Think of two luxury brands of cars - go!
Did you think of Audi? And did BMW come to mind? Of course you did. These two German giants (and Mercedes-Benz, but for this article we’re going to pretend they don’t exist) are known for producing luxury vehicles.
If you’re on the hunt for a sweet and simple hatchback, a sleek coupe, a classy executive saloon, or a roaring sports car, these two brands have extensive line-ups of the best luxury cars to suit all tastes and preferences.
But if both manufacturers have a car model that suits what you’re looking for, how can you pick between the two? Which is the best in the Audi vs BMW fight? Does BMW really produce the “Ultimate Driving Machine” or does Audi have the right idea with “Advancement Through Technology”?
If after endless hours trawling around Audi and BMW dealerships and multiple test drives, you still can’t make up your mind, we’re here to help you out. Read on to see which manufacturer we think comes out on top.
Deciding which manufacturer has nailed exterior design best is very subjective - in this area, it does come down to your personal taste. Audi goes for understated yet sporty styling and many of their models look identical. Some like this range consistency, some want to see things shaken up a little more. If you’re a fan of subtle, conservative styling, Audi is a winner here.
BMW cars are bolder in appearance and their iconic kidney grille takes centre stage. BMW cars are more muscular and they have an almost Bentley-esque air around them, making them a top choice for the discerning business person (who also likes a good dose of performance). The lead for exterior styling is subjective - you know what you like!
When it comes to interior styling, we have to give the crown to Audi. This is the one category where Audi pretty much always excels in its class. Depending on the model, the cabin features a minimalist dashboard, high-quality soft-touch plastics with metal or wood trims, and comfortable front seats made of a range of cloths or up-market leather. It’s up to you what you fancy in your car but you can be sure that whatever you pick and mix is going to feel purely premium.
The interior of a BMW car is by no means a disappointment, but it just doesn’t have the same feel as Audi. BMW are geared towards performance primarily, so the cabin often feels like an afterthought. That said, none of the materials used are cheap-looking and it does feel posh (which it should given their price point), but they just don’t have the je ne sais quoi that Audi cabins do.
You’re going to spend most of your time inside the car rather than gawping at the outside, so we say Audi wins here!
Engines and Performance
It’s widely accepted that BMW cars are geared up for a better driving experience than Audi. Audi shares many of its parts (including engines) with other cars in the Volkswagen group (the Audi A3 uses the same engine as the VW Golf), which takes away from that premium image and also indicates a poorer performing car than BMW who build their cars around their engines.
Comparing engines on every model will be impossible, so we’re going to pin a few equivalent models from each brand, based on the specs from the most basic trim available for each car:
In terms of fuel economy, there’s not much in it between Audi and BMW. Both deliver reasonable mpg on most of their models - in line with what you’d expect in the luxury car class. Both offer a range of plug-in hybrid and fully electric models too. Audi S Tronic transmission is their crowning glory to reduce fuel consumption while amping up the power.
Neither is pulling ahead particularly in the “green” race in regards to CO2 emissions. They yield pretty identical results, with the exception of the M2 and RS3.
And when you’re hitting the road and want to rev up to 62mph with fury? Again, there’s not a massively noticeable difference. When you look at the specs for this small selection of cars, it’s tricky to pick out a decisive winner. The driving experience is where they really battle it out!
You can decode the Audi engine codes badging system in our guide.
BMW has developed its own rear wheel drive platforms which they use on all their cars apart from the X line-up and the i8 range. The rear-wheel drive architecture is responsive, well-balanced, and handles well, with many arguing it does so better than Audi’s front-wheel architecture. Front-wheel puts more weight over the front tires which makes for sketchy handling and slow responsiveness.
If you need something to withstand rugged terrain, BMW also has its own 4WD system, “xDrive”. With the xDrive system, 40% of the power is sent to the front and 60% to the rear so that, whilst it still has a tight grip on the road, you don’t lose the fun of the sporty rear-wheel drive. You can very easily switch up the percentage of torque going from front to rear (we’re talking less than second!) if you need a more limpet-like grip.
Audi’s equivalent is called “quattro” and it’s widely hailed as one of the most advanced all-wheel drive systems on the market. Quattro typically costs extra but comes as standard on their pricier models. It’s important to note that the quattro system is not created equal across all cars. The Audi A3, for example, uses the Haldex controlled set up, meaning it uses front-wheel drive most of the time but the 4WD spurs into action when it senses wheelspin. On all models from the Audi A4 Saloon and above, the 4WD is permanently engaged, so the wheels prevent rather than react to wheelspin.
Both systems are great - if you want something with a sportier edge, go for BMW, but if you need something a bit stronger, Audi claims first place.
The standard tech included naturally varies from model to model with both brands, so we’re going to look at the quality of the tech options, rather than what’s included in equivalent cars.
