Above and above right BMWs 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
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
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
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.
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
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 Audiif he could only get that power
Below BMW has made its 335d interior more premium, in response
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
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.