QuattroDaily test drives and reviews the entry-level BMW diesel 1 Series, the 118d, and the Audi A3 Sportback diesel.
Thought it might not have Ferrari’s 458 Speciale sultry shape, the five-door euro hatch is a killer automotive design. It truly follows the “form follows function” philosophy. This design sells extremely well in Europe and with the introduction of the all new 2013 Audi A3, BMW faces some serious competition to its 1 Series five-door hatch. Sadly, neither of these ubër functional Germans are offered in the United States.
BMW introduced the original 1 Series five-door hatch back in 2004 and to date it has sold over 1.2 million units. In 2011, BMW introduced the second generation F20 1 Series and the 118d six speed manual with the Sport Line we have used for this comparison. We first drove the BMW 118d back in 2012 during a trip in Australia and we described the entry-level diesel as a car with a great chassis and handling, but the electric power steering was lacking some of the fine tactile feel of hydraulic units. The 118d weighs in at 2900 lbs and our tester came with the standard rear-wheel drive. An xDrive variant is offered as well.
The BMW 118d is powered by the N47 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder diesel that has a variable-geometry turbo with common-rail, magnetic-valve DFI. Surprisingly the N47 doesn’t really have much diesel clatter, and seems just a little louder than modern day DFI motors. The N47 diesel makes 143 hp at 4000 rpm and peak 320 Nm of torque is available in a not so broad band of 1,750 to 2,500 rpm.
0-100 km/hr is reached in a sedate 8.9 seconds but in reality it feels faster. Driving the 118d reveals a lot of torque down low but running out of steam in the upper rev-range as it’s typical for diesels. The UK lists fuel economy in Imperial MPG and urban is a combined 62.8 mpg. This 118d model is definitely shooting for good MPG figures compared the the 120d model. A more fair comparison would have been the BMW 120d but it wasn’t available.
Audi’s design is all new for the 2013 model year and looks fantastic. It recently won the 2013 AutoBild Design Award for Europe’s most beautiful compact as well as Car of the Year in the UK at the “What Car? Awards.” The magazines noted the cabin quality as the highest ever seen in a small family car. The design of the new A3 is more evolutionary then revolutionary. I had to do a double take to make sure my tester was indeed the new model. During my week long test drive I found the vision out of the A3 was frequently blocked by the low roof.
Both models shine when it comes to cabin technology. BMW’s iDrive Navigation is a 8.8” display which really stands out in BMW’s smallest car. Other premium BMW technology and gadgets includes Parking Assistant, Rear-View Camera, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assistance , BMW Apps, and Bluetooth music streaming. But BMW’s Adaptive headlights, though cutting edge a few years ago, fall behind Audi’s offering of full LED headlights and LED daytime running lights.
Audi also has a radar-supported Adaptive Cruise Control, Audi Side Assist, Active Lane Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, the Park Assist System, the Audi pre sense basic safety system and the rest recommendation system. Audi’s MMI navigation system come with Audi Connect. BMW Apps are offered by the Bavarians as well. The A3 comes with a touchpad that controls the entertainment system. As great as it works, I did find myself frequently bumping the buttons around the dial and sending myself off into a menu I didn’t want. For some reason the Audi maps continue to look better than the BMW 3D view. The navigation system in the A3 falls short sometimes, especially after I was sent via suspicious routes in Italy.
The interiors are remarkably close in size. Audi offers a cargo capacity of 1,220 liters with the seats folded down, while the 118d rang in at 1,200 liters. Both interior designs scream premium, with a slightly edge for the 118d and its Sport Line package. The Audi A3 had a very economy feel compared to the upscale feel of the 1 Series. I did, however, like the Audi’s retro circular air vents. The Navigation on the 7” screen in the Audi will slide up and down and the center of the instrument cluster when in route can display routing directions. Traffic info in German would blast in at random times and not necessarily on our Navigation guided route.
Powering the Audi is a 2.0L TDI engine producing 184 hp that was definitely more powerful than the BMW. It was much quicker to get up to speed and had a nice deep torque curve that was fun to use on the Autobahn when combined with the stubby shifting six-speed manual. Like the BMW, the A3 has electric power steering. However, I found the Audi’s steering to be less communicative, most likely due to the front-wheel drive architecture implemented.
The Electronic Limited Slip Differential comes standard in Audi’s FWD version, yet still feels clearly like a front-wheel drive powering out of corners or from a dead start. I would have liked to have driven the AWD version back to back to see if I could feel the difference. The S line is the way to go in the Audi as it add sports suspension, a special steering wheel, other trim bits and better looking wheels.
The Audi’s roof felt too low and forward. I found it to cut my vision when trying to enjoy the Alps as we ascended up and over the Stelvio Pass made famous by Top Gear. I found Stelvio Pass so tight on its switchbacks that you couldn’t really get much sense of speed or cornering because you were constantly looking for a motorcycle or oncoming traffic when rounding the turn. Probably a lot better if it’s closed for a TV film crew than in real life with too many cars and motorbikes.
I’ve driven a combined 3,000 km in these five-door hatches form BMW and Audi. The Audi A3 and the BMW 1 Series are excellent automobiles, better than any options we have here in the United States for this particular segment.
However, it it was my euros I to spend, I would get the BMW 118d, though its motor isn’t as powerful as the Audi A3s 2.0 TDI, but the BMW compensates with a chassis that it’s more balanced and dynamic. For those that enjoy driving quite a bit, the rear wheel drive of the 118d is another selling point.
The cabin of the BMW 118d also resonated more with me, providing a nicer inside setup while offering the driver better vision when driving. The Audi’s suspension had a lot of body roll when pushed hard, a bit surprising since it was equipped with the Sport Line.
Overall both are great buys, but unfortunately those of us in the U.S. will have to wait another round, or more, before having the option to purchase one.