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BMW 330d The rivals BMW’s 335d with the M pack versus the Audi A4 2·0T Quattro—different approaches to the junior executive market

Für die Manner von Cobra 11

Jack Yan finally gets a chance to put the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series back to back
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DOUGLAS RIMINGTON/DETUNE PHOTOGRAPHY

 


Above and above right BMW’s styling is familiar, but, in the right light, delights in details. Below and right Audi, meanwhile, has tried to make the A4 more aggressive.


 

EVER SINCE BMW began selling the 1500 in the 1960s, others have wanted to compete in the same class. Audi, with its 60, 75 and 90 models, eyed the market with some envy. But BMW kept upping the game, with models such as the famed 2002 Tii, Audi, which chose to stick with front-drive platforms, didnít become much of a choice for enthusiastsóat least not till the 1980s, due to two things.
   First, Dr Piëch at Audi decided to fire up the Quattro, introducing four-wheel drive as standard for a lot of the models. Secondly, the ad agencies decided to push the whole Vorsprung durch Technik thing, so if Audi wasnít going to beat BMW on dynamics, at least it could beat them on being stereotypically Germanic, with huge emphasis placed on things like a fully galvanized bodyshell.
   If that wasnít enough, by the 1990s, Audi really discovered a sense of Bauhaus style, with the A4, kicking BMW while it was down with its underwhelmingly styled E36 3-series of 1990.
   Not that the E36 was bad dynamically. It just lacked that urgency that came with Dreiers of old stylistically, and if you bought a base model, then you werenít rewarded with too many standard features. It sold on snob appeal for whomever was left after the stock market crash of í87, but Audi had found a more solid market. Design snobbery, as it turned out, was more enduring than financial snobbery.
   So that is how the junior exec market, as the professionals call it, has wound up for the good part of a decade. If you want dynamics, go for BMW. If you want sheer good looks, go for Audi.
   But it doesnít really end there. Audi, not content with having a thorn in its side, decided to make the A4 dynamically superior. Or at least attempt to. The B8 series was said to have a more balanced chassis, by relocating certain components. It even improved the looks: while the A4 wasnít Bauhaus-rational any more, it was longer and sleeker, without the handicap of a big front end as front-wheel-drive cars were prone to possess.
   And BMW, seeing the onslaught by those Germans oop north, sent the E90 version of the 3er-Reihe to beauty school, emerging with more butch looks that it could market as brand-new.
   Not being a motoring magazine, Lucire didnít get the chance to line up the exact rivals. What we had was an Audi A4 2∑0T Quattro, against the BMW 335d. A turbocharged four-wheel-drive Audi versus a diesel BMW.
   Itís not a bad rivalry, mind, as the cars showcase what their makers want. Audi wants us to look at performance and Quattro, while BMW wants to convince us that its Efficient Dynamics programme has come up with greener carsóand that its diesels, hitting more markets than before, are really as good as any petrol unit.
   We were disappointed last year with the A4 1∑8T and its poor grip. Those of us with a heavy right foot got squeals from the front tyres as they scrambled for grip, and while Audi defends this by saying that itís for the slower driver who wants frugality (it does, after all, have eight speeds), it fitted poorly with our impressions of what an A4 should be after reading all the marketing materials about it being sportier. So, the 2∑0T should be better, correct?
   Thereís no doubt that itís a better looker. Going more upmarket suits the A4 well, with a beautifully stitched steering wheel, chrome accents in the right places and a dashboard thatís attractive as it is purposeful. This is a nice place to sit in, but what happens when one fires it up?
   Well, what happens?
   Thatís the problem. You actually have time to think that before the car gets moving. Maybe it was the experience in the 1∑8 that had us lighter on the right foot, but the A4 seemed to want to take its time departing from standstill. For the relaxed driver, this is fine, and maybe Audi wanted to distance the A4 from the sportier intentions of the A5 and S5 (tested earlier). However, itís hardly going to win 3er fans, or even those who might be reconsidering their Mercedes-Benz C-Klasses.
