When I was a young teenager, my Dad went through one of those middle-age crises so typical of a certain kind of man. You know the type - the kind of guy who, when realizing he won’t live forever, goes out and shops for fancy cars. He wasn't the kind of guy who spent his midlife crisis drinking heavily, jetting off to Vegas, or “chasing tail” (as men of his generation used to put it). Nah, he was a car guy through and through, and he wanted the biggest, fastest, most expensive car money could buy. We hit every dealership he could find, looking for the perfect match. The man was obsessed.
There was only one small problem - my Dad was 6’2”, and I was already over 6’ at age 13. He desperately wanted a Porsche, but c’mon - neither one of us could even fit in the damn car! We went through those Porsches, Alfa Romeos, Lotuses, and all of the other small sporty cars before you could say "Fiat." That’s when my Dad moved on to German engineering. And fell in love.
The car was an Audi Turbo Quattro CS, the flagship of Audi’s “Executive Sedan” series. It was all matte black and chrome, stick-shift (of course), and went like a bat out of hell, especially for a four-door. It was the ride of kings, and my Dad loved it. He used to love to park it next to Mercedes Benzes and BMWs and point out its lines to their perplexed owners.
Except… the car wasn’t that great. It had problems from the beginning: problems with engine oil leaks, problems with the fuel valve, problems with the onboard computer, even problems with the heated seats! It was a beautiful shiny mess, something which Audis sometimes continue to be. Don’t get me wrong - Audi makes a great car. Usually. But if you’re an Audi owner, even nowadays, I wouldn’t be surprised if you sometimes wish you had bought that BMW instead. Here are 15 reasons why.
15 Rainwater Leakage
Another thing you can do with the wonder that is the Interwebs is look up issues current owners of a particular car might be having and whether it’s competitor’s models have the same issue. Unfortunately for Audi, a quick and dirty search of the A4 reveals quite a few issues BMW doesn’t have. One such problem is pretty ridiculous. It seems that the A4 has a bad case of blockage at the base of its windshield. Rather than rainwater draining properly, it builds up in the Plenum Tray. Yeah, I like cars, and I’ve never heard that name either. The plenum Tray is simply the outside base of the windshield. If it clogs, it can cause excess water to leak into the electrical system, the brakes, and even the interior of the car! Sitting in a puddle getting shocked by your heated seat isn't luxury, Audi!
14 Engine Oil Leaks
Speaking of leakage, the A4 has another huge issue when it comes to the engine oil leaking out everywhere. Now, I know that every car will leak engine oil eventually. Hell, I had a GMC Jimmy for a while that didn’t just leak oil - it sprayed the damn stuff all over the interior housing of my engine compartment, no matter what I tried to do to stop it. It seems the A4 wants to be my old Jimmy, as it's apparently a well-known issue that the valve cover gaskets suck on this model. Now, granted, it only cost a few hundred bucks to replace that gasket, but c’mon, Audi - people have been complaining about this problem in this model for almost a decade! Maybe you need a new gasket guy. Or better rubber…
13 Check Engine Light - Again
And here it is - the dreaded “check engine" light that every car owner ever has come to know and dread. If you've been driving cars for more than about five minutes and have never had a "check engine" light come on in any model of any maker, then I salute you. You're among the few, the proud, and the very lucky. Audi, however, seems to take this hazard (you see what I did there, right?) to a new level. Reports on RepairPal.com are off the charts for this particular issue with the A4. Basically, it looks like Audi designed their "check engine" light to go off if you even look at the instrument panel wrong. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of reports of this issue for everything from “failed” fuel pumps to vacuum leaks, oxygen levels, the torque converter, and even turn signals setting off that damn light. Mind you, not because anything was actually broken but because the light just wanted to go off. That’s reassuring, Audi.
