Audi A5 v BMW 4 Series : Comparison review

The mid-sized sedan segment remains the most intensively competitive in the world of luxury cars, but a fascinating off-shoot is provided by the likes of the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series.

And these two luxury coupes are now even matched in naming approach, with BMW changing the name of its 3 Series Coupe to take on Audi’s two-door that’s based on the A4. Both are now one digit up on the sedan siblings on which they’re based…

Both are available from under $70,000, though here we’re pitching the $75,700 Audi A5 2.0 TFSI quattro against the $80,500 BMW 428i.

That ‘quattro’ tag means of course it’s all-wheel drive versus rear-wheel drive, though in addition to pricing proximity other commonalities are dimensions (with A5 first, 4626mm v 4638mm in length; 1372 v 1377mm in height) and turbocharged four-cylinder engines under the bonnet.

Styling is crucial to the success of such coupes, and the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series designers have taken varied approaches.

The A5 is mostly smooth and clean lines, with an elegant shape from all angles still holding up years after its 2008 launch (and then a 2012 midlife facelift). The main touch of visual aggression on the 2.0 TFSI comes in the form of the large black grille that adorns all Audis.

However, our test car was also fitted with an S line sports package ($7900) that included 19-inch alloy wheels and sportier front and rear bumpers.

Flicking the eyes across to the 428i and you can see how BMW has aimed to make the 4 Series more sports car than two-door executive car compared with the 3 Series Coupe.

A bit longer and wider than the 3 Series sedan, the 4 Series sits lower than the old 3 Series Coupe and features shorter overhangs front and rear.

Particularly in profile view, the sharper-edged and higher-rising creases on the BMW’s flanks, combined with a more fastback-style sloping rear roofline and generally tauter bodywork, give a visual impression the 4 Series is the more dynamic-looking car.

Our 428i test car was also embellished with some exterior extras as part of an M Sport package ($2000), including 19-inch M alloy wheels, chrome tailpipe, high-gloss black double-kidney grille and M aerodynamics package.

The Estoril Blue metallic paint ($1840) doesn’t harm the BMW coupe’s aesthetics, either.

We’re admirers of both designs but we’re also not ones to sit on the fence even on the more subjective sides of things. So it’s the 4 Series that just edges the styling contest here.

Out on the road, however, the gap between these Teutonic two-doors widens considerably.

The Audi A5 continues to be hindered by the A4 underpinnings that are the least convincing in the brand’s regular passenger car line-up.

While capable of delivering decent handling, the A5’s suspension is prone to allowing shocks to intrude on both comfort and composure, and its ride is either restless at higher speeds or annoyingly jiggly at lower speeds in the city.

The steering, too, is problematic, lacking a sense of connection with the driver and with a tendency to suddenly introduce heavier weighting when not expected.

Vagueness around the straight-ahead also means pinpointing an accurate line on the freeway is harder than in the BMW that makes cruising less of an effort in terms of steering.

Switch to the BMW 428i and the standard adaptive M suspension works a treat whether you’re in the mood for driving or not.

The ride is firm even in Comfort mode but crucially the 428i flattens out imperfect road surfaces for far more fluid progress regardless of the driving scenario.

When you are ready for that entertaining Sunday drive, selecting Sport via the centre console switch is a worthwhile move to notice body control rising to another level of tied-down, unflappable impressiveness.

The 4 Series also uses its larger footprint over the 3 Series – 50mm-longer wheelbase and wider axles (45mm front, 80mm rear) – to feel incrementally more planted than its sedan twin.

The Audi A5’s all-wheel drive has its advantages naturally, particularly in less-than-dry conditions, though the BMW 428i’s more involving rear-drive approach is also aided by the tremendous purchase of its 255/35R19 rear tyres that are wider (and thinner) than the fronts (225/40R19).

You sense the BMW would still be the more agile coupe even without its significant 145kg advantage (1470 v 1615kg).

In the twistiest of sections, the 428i’s front end feels notably lighter than the A5’s, the BMW turning in with greater eagerness – and accuracy courtesy of superior steering. And where the Audi is essentially a (still-entertaining) grip-and-go affair, it’s the 4-Series that allows the driver to adjust the cornering line of attack via the throttle pedal.

Using all four wheels doesn’t help the A5 compensate in the 0-100km/h sprint, either, with its claimed 6.4 seconds well beaten by the 428i’s 5.8sec.

Official fuel consumption is less decisive, with just a third of a litre of premium fuel separating the Audi A5 2.0 TFSI and BMW 428i over 100km (6.7 v 6.4L/100km).

Further helping performance for the Munich part of Germany is a four-cylinder turbo engine that not only has more power (180kW v 165kW) but revs higher and produces its stalemate 350Nm across the widest of two broad ranges (1250-4800rpm versus 1500-4200rpm).

The onset of turbo boost is also less noticeable with the 428i, offering more immediate response regardless of driving mode you’ve selected.

The A5’s low-speed reaction can also be hampered by the characteristic hesitation of the VW Group seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The 428i’s ZF eight-speed torque converter auto is the smoother and ultimately smarter transmission.

Emotion points are awarded to the Audi for the best-sounding engine and exhaust notes, however. BMW’s new four-cylinder turbo just can’t sing like the company’s former signature straight-six.

How the respective cabins make you feel will depend on the individual, but the A5 is certainly not handicapped by age here. Audi interiors age better than most, and the coupe’s A4-based presentation, logicality and perception of quality remain strong.

The newer A3, however, suggests the new A4 out in 2015 should be something quite special inside.

Once you get over the disappointment of the 428i’s interior being virtually impossible to distinguish from that of a 328i’s, you can focus on appreciating a cabin that betters the A5’s not necessarily in overall quality but certainly in key areas.

The driving position was more natural and comfortable for all our testers (sports seats part of the M Sport package), the Sport Line trim of our test car (with dash and door metallic strips matching the exterior paint) looks more contemporary, and iDrive remains our pick of the luxury brand infotainment control systems (though Audi’s MMI is runner up).

The 428i also brings the bonus of an auto seatbelt provider.

Moving to the rear accommodation extends the BMW interior’s margin of victory.

Both are accessed by flipping and sliding (electronically via a button) the front seat, though if an average-sized adult has been sitting up front in the BMW it’s possible to squeeze into the back by just tilting the seatback forward.

This is the first sign the BMW is the better-packaged coupe; sitting in the back confirms it makes the most of its 7cm-longer wheelbase (2810 v 2751mm) with noticeably more space all round for the body.

Both coupes inevitably lose some of the 480-litre boot space of their sedan donors, with the A5 keeping a bit more at 455L versus 445L.

Rear seats (split) fold down on both to create carrying capacity for longer items.

There’s little to split on standard features. While the BMW 428i starts $4800 higher than the Audi A5 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic, it isn’t matched for adaptive suspension, LED tail-lights and 19-inch wheels (18s on the A5).

The Audi comes with tri-zone climate control to the BMW’s dual-zone, and power front seats where the 428i only offers electric adjust for the driver’s seat.

While there’s no doubt many buyers will be swayed one way or the other based purely on the design of these coupes, objectively there’s a clear winner.

The BMW 428i has the most spacious interior, it’s quicker yet more fuel efficient, and it’s both more comfortable and sharper to drive.

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