   Never mind that itís extremely refined and a stunning carówhile the Bauhaus restraint has given way to Darth Vader angles in the front grille, this is an extremely attractive car. The change in proportions means that you have to stare at it; sort of like examining just what parts of Victoria Principal have gone under the knife in those infomercials. Itís familiar, but itís different.
   The whole power delivery matter jars the driving experience, an opinion shared by photographer Douglas Rimington, who never sampled the 1∑8. It brought us back to memories of the B7 S4, a car that had hundreds of horsepower, but you just never felt them there. Lots of Vorsprung, lots of Technik, but we needed spunk to go with it. But the engineer must have been like Lou Grant: ĎI hate spunk!í
   If you got the cultural reference in the last paragraph, then this car is for you. Rimington said one would have to be over 40 to enjoy it.
   And it would be a car we would really consider, over 40 or not, if it werenít for the shadow of its arch-rival.
   We were shown a silver BMW 335d, which immediately made us draw references to our favourite young Turk, Erdoğan Atalay, playing Semir Gerkhan on the hit German TV show Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. A silver 3er is Semirís car of choice, and if itís good enough for him, then surely we would approve?
   The specs are delicious enough: a three-litre turbocharged diesel (286 PS), rear-wheel drive, and, based on our own tests, 30 mpg (7∑8 l/100 km). BMW even gave us a 3er with the M-Paket, which means sexier alloys, stiffer suspension and a more focused ride. It does mean an unfair advantage over the Audiís 220 PS, but it delivers roughly the same fuel economy.
   The interior isnít too bad, and thatís a surprise. Our last test of a 3er was an E46, which even suffered a flat tyre on test, and it was terribly basic. BMW has learned a thing or two since then about interiors, using the chrome accents to good effect and equipping the 3er with the mod cons one needs. It actually trumps the A4 with a more detailed sat-nav and a TV tuner; the DVD player will work and delivers an excellent, widescreen picture. Forget the complaints about iDrive from our colleagues: it works beautifully well as we hooked up cellphones through Bluetooth.
   While æsthetically the Audi still has the BMW beat, the 335d gives a wonderful driving position.
   And better still, itís a joy to drive.
   No power lags, no concerns about whether one can get away. In fact, you can get straight into Hauptkommissar Gerkhan mode and start chasing crims who mess up your Autobahnen, all while being relatively frugal on the derv.
   As usual, the problem is the looks. Weíre afraid that the 3er-Reihe is still not the sort of car youíd leave in your driveway and look back at.
   And there are a lot of 3-series around on New Zealand roads these days, too.
   The choice, then, is over to priorities.
   You can have a car that you will look at more and, one suspects, be looked at by others. Itís also rather nice to be in. But you will know that despite her looks, she doesnít give you the va-va-voom that you might want.
   Or, you can have a car that doesnít look that distinctive, save for the pretty dress of the special kit, but you know her secret when itís just the two of you.
   The battle hasnít really advanced much since the 1990s, in that case. You can take the beauty queen knowing that sheís not what others fantasize about. Or you can take the everyday girl whoís great to be with, and whoís a lot wilder in bed. No oneís jealous of you, but they darned well should be.
   This is why Semir likes his 3-series. Itís his Andrea on wheels. But Ben, the long-haired rebel on the Cobra 11 force, might lean more toward the Audi—if he could only get that power coming sooner. •

 




Below BMW has made its 335d interior more premium, in response to Ingolstadt.



Never mind that the Audiís extremely refined and a stunning carówhile the Bauhaus restraint has given way to Darth Vader angles in the front grille, this is an extremely attractive car

 

 

 

 


 


Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

 

 

 

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photographed by the author
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Jack Yan drives the Mercedes-Benz C200K Avantgarde, and finds that flash and the German accent come free
From issue 25 of Lucire

 

 

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