I was seeking a replacement for my ageing E46 BMW and decided to investigate the small premium sedan range currently on the market.
I’m not ashamed to admit I have a personal preference for European style even if customers tend to pay a premium for this privilege in Australia. For this reason the Lexus IS and Infiniti Q50 didn’t even get a look in. I have previously driven a friend’s W205 Mercedes C250 and came away impressed in a number of areas so I decided to visit the dealerships and see what the BMW 3 series, Jag XE and Audi A4 have to offer against the Mercedes.
Placing a high priority on sportiness and value allowed the selection to be narrowed down to the top of the range 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engines in each case. A mandatory requirement was for the chosen vehicle to be equipped with its manufacturer’s sports package option.
The first two vehicles tested were the BMW 330i M-Sport and Jaguar XE R-Sport (177kW model). The BMW was a great all-rounder and well equipped in standard specification, but the look and quality of the interior didn’t blow me away.
The Jag had amazing steering and handling which slightly surpassed the BMW but it was let down by its inferior infotainment system and technology and its cramped interior. I also felt the engine was less refined than its peers especially when driving through the hills with the transmission in manual mode and the revs hovering around the 4000-5000rpm mark.
A decision was then made to take the Audi A4 2.0 litre TFSI quattro for a spin and within the first five minutes it was clear the car I would take home would be either the A4 or the 330i.
Both are way more fun to drive than the Mercedes C250 and offer a noticeable step up in terms of the performance on tap. Whilst the Mercedes is the classiest of the lot and has very high levels of perceived quality I wasn’t particularly keen on the ergonomics offered by the column shift auto and “cod piece” Command controller.
In the end the A4 came out on top. In short it was partly because it was the newest kid on the block with the most modern interior and features, and partly because I got a great deal on a six-month old demo with 5000km on the odometer that I negotiated for over a $20K saving off the driveaway price of a comparable new car. The two per cent finance deal offered by Audi at the time just made the deal that little bit sweeter.
My car has the following options fitted; Daytona Grey Pearl Effect paint (giving the paint a soft glow in the sun rather than the shimmer offered by metallic paint finishes), S-line Sports Package, Sunroof, Technik Package (Head-up display and Virtual Cockpit), Matrix LED headlights, B&O stereo and Nappa leather.
The S-line package makes a noticeable difference in terms of overall appearance and kerb appeal and to this writer’s eyes looks much more purposeful than the slightly vanilla looking non S-line models. The dynamic indicators and illuminated Audi logo projected to the ground when the front doors are opened make the car feel a touch more special.
I am a big fan of the seats as they offer a great combination of comfort and bolstering and the Nappa leather option looks and feels to be of a very high quality. The seats also offer sufficient width for my 6’2” 110kg frame and do not dig into my sides like those of some of the other cars tested.
The car is fairly firmly sprung and doesn’t ride as well as the BMW which had standard adaptive dampers, but it offers a sporty feel that is backed up with the sure-footed feeling of the quattro AWD system.
The 185kW engine offers plenty of zing and I have matched the manufacturer claim of 0-100 in 5.8 seconds using the launch control feature. As a side note without launch control the best 0-100 time I have achieved is 6.1 seconds as the drivetrain is a touch laggy off the line. This is emphasised when the car is in Comfort mode coupled with the stop-start system.
Driving the car in Dynamic mode offers noticeably less lag and automatically disables the stop-start feature. A pleasant surprise has been the seven-speed DCT which has so far been very seamless in its operation without any of the shuddering I have experienced in a colleague’s MkVI Golf fitted with a similar transmission.
In terms of technology the vehicle feels very current and I have fitted a sim card which brings up a Google Earth map overlay in the Navigation display and offers a Wi-Fi hotspot allowing up to eight devices to be connected. This looks genuinely upmarket and has better graphics than competitor systems.
I was impressed with the Virtual Cockpit too and many passengers have commented on how cool this feature is. The cluster is always crystal clear and I haven’t suffered any visibility issues resulting from sun glare.
The head-up display however is very faint through polarised sunglasses but from my understanding this is a common trait of such systems. The optional B&O stereo with its 19 speakers can offer amazing sound quality and clarity depending on the music genre, but I have occasionally found that certain rock songs with a lot of low frequency bass guitar can sound very distorted from the small front tweeters. The system definitely copes better with bass notes from drums or beats though.
The Android Auto functionality has been great for the most part although the system suffered a fault for a couple of months where during periods of loud music being played (both from the radio or Spotify) the system would pause and bring up the voice control menu without any buttons being pressed. This issue went away once my phone upgraded to a newer version of the Android OS and the Android Auto app. This was not a problem with the car itself.
The ownership experience to date has been very good. Other than the Android issue the only problem I have had was a random error with the stop-start system that appeared on one day and disappeared on the next.
When I took the car to the Audi service centre they cleared all fault codes and the issue hasn’t presented itself again since. I also took the car in for its first service with over 12,000 km on the clock and at that stage had noticed the oil level was showing a level of just under maximum which indicates a small amount of oil use in the 7000km I had driven to that point. I am hopeful this engine does not later suffer the notorious oil usage issues of the early B8 models.
My overall long term fuel economy is 10 litres per 100km and I usually drive to work in the CBD during peak hour. On a longer run on the highway or in the country the economy tends to average in the high 7s. I always use 95 RON fuel as per manufacturer’s recommendations. One other very minor issue is that the aluminium interior trim is very soft and prone to scratches and minor dents. It would be nice if future models had more robust trim materials.
In summary the car is sporty, comfortable, with up-to-date technology and safety systems. It offers significant improvements over its predecessors and I would have no hesitation recommending it as a potential purchase for buyers within this segment.