12 How Much Did You Say?
Some problems with a car are random and not the manufacturer’s fault. Some are. Sadly for Audi, the A4 appears to have a longstanding issue which they've failed to address, one that comparable BMWs don’t have. Speaking as a former owner of a VW Passat, I can confidently say Volkswagen has the same issue - but my car was $10,000 cheaper than an A4… Anyway, the water pump in the Audi A4 likes to fail. When it does, it likes to wreak havoc with the timing belt. Multiple, multiple, multiple (is that enough “multiples?”) owners have noticed this - and paid for it. Have you ever priced water pumps and timing belts? If you haven’t, don’t. You won’t like what you see. Since owners for over 12 years have been complaining about this issue in Audi’s most popular base model, you would think they would've gotten the bugs out on this one. But no. Audi, this one, you lose.
11 Fuel Economy
We’re going to focus a lot on how Audi’s A4 stacks up against BMW’s 3 Series. "Why?" you ask. Well, because both models are considered to be the flagship “base" car of each automaker, especially in the luxury-sedan division, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 75 years, is where Audi and BMW earn their bread and butter. So, even though you may not think fuel economy is all that important in a luxury car, do you really want to stop for gas all that often? No - you want to drive, drive, and drive! The A4 has nothing on the BMW 328d, which averages almost 40mpg on the highway and over 35mpg overall. No, it’s not a Prius, but you didn’t buy it for that reason. Still, it’s a nice bonus that the A4 doesn’t come close to matching.
10 The Engine
Here’s the problem. Car enthusiasts usually like variety - the more choices, the better - am I right or am I right? So, Audi’s decision to limit the A4 to only one engine option is a bit puzzling. Granted, that one engine is a 252hp turbocharged 4-cylinder that goes zero to 60 in less than six seconds, but BMW still quite literally leaves Audi in the dust on this one. First, there’s the base 320i, which only offers 180hp and a zero-to-60 time over seven seconds. That’s not enough, though. How about the 328d? Well, it’s actually about the same as the 320i. But… the 328i hauls 240hp and clocks in at less than five seconds on the zero-to-60 test. That already beats Audi - but wait! The top-of-the-line 340i is a six-cylinder turbocharged model that carries 320hp and hits 60mph in well under five seconds. Sorry, Audi - no contest.
9 The Drivetrain
Luxury carmakers like to talk about a particular model as being “enthusiast friendly.” We all know what that means, don’t we? It means making their car the most accessible, coolest, best fit for that part of their customer base that really knows and appreciates fine cars. One of the litmus tests of an “enthusiast-friendly” car is its drivetrain, am I right? We already talked about the engine (the “powertrain”), but what type of drive a car has goes a long way toward its success. Great luxury cars with power offer rear-wheel drive. It’s pretty much that simple. So, it’s a weird shock that the A4 offers only standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. BMW doesn’t screw around with the 3 Series, though - it’s rear-wheel drive all the way!
It’s always hard gauging the reliability of a particular vehicle. Some people buy and drive their cars into the ground, some people keep a car forever but rarely drive it, some people trade out every five years, and some people just keep switching to next year’s model as soon as they can. So, it’s not always easy figuring out how reliable a car might be overall. That’s when a little firm called "J.D. Power & Associates" comes in. If you haven’t heard of them, leave now. They’re pretty much the gold standard for automobile ratings. And guess what? J.D. Power has consistently given the A4 series a “below average” reliability rating over the years. Whoops... Of course, if your 2017 A4 is still parked in your garage in ten years and hasn’t had any work done, I’m sure they’ll take it back.
We already touched on this a little bit when we talked about the respective engines of the Audi and the BMW models, but it’s worth repeating. When it comes to variety for this class of sedan, BMW just destroys Audi. BMW has four engine options (yup, four) to Audi’s one. BMW has another huge advantage in the number of models it offers - apart from the four I’ve already mentioned, you can also go even further customizable with a diesel option and even a station-wagon option (although why anyone would choose that last one is beyond me). Audi still has just the one. And finally, have you ever heard of a little thing called "Manual Transmission"? Of course, you have - you’re an enthusiast, and you know how performance can be tied to a stick shift. So does BMW, offering a model that's manual, whereas Audi doesn't.
