3.0T.
The 535i xDrive uses an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission for both performance and enhanced fuel economy without compromising either. Audi forces A6 buyers to make do with a six-speed unit. BMW’s xDrive Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system is a true performance design with a rear-wheel drive bias until wheel slippage is detected. Capable of quickly moving the power around between all four wheels for winter grip, 535i xDrive’s system can also speed up the outside wheels when cornering in the dry, which makes for faster exits from curves. xDrive is a performance enhancement whether it’s deepest winter or the most scorching of summer days. Audi has a long history of motorsports success with its quattro all-wheel drive system, but it’s essentially a front-wheel drive layout, which puts a lot more weight over the front wheels, making for a less-balanced chassis.
Both the 535i xDrive and A6 are well equipped right out of the box. Standard features between the cars are a near mirror-image, though the 535i xDrive does carry standard HD Radio plus power-folding mirrors and keyless start, features that require stepping all the way up to Prestige trim on the A6 3.0T or 4.2.
Getting into the optional equipment shows more pointedly the 535i xDrive advantage. While both cars can be equipped with leather seating, only the 535i xDrive can be outfitted with heated and cooled front seats. BMW drivers also benefit from an available rear-seat entertainment system, automatic HID headlamps and available active suspension; all features not on Audi’s radar.
High technology is an integral part of both the 535i xDrive and A6 feature set, and extensive tech arsenals can be packed into either car. Audi’s MultiMedia Interface (MMI) tries to duplicate the functionality of BMW’s iDrive system, but the originator is still the leader of the pack. BMW continually updates and refines iDrive, and the system is still at the forefront of integrated navigation, entertainment and vehicle control systems.
BMW’s extensive option and package selection also means that buyers are more able to specify the very car they’re after, rather than having to settle for a smaller set of choices. Rather than cede any territory to its challenger, the excellence built into the 535i xDrive, which starts at an MSRP of $52,400, begs the question, “Why would you drive anything else?”