Audi have replaced all your traditional dials and buttons with their snazzy Audi MMI infotainment system. You can control everything from the radio to sat nav to Bluetooth through the system. To work it, most models use a rotary dial near the gearbox to navigate through the menus whilst newer models are being fitted with an “MMI Touch” interface. To many, the touchscreen is tricky to get the hang of while you’re mid-drive.
To make up for the blind mid-drive touchscreen smashing, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is a fantastic feature that helps you keep your eyes straight ahead on the road. The 12.3-inch digital screen sits behind the steering wheel and displays a whole host of things like your speedometer, sat nav, radio, and caller ID. For some, however, Audi’s graphics are a little shoddy, but the functionality is well-worth investing to improve the overall driving experience.
You can get the MMI and Virtual Cockpit alongside other features like Audi Connect if you purchase the Audi tech pack add-on.
Turn to BMW and you get the iDrive system. When it was first introduced in 2001, it was met with a great deal of criticism but now it’s regarded as one of the best car tech systems out there. You can choose to control with a rotary wheel on the centre console, physical shortcut buttons, touch sensitive writing pad on top of the wheel, or voice command - you can even get gesture control with the BMW 5 Series and 7 Series.
BMW doesn't have a Virtual Cockpit equivalent but they do offer a Digital Display Key, which is a small touchscreen on your key fob which allows you to remotely control the car’s functions. You can preheat the cabin, check fuel levels, and close the windows without even sitting in the car. To some, it might seem like a fancy gimmick rather than particularly handy for day-to-day driving.
This is a tricky category to pick a stand-out winner. The BMW iDrive has sharper graphics and the controls are easier to use than the MMI Infotainment system. But the Audi Virtual Cockpit is in a league of its own!
Not all Audi cars have been Euro NCAP tested, but all that have have received 5/5 stars, with the exception of the Audi TT which received 4. BMW has 5 stars across the board.
Both brands have a wide range of safety and driver assist features available as standard or at an additional cost across their ranges. Both manufacturers cover all the basics, including:
- Hill Start Assist
- Road Sign Recognition
- Emergency Brake Assist
- Cruise Control
- Parking Assist
- Lane Departure Warning
Neither Audi or BMW are known for any alarming safety issues, so you and your passengers should feel safe and secure whichever brand you go for.
When we think of a German brand, we think top-tier engineering. We expect attention to detail. Unfortunately, Audi has proven that country of origin isn’t a surefire guarantee of quality. Brands under the VW group umbrella are known for their reliability issues, and issues with Audi reliability have been flagged by owners.
According to the Reliability Index, Audi ranked 34th out of 40 manufacturers when it comes to reliability. Audi’s high-tech and cabin features are unique to their brand, but much of their component parts are shared with other VW group cars. The most frequently cited issues are with the engine, cooling and heating system, electrical parts, and the fuel system.
For all new cars, Audi warranty lasts 3 years / 60,000 mile to put your mind at ease for a while.
BMW has the edge when it comes to their reliability rating - but only just. They took 31st place (rolls off the tongue, eh?). Owners complain about electric problems, oil leaks and cooling system problems.
BMW’s warranty is more generous, offering 3 years / unlimited mileage for all new BMW cars.
So, for reliability, BMW takes the lead here, but only just.
If you’re looking for a luxury car, you’re probably not overly concerned about the running costs - they’re not the most efficient or the cheapest to repair! But to cover all bases, we’ll compare Audi vs BMW costs to purchase/lease, insure, and repair.
We’ve compared 3 sets of equivalent models below:
You can see that, again, there really isn’t much in it between the two manufacturers when it comes to costs. Prices fluctuate from model to model. Motoring Research rated BMW as the most expensive car brand to own, estimating costs of around £2,411 per year to run one - Audi came a very close second with £2,214.
Audi, on the other hand, are frequently called out as one of the brands with the most costly repairs, so take this with a pinch of salt! If you’ve got a particular model in mind for either brand, do some digging to work out which is most cost-effective and whether this impacts your decision to sign on the dotted line!
Deciding who comes out on top in the Audi vs BMW battle is not an easy feat. The two manufacturers are vying for the attention of the same target market but they hone in on different specs and features.
Audi pull ahead when it comes to styling and tech, but BMW offer a smoother, sportier driving experience. Both brands rank highly when it comes to safety features, but Audi has poorer reliability ratings by a margin. Price-wise, there’s not much in it between the two, but Audi’s reliability issues do show in the cost of repairs.
At the end of the day, they are both very similar manufacturers with similar ranges of cars who have slightly different appeals. If you want a sporty, controlled ride, go for BMW. If you want something with subtle styling and top-tier tech, go for Audi.
If you're interested in particular Audi or BMW models, we are here to help. We've done some in-depth comparison posts on specific models, including:
- BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3
- BMW 3 Series vs A4
- Audi A6 vs BMW 5 Series
- BMW X1 vs Audi Q3