The Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series have been battling for decades. This competition isn’t anything new but it is changing a bit. In the past, the A4 and the 3 Series were always similar in price and segment but drastically different in approach. While the 3 Series was always about driving dynamics above all else, the A4 was always about blending comfort with performance and all-wheel drive grip. So the A4 was always the jack-of-all-trades, master of none, while the 3 Series has always been a master of one. Now, though, the two cars are closer than ever.
We just recently test the new G20-generation BMW 3 Series, which debuted just this year, and we had our tester for a week. Specifically, our test car was a 2019 BMW 330i xDrive, which means it had an entry-level four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. So, in spec, it was very similar to the current B9-gen Audi A4. So how did we get on with Bavaria’s latest sport sedan? Surprisingly well, actually.
The engine in the BMW 330i is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 255 hp and a whopping 295 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers best the A4’s turbo-four by 3 hp and 23 lb-ft, respectively. More impressive than its power figures, though, is how it delivers them. The BMW 330i’s little four-pot is so silky smooth you’d think it was running on a combination of double-cream and Whitney Houston’s voice. Not only is it smooth but it’s effortless in its delivery of all of that torque.
So the 330i launches hard off the line and pulls cleanly to redline. Throughout its rev-range, it’s effortlessly smooth and punchy. In fact, it may be the very best turbocharged four-cylinder we’ve ever used. It’s that impressive. Audi’s turbo-four is excellent, don’t get me wrong. But I think BMW’s new one is just a bit better.
The 3 Series only comes with one transmission option, regardless of engine choice, and it’s a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic. Despite not being a dual-clutch unit like in the A4, the 3 Series’ eight-speed auto is brilliantly calibrated and quite possibly the best pure automatic we’ve ever used. In auto, it’s almost telepathic in its gear choices and never leaves you wanting for a gear change. Yet when shifted manually, via either the steering wheel paddles or BMW’s new funky gear lever, it’s almost dual-clutch-quick. Audi’s own calibration of that very ZF auto in cars like the Q8 is great but we think BMW has it beat.
Where things really get interesting for the BMW 330i is when you start to really push it. When it comes to driving dynamics, the all-new 3 Series is good. Very good. Its steering is sharp, accurate and nicely weighted. Its weighting is heavier than that of an A4’s but, personally, I like that. It doesn’t provide a ton of feel or feedback through the helm but, then again, neither does the A4.
However, the 3 Series’ best attribute is its chassis dynamics. It’s nigh-unflappable. It’s balanced, rigid and very playful. You can really drive the BMW 330i any way you’d like. Want to just poodle it around town, nice and comfy? It can do that with ease. Want to drive it as fast but tidy, getting your braking zones and apexes right? It loves it. What about being a hooligan and trying to get the back end to step out? Well, our car was all-wheel drive so that spoiled some of our tail-out fun but we could feel that it would love to if it were rear-wheel drive.
Admittedly, while incredibly capable and adjustable, you can feel that the new 3 Series is more clinical than ever. It does so with less of the verve and excitement many of its old predecessors had. However, it’s better than the last-gen 3 Series, the F30-generation. While it’s more playful than the Audi A4, they both drive with a similar clinical, somewhat cold feel.
When you decided to slow down, though, the BMW 330i is also a comfortable, premium executive car. Our test car was riding on the brand’s new “lift-related dampers”, which are fixed, non-adjustable dampers. It also had the M Sport package, so its springs were 10 millimeters lower than standard. Despite being fixed and lowered, out 330i rode incredibly well over our pock-mocked New Jersey roads. I was actually really impressed with how comfortable it was.
Admittedly, its ride is quite firm but it handles bumps with one, smooth motion and it’s done with them. You feel the bump once and it’s behind you. So while it’s firm, it really rounds the bumps out well and remains perfectly composed and compliant. It’s a bit stiffer than the Audi A4, and maybe a bit less comfortable, but the trade off is that it also has less body roll than the A4 and is a bit more athletic.
Inside, the BMW 330i is very typically German. Our test car had black interior with a sort of aluminum-like trim with a weird pattern. Its a cabin that looks nice enough but isn’t anything special. However, everything is laid out brilliantly, ergonomics are excellent and build-quality is top-notch. Compared to the Audi A4, the 3er’s new cabin is just as well-built, just as premium and just as ergonomic. Though, we prefer the A4’s overall cabin design, as it’s a bit more open and airy, while also being more interesting to look at.
The BMW 330i does have excellent cabin tech, though. Its new iDrive infotainment system is superb and probably the best in the segment. It features some crazy tech for the segment, too, such as a 3D Surround View camera and BMW’s A.I. natural voice recognition. Though, we still think Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is the better digital instrument panel by a long way.
From the outside, the BMW 330i is a fine looking car but isn’t anything particularly special. Then again, that’s never really been the 3 Series’ forte. The Audi A4 is the prettier car (though, we’re not so sure that’s true after its facelift) but neither are particularly beautiful.
While the BMW 3 Series has always been more of a scalpel that compromised some luxury, technology and all-weather ability to be the best driver’s car possible, it’s now become more of a jack-of-all-trades. It’s still a very good driving car and one that can genuinely put smiles on faces, it’s less focused on pure driving dynamics than it used to be decades ago. Still, its impressive powertrain, class-leading in-cabin tech and unflappable chassis make it one of the very best car in the segment and quite possibly the very best. Should the Audi A4 be worried? Yes. Very.