The Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series are two cars that have gone head-to-head for decades, dueling it out for ultimate sport sedan supremacy. It’s been one of the many great rivalries throughout history. Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird, Ali vs Frazier and the Audi A4 vs the BMW 3 Series. Well, maybe it’s not that important, but it’s close. Anyway, these two cars represent the pinnacle of the executive sport sedan and are the benchmark in which the segment is measured. Now that we drove the new Audi A4 and the newly refreshed BMW 328i in the same week, we thought we’d put the two head-to-head, yet again.
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The new Audi A4 just recently debuted this year in America, though it’s been on sale since late summer of last year, and the BMW 3 Series received BMW’s mid-cycle refresh, something the brand calls an LCI (Life Cycle Impulse). So both of these cars are the newest possible versions of themselves, making this test coming at the perfect time.
Admittedly, the only 328i xDrive we could get was a Sports Wagon, but it’s not actually much different than the Audi A4 sedan, it just has a bigger trunk. In fact, aside from the wagon body style, the two cars are incredibly similar. They’re similar in size, price, they have the same sized engine and layout and both are all-wheel drive. So they couldn’t be more similar if you can look past the wagon body style.
In terms of looks, the Audi A4 is the newer car of the two, as the current F30 generation 3 Series debuted in 2012, and it shows immediately. The A4 is sharper and crisper looking, with more modern styling. Not necessarily better, but more modern. The 328i is still a very good looking car and it is a bit more visually interesting, with more creases and body lines. But the A4 is the car that looks a bit fresher, likely because it is.
On the inside, things couldn’t be more different between the two. The current F30 328i cabin is a nice one, with rich materials, an ergonomic and very functional design and genuinely fantastic seats, which were more supportive than the A4’s. The Audi A4’s cabin, on the other hand, is the nicer of the two. Its incredibly fresh and modern with fantastic materials and superb build quality. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is also a thing of beauty and works better than any other gauge cluster on the market. Its ability to switch screens on the fly and go from traditional gauges to a massive navigation screen with fully HD Google Maps is miraculous. The Audi A4 definitely has the cabin for a modern generation. However, the 328i has the cabin of a more traditional sports car, with a lower seating position and better pedal placement. It seems a bit more tactile from the helm.
Speaking of tactile, the Audi A4 drives with a sharpness and tactility that its predecessor lacked. The previous B8 generation A4 drove a bit sloppily and left a lot to be desired, in terms of driving dynamics. This new model, though, is much improved and can genuinely rival the 3 Series for driving pleasure. The model we drove didn’t have the optional sport suspension, so there was a bit more body roll than we would have liked, but it was only noticeable in fast changes of direction. This did allow the A4 to have a more comfortable suspension that actually felt more composed over rough pavement than the 328i’s. While the 3 Series felt like the sportier car and was superior on smooth pavement, the A4 had a suppleness that soaked up bumps better but never felt floaty and always felt planted.
However, the steering in the A4 is accurate and nicely weighted, with better weighting than in the 328i. Both are pretty vague, though, with no real feedback. The 328i’s steering is a bit too light for my tastes and in Sport or Sport Plus mode, it becomes heavier with no real gain in feedback but it does become twitchy and nervous feeling, making the overly light Comfort setting the better choice. The 328i is the better dance partner of the two, though, with sharper responses and superior body control and is the more fun car to chuck around.
In terms of performance, both cars are quite similar. They both use 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines, with the A4 making 252 hp and the 328i making 240. Both cars felt pretty equally quick, but we couldn’t test which was officially faster. But no one will have any issue with the acceleration from either. The 328i’s sounded a little bit better and was a touch louder, but both sound great for turbocharged four-pots. The Audi A4’s seven-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic gearbox felt quicker and more responsive than the 328i’s ZF eight-speed automatic. While we’re big fans of the ZF eight-speed, and it is an excellent gearbox, but the dual-clutch unit in the A4 is just a bit better. But in both, shifts are fast, smooth and on time.
Both cars are superb executive sport sedans that will make their owners more than happy. It’s genuinely difficult to pick between the two. In fact, I actually felt that whichever I was in was the better car after switching back and forth. It’s a tough one, but I think the Audi A4 is the better all-around car, as it’s equally as fast, equally as capable but it has a better interior and more comfortable ride. However, the BMW 328i is the better sports car and trades some of the A4’s comfort and tech for a more engaging drive and sports car dynamics. Maybe the A4 with its optional sport suspension can improve its dynamics, though. The Audi A4 is a fantastic car, one that’s so far improved over the previous generation, but in a segment where sporting dynamics are most important, the BMW 3 Series may still be the king, even though the Audi A4 is right on its tail.