Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2017 Audi A4 review, the 2016 BMW 3 Series review and Buying a Used BMW 3 Series: Everything You Need to Know.
If you’re looking for a high-end sport sedan, chances are that the 2016 BMW 3 Series and the newly redesigned 2017 Audi A4 are on your shopping list. Both offer an impressive level of equipment, handsome styling and sporty handling and driving capabilities. But which one is better? And which one should you get? We’ve created a close comparison of both sedans to help you find out. But first, let’s see what’s new with the A4 and the 3 Series for the latest model year.
2017 Audi A4 Changes
The A4 has been fully redesigned. As a result, it’s one of the earliest 2017 models on the market, which is why we’re comparing it to the 2016 3 Series. While it still looks similar to the outgoing model, changes include a revised interior with a new look and more space, an updated powertrain and a lot of new standard and optional equipment. See all 2017 Audi A4 models available near you
2016 BMW 3 Series Changes
The biggest change to the 2016 3 Series is a more powerful engine for the top-end model, which also receives a name change from 335i to 340i. Other changes include a very subtle cosmetic update and newly optional LED headlights. See all 2016 BMW 3 Series models available near you
Because the A4 is so new, the experts at J.D. Power have not yet rated the sedan for reliability. However, the firm gave a below-average score to the 3 Series, suggesting mediocre reliability. In J.D. Power’s latest Vehicle Dependability Study, which rates automakers instead of specific models, BMW and Audi finished in a similar spot, just above the overall industry average.
Both the A4 and the 3 Series also offer the same warranty coverage: 4 years or 50,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage.
Our take: Given similar warranty coverage and similar brand rankings in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, we suspect the A4 and 3 Series will offer similar reliability.
The A4 offers only one engine: a 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which returns 273 lb-ft of torque and delivers power through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is optional. Audi says the new A4 should go from 0 to 60 mph in around 6 seconds.
Meanwhile, the 3 Series offers four engines. Base-level 320i models use a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (good for a 7.3-second 0-to-60 dash), while the midlevel 328i delivers 240 hp and goes from 0 to 60 in just over 5 seconds. Drivers especially interested in gas mileage should opt for the 328d, which offers 180 hp, a fuel-economy rating of 36 miles per gallon in combined driving and a 0-to-60 time of just over 7 seconds. Shoppers who want the most muscle will opt for the new 340i, with its 320-hp turbocharged 6-cylinder that goes from 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds.
Although we’re impressed with the A4’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and its 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, this one’s a no-brainer: The 3 Series offers enthusiast-friendly rear-wheel drive, more power, more choices and better handling. If you want performance, you’ll want the BMW.
All BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 models come standard with the basics: anti-lock brakes, side-curtain airbags and traction control. But the A4 includes two additional, compelling standard features: a backup camera and a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking. Both of those items remain optional in the 3 Series. As for other safety technology, both models offer lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and a blind spot monitoring system as optional features.
In crash testing carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the latest 3 Series earned a perfect 5-star overall score. While the A4 has not yet been tested, previous models earned the same perfect score. The nonprofit Insurance Insitute for Highway Safety awarded the A4 its coveted Top Safety Pick+ score, while the 3 Series fell short due to a Marginal rating in the challenging small-overlap front crash test.
Due to the A4’s slightly better crash-test scores and its additional standard equipment, the Audi narrowly wins this category over its BMW rival.
With the A4’s recent redesign and the BMW’s constant updates, there are very few high-tech features not offered by both of these two models. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are notable exceptions — they’re only available in the Audi.
Otherwise, any tech you can think of is probably available in the A4 and the 3 Series likely. There are automatic high beams, 8-plus-inch touchscreens (8.3 inches in the Audi, 8.8 inches in the BMW), navigation systems, heated steering wheels, LED headlights and many other options, including all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control and multi-angle camera systems. While there are a few features unique to each model (like an automated parking system in the BMW or traffic-sign recognition in the Audi), we suspect most technophiles will find themselves right at home in either of these two models.
The 2017 Audi A4 starts at $38,200 with shipping, while the 2016 BMW 3 Series starts at $34,100. But that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. The A4’s sole power plant matches up more closely with the 328i, not the base-level 320i, and the 328i starts from $39,300 with shipping. In that apples-to-apples comparison, the A4 is the better value. Not only does it offer a better interior and a brand-new design, but it comes with more standard equipment, too.
But the A4 can’t match the 3 Series in one key area: variation. Not only does the 3 Series offer that base-level 320i model, but it also comes in a diesel variant, a station wagon, a sporty 340i model and an available manual transmission. If you’re directly comparing the A4 and the 328i, the Audi is the better value — but if you’re considering the whole range, you’ll probably find a lot more to like if you go with the 3 Series.
The latest Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series are both excellent cars with a lot of impressive benefits, including styling, performance, equipment and technology. They’re also neck and neck in virtually all of our categories. In the end, the winner will likely be decided more on model range and availability than anything else. If you want rear-wheel drive, diesel power or an entry-level base model, you’ll have to get the BMW. If you’re choosing between an A4 and a 328i, it’s a much closer fight between the two. In that scenario, our money is on the Audi, with its lower price, newer design and longer list of standard equipment.