I somewhat loathe having to talk about cost. If you’re going for the top-end A4 or the high-end 3 Series sedan, you probably don’t particularly care that you’re going to be spending 50K on your car. But money is still money, and a deal is still a deal, even in the luxury car world, especially in the “base” car division. That’s where BMW beats out Audi in this class. You see, the A4 starts at around $39,000 (that’s without any bells and whistles, of course) and the 320i starts right around $34,000. It may not seem like much, but it’s still a $5,000 difference. Hell, lots of people purchase their car for a total of $5,000, so it really is a significant difference in cost. I’m not saying this particular issue is a deal breaker for luxury car purchasers, but it does give one pause, doesn’t it?
5 Name Recognition
Alright, so we’ve gone through some very specific and particular ways in which BMW’s flagship model beats out Audi’s. That’s all well and good, but it’s time to look at some more general issues with Audis - issues that might give you pause the next time you need to choose between an Audi and a BMW. And by the way, Mercedes - don’t worry; we’ll get to you eventually as well. But I digress. There’s one really simple thing that Audi owners sometimes wish to forget: BMW has the name recognition. Audi is cool, but which car did all those yuppies back in the ‘80s and ‘90s lust after? That’s right - BMW - the connoisseur’s choice, the automaker that began building luxury cars all the way back in 1952. Audi didn’t even get in the game until the mid-1960s, and owners of its cars have always had a red-headed stepchild attitude toward the bigger, better-known, older “brother” BMW.
4 “Midsize” Model Comfort
It would be silly to think that the top-of-the-line Executive Sedans are the only vehicles that major automakers like Audi and BMW pump out. While those are their “name-brands,” each maker offers plenty of alternatives. Audi’s luxury midsize sedan, the A6, stacks up pretty well against the BMW 5 Series, except in one small but vital area. Let’s say you buy a luxury vehicle. What do you want to do with all of that luxuriousness and performance? Why, drive it everywhere, of course. And if you want to drive everywhere, you want to do it with some semblance of comfort, right? Well BMW has got you covered. The 5 Series seats have a 20-way contour control so that you can spend hours getting your butt and back’s comfort levels just exactly perfect (only to have your wife or girlfriend change it on you later, of course). The seats even have a massaging element! Audi, you’d better up your game.
3 Luxury “Subcompact” SUVs
Neither Audi nor BMW have hit the “Super SUV” market with much impact, but their small, subcompact SUV models are pretty popular. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of having a luxury SUV that I will never drive off-road when I could get a luxury sedan and go hell-bent for leather on the freeway, but that’s just me, I guess. Anyway, BMW kicks Audi’s you-know-what in this department. The X1 outperforms the Audi Q3 with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that drops over 225hp on you. Not only that - it’s got a lot more interior room than its Audi counterpart. So, if you’re in the market for a small SUV, you might as well get the quicker, faster, bigger one. Am I right or am I right?
2 Luxury “Compact” SUVs
So, you want a little more oomph in your fancy SUV, don't you? Then you’ll have to step up to the compact SUV class. Can I just stop for a moment, though, and say, "Seriously?" Compact SUV??? What a misnomer - it’s like saying “military intelligence.” SUVs aren't subcompact and compact - they’re SUVs, for freak’s sake! Anyway, BMW’s X3 beats Audi’s Q5 hands down. Again. It’s the same story as it was for the subcompact SUV class. The X3 has a better performance window, better fuel economy, and a ton more interior space. BMW obviously thought a lot harder about this whole breed of car during R & D. I’m not saying the Audis are necessarily bad cars; they’re just not in BMW’s class.
We’ve gone through quite a few specific models and individual cars to explore why BMW might just be a better option for the luxury-car buyer. But we haven’t yet spent that much time on the generalities that all car buyers are also interested in. It’s time to take a look at those things BMW either does better than Audi overall or that Audi just does really poorly at. You know what I mean - those things that'll make you wish the car parked in your driveway was a BMW and not an Audi. For starters, go on pretty much any car-enthusiast website, and you’ll find that BMWs are almost universally considered to handle better than Audis, no matter the model. Since we’re talking about luxury-performance sedans and sports cars (and yes, SUVs), handling is rather important. These aren't minivans; they're precision machines, and BMW's tend to have a precise handling edge in their victory over Audi.
Sources: autotrader.com, cars.usnews.com, automobilemag.com