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a4 2.8q vs e46 2.8 (according to 'car' magazine)

pertinent to recent discussions about the demise of audi as a maker of driver's
cars, is car's latest issue (april).  it contains a 'giant test' with the new
e46 3-series 328i bmw pitted against the top-of-the-line a4 2.8 quattro and the
alfa 156 2.5v6.

pertinent to our comments about tyres and tests, and as i mentioned yesterday
in another test, the e46 bmw came with the optional 18" 255/35 sp9000 tyres,
whereas the normal covers are 16"  205/55.  the audi had 16" 205/55's sp8000's.
mmmmm.  part of a cunning plan by bmw?  (a quick check between the 2 magazines
i've read, reveals quite different cars, so bmw are deliberately sending the
press the up-optioned cars)...

anyway, interesting reading.
'95 rs2
'90 ur-q

some of the main points...

the bmw was only 5kgs lighter than the quattro.  and had addressed the old
3-series in interior quality and back seat space.  'car' commented that the a4
is now the one seemingly short of back seat space, although it had much the
bigger boot (trunk) and was the only one with a split/fold rear seat.

from the photos, the new bmw's shutlines are well short of the standard of the
a4, even of the alfa.  the audi shut-lines look fantastic.

bmw 0-60 in 6.8, audi in 7.1  fuel consumption, bmw 23.4 mpg, audi 22.4

to the test:

"the current situation is this.  the bmw's 3-series has defined the upmarket
sporting compact class, the audi a4 has hijacked it...

"the new 328i rides over bumps better than any of its ancestors, it's
remarkably quiet, the old cars differential whine has gone, and it handles with
all the former verve, but overlaid with more precision, and less tail-out fear
on the limit.  the new 328i is a predictable car, in every sense.  but it's a
thoroughly good one too.

"step out of the bmw and into the audi, and you realise that maybe the new 3's
superiority is by no means a foregone conclusion.  the a4, as a range, has
given the old 3-series a good pasting, and the new one [3-series] has to be
very special indeed to manoeuver itself back in front..."

"the audi, in this form at least, has 4-wheel drive.  no amount of
electronic,traction-related cleverness can make up for a lack of 2 driven
wheels; quattro drive may pose penalties of friction and power loss, but it
makes the audi feel incredibly secure in tricky corners.  rather like a bigger,
softer, more sophisticated subaru imprezza turbo, it can scoot through bumpy
bends at barmy speeds, sucking itself to the road where its two-wheel-drive
rivals scabble for drip and send electronic sensors into overload.

"the audi will stay freah after the bmw's more ornate curves have passed out of
fashion we feel...  

"if the bmw is a shruken 5-series, the audi is a minituure a8.  the ambience
isn't as let's-have-fun as the bmw's, but it is more relaxing.

"with quick steering, road munching bite and an aversion to both understeer and
oversteer (scott??), the a4 demands less effort of its driver than the bmw
does.  it gives fun without fear, speed without stress.  and, praise be, our
car's brakes had a properly progressive response instead of the snatching
action of earlier a4's.  pedal efforts were still low, but modulating them was
easy.  the ride quality is better than it was too, supple over sharp bumps and
devoid of squat and dive under acceleration and braking..

it's the audi that feels the torquier (207lb ft @3200) and less demanding of
revs too.  nevertheless, that 'double vanos' renders the new 328i notably
lustier low down (207lb ft @3500) than the old one, with greater rewards as you
press the accelerator beyond the initial zone of crispness that has always been
a bmw 6-cylinder's forte.

the audi is longer in stroke but, once smoothed by miles, more liquid in
action.  it contributes a more languid demeanour which suits the 90 degree v6
engine's deep-chested, deep-breathing power delivery and corresspondingly deep,
though still muted exhaust note.

where you would ease off in the other cars, you just barrel on in the audi.  it
never feels edgy, never gives the impression that too much is being asked of
its driven wheels because there are 4 to share the load.  but you don't just
steer and hold on.  that variable torque-split makes it very throttle sensitive
in a well-mannered way, happy to tuck its nose in, and point its tail out when
you back off, ready to divert the power rearwards should the front start to run

"the bmw would have a hard job to match this expertise, and it doesn't quite
manage it despite dsc3 [traction control/braking system]...with this, plus rear
wheel drive for uncorrupted steering response and that even weight
distribution, the 328i should be a handling paragon.  and in terms of pure
balance and pure predictability, never mind the vast grip of our test car's
huge tyres, it is.  the residual tail happiness of the old car has been further
squashed, and the steering responds more proportionally without the soft patch
around the straight-ahead.  but the bmw lacks the ultimate agility of its
rivals here; it needs bigger inputs and a firm hand, otherwise it can feel a
touch clumsy.

"so it's between the bmw and the audi.  somehow, we feel the bmw should have
it: the new 328i is exactly what bmw buyers, who obviously like their cars,
must want.  but we enjoyed the audi more, for its understatedness and its
terrific all-round ability.  with lip bitten, we declare it the winner.

audi: four wheel drive grip, understated ambience, solid quality and potent
pace are the audi's irresistable virtues.

bmw: bmw is hugely capable and very desirable, but it's too much the old one
honed instead of a new experience.