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Comparing the BMW 3 Series vs Audi A4: Which is Better?

7 minutes Published: 11/06/2020

We’ve pitted two of the Germanic giants against each other to find the king of the executive saloons. 

Both are technically classed as ‘luxury small saloons’ which, though it may sound like a niche category, is actually incredibly competitive. They’re also up against the likes of the Jaguar XE and the Mercedes C Class, for example. 

The BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 have long been formidable rivals, but neither side wishes to rest on its laurels just yet. Both were updated for this year, with the Audi now in its fifth generation and the BMW 3 Series its seventh. Read on to find out who wins this Audi vs BMW duel!

The Audi vs BMW battle doesn't end here - we've also pinned the BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3 against each other. And for more on the A4, we've looked at the Audi A4 vs A5 and Audi A4 vs A6. You can also check out our A4 Avant Review, A4 Saloon Review, and A4 Allroad Review too!


What's the better choice? The BMW 3 Series or Audi A4

Audi is known for its impeccable build quality and BMW for its sporty luxury saloons - but which one should you choose?

3 Series Saloon

RRP: £24,920 - £48,920

  • Doors: 2 - 4
  • Engine: 3.0
  • Fuel: P, D, H
  • Body: Saloon
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 243g/km

A4 Saloon

RRP: £25,845 - £56,690

  • Doors: 4
  • Engine: 4.2
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Saloon
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 322g/km
  • Brilliant infotainment system.

  • Fun to drive.

  • Firm ride.

  • Better interiors on competitors.

  • Gorgeous interior.

  • Great standard equipment.

  • Infotainment input is touchscreen only.

  • Hesitant automatic.


Exterior

BMW 3 SERIES EXTERIOR

AUDI A4 EXTERIOR

The fifth generation Audi A4 is a smart looking car - but that didn’t stop Audi from giving it a major facelift for 2020. The 2020 A4’s body panels are mostly new, with the exception being the hood, roof and trunk of the car. The new front end sports a wider, lower grille that gives the car a more aggressive look, with large air intakes to either side. Angular, clustered LED headlights and taillights complement this, as does the new sheet-metal design, which replaces the fairly conservative ‘blocky’ panels of last year’s model. Opt for the highly regraded S Line trim and you'll receive an even sportier exterior styling pack.

Nothing changes in this year’s BMW 3 Series. It sports the same, smaller kidney grilles you’ll find on last year’s model, complemented by large air intakes to either side. The front end of the car still feels much more aggressively sculpted than that of the A4, but the latter’s latest visual update has, in our mind, put the two on a par when it comes down to looks. 

3 Series Saloon:

A4 Saloon:


Driving Experience

BMW 3 SERIES DRIVING EXPERIENCE

AUDI A4 DRIVING EXPERIENCE

The small luxury saloon is a competitive vehicle class that demands the perfect balance between comfort, practicality and sports car handling. 

This is something that Audi excels at. The A4 has precise steering and, with quattro technology incorporated, unflappable cornering. Yet even with its sporty handling, the A4 does a fine job of soaking up lumps and bumps at lower speeds. The seven-speed automatic gearbox can feel a little slow to respond at first, but it’s otherwise a joy to drive. 

The 3 Series is a similar story - steering is light and precise in comfort mode, but flicking the sport switch will turn up the heat, giving you just enough resistance in the steering wheel to really draw you in. There’s minimal body lean in both cars, but you’ll find you have more fun cornering in the rear-wheel-drive 3 Series than in the front-wheel-drive A4. If you’re looking for something a little more ‘planted’ however, you can always opt for xDrive (BMW’s four-wheel-drive equivalent). 

The eight-speed automatic gearbox also feels a little slow in the 3 Series, though it’s faster than rivals like the Jaguar XE, if not quite as responsive as the Audi or the Mercedes C Class. Unfortunately, the chassis is a little bit stiff in the BMW. This means that any imperfections in the road surface tend to make themselves known to the occupants, in spite of the lovely plush seats. 

Both cars come with the basics: anti-lock braking (ABS), side-curtain airbags and traction control. The A4 takes things a step further offering a rear camera, parking sensors and a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking as standard where they are optional on the 3 Series. As for other optional safety features, both models offer lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, cruise control and a blind spot monitoring system.

3 Series Saloon:

A4 Saloon:


Interior

BMW 3 SERIES INTERIOR

AUDI A4 INTERIOR

Audi’s interiors are second to none and the A4 is no different. Trim panels are robust and the mixture of leather seats and Alcantara and metal panelling feels positively luxurious. The 2020 redesign sees largely the same interior, with the addition of a new, larger central 10.1-inch infotainment screen angled slightly towards the driver. Audi’s signature 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display makes navigating a doddle, with the option to position your satellite navigation system directly behind the steering wheel. If you're into your gizmos, you'll have to consider the optional Audi Tech Pack.

If you'd like to explore the interior cabins of all our Audi A4 models, take a look at our A4 Avant interior, A4 Saloon interior and A4 Allroad interior reviews.

The BMW 3 Series has a generally well-designed cabin, though it offers no stand-out features. It’s got synthetic leather upholstery, which can be upgraded to Vernasca leather upholstery for a bit extra. If you’re a bit more old-school, you’ll appreciate the classic rotary dial to operate the car’s infotainment system. The driver’s binnacle is, however, a little less advanced than that of the Audi A4. Both cars have the usual array of tech features, including Bluetooth and Apple Carplay, though BMW is yet to add support for Android Auto. If you like to keep your car nice and toasty, you’ll also appreciate 3 zone climate control available as standard on both cars. 

For a little extra, you’ll be able to upgrade to a Bang & Olufsen sound system on the Audi, or a Harmann Kardonn system on the BMW.

3 Series Saloon:

A4 Saloon:


Practicality

BMW 3 SERIES REAR SEATS

AUDI A4 REAR SEATS

The A4 and the 3 Series offer copious amounts of headroom and legroom in both the front seats and the back thanks to their longer wheelbases. The middle rear seat passenger in both cars will have to contend with a shortage of shoulder space and a large, obtrusive central tunnel, as well as a firmer, raised seat. 

The 3 Series packs 480 litres in the boot, which is identical to the Audi A4 Saloon boot capacity. The remaining Audi A4 models boast slightly larger boots with the A4 Avant boot capacity at 495 litres and the A4 Allroad boot capacity up at 505 litres.

Both cars offer a 40/20/40 split folding seat layout, which will let you slide longer items down the middle of the car and still leave room for two passengers on the back bench.

3 Series Saloon:

A4 Saloon:


Costs

When it comes to costs, the A4 will save you a bit of money each month over the BMW 3 Series. This is partly down to the lower initial asking price. Both cars have strong residual values thanks to their popularity on the second hand market, so you can be sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. 

In terms of warranties, the A3 is covered by a three-year, 60,000 mile Audi warranty, while BMW offers a favourable three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which could be a crucial factor for long-distance drivers.

The Audi A4 Avant insurance group starts at a very reasonable 23, while the A4 Saloon insurance group ranges from 22 to 33. The most expensive A4 Allroad insurance group belongs to the Vorsprung tirm which sits in group 39.

3 Series Saloon:

A4 Saloon:


Verdict

The exterior revamp of the A4 for 2020 brings some noticeable improvements with a much sleeker, sportier redesign. Both cars offer plenty of room for passengers and luggage with the same size boot. They also both have equally flexible seat folding arrangements if you need to store larger items.

The entry level Audi A4 is cheaper than the entry-level 3 Series, though the engine on this model  is also a little less peppy. The 3 Series has the best powertrain of the two and scores marginally higher for fuel economy. 

It’s a close call, but for us the Audi just clinches it thanks to its top-class interior styling and fantastic driver’s binnacle display. They’re not the only two cars in the small luxury saloon category, however, and if you’re not ready to make the big decision just yet, you might also want to check out the Mercedes-Benz C Class.

BMW 3 Series

4/5

Audi A4

4.5/5

Audi may have won out in this Audi vs BMW comparison, but how does the BMW 1 Series vs Audi A3 end up? Or if you're stuck on an Audi, which comes out on top between the Audi A4 vs A5 and the Audi A4 vs A6? You should also check out our Audi A4 Avant Review, A4 Saloon Review, and A4 Allroad Review too to help you pick your next perfect lease car!