The great battle of the saloons started and will end with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
These are some of the best-selling cars across Europe and make up a large portion of their respective brand’s overall income.
Whether you have a family, need a company car for work, want to go on a driving holiday, or need a comfortable motorway cruiser, these two saloons – which are also available as estates – make great choices.
In terms of looks, both cars are pretty similar because their aim is to appeal to as many people as possible, but there are a few key differentiating features.
For starters, the Audi A4 features sharper, more aggressive lines across the front that give it a sportier look.
As for the 3 Series, it’s a very handsome car and offers a more executive look, that perhaps could be interpreted as more serious.
It gets less serious, however, once you move onto the silly, hardcore M3 sports saloon.
If a saloon isn’t what you’re after, then perhaps an estate would be more up your street – an offering that both of these cars are available with.
What are they like to drive?
The Audi A4 is a car that offers a very supple ride, which means it won’t be phased by any bumps or odd cambers in the road.
Instead, it will glide across the road in a similar fashion to a higher-end luxury car.
In terms of engine options, both cars come with solid petrol and diesel units, with the 3 Series offering a plug-in hybrid system that allows for up to 37 miles of all-electric range.
If you like a more thrilling drive, there’s also the option of the more powerful M3 and S4 models that produce 510hp and 340hp respectively.
Interior and technology
Historically, Audi has offered better interiors than BMW, but the playing field has become level in recent years.
Both brands now offer exceptional cabins, which makes your decision even harder.
The Audi features a simple but far from basic layout. The whole interior feels very classy, with plenty of sumptuously soft materials and great-feeling switches and buttons.
There are certainly no cheap materials anywhere, even down to the bottoms of the door trims. You could take a selfie in the footwell and still look great.
The BMW 3 Series also has a very swish interior, with comfortable seats and loads of tech.
Its central infotainment screen differs in size according to trim level and, on the newer models, either digital or analogue instruments positioned ahead of the driver – with the older model’s dials being physical.
There are also standard features including helpful additions such as climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and DAB radio.
Optional extras may also include sports seats, auto wipers and lights, parking sensors, and dual-zone climate.
Bootspace and practicality
If you’re someone who needs a practical car, then you’re in luck – both the 3 Series and A4 come as estates, offering more headroom and increased boot space.
The 3 Series Touring has a 500-litre boot which is only slightly larger than the saloon’s but it has a wider and taller opening which makes it so much easier to load it up after a morning shop at IKEA.
Conveniently, the Audi A4 has the exact same size boot as its rival – allowing plenty of space for the airport run or a large weekly food shop.
As you move into the cabin, both offer ample rear legroom, especially for cars as small as these saloons.
You can also fold down the rear seats in both models, making it easier to slide longer objects in and transport more stuff.
Read our in-depth car reviews:
Safety and reliability
BMW has a reputation for manufacturing really reliable cars, and the 3 Series is no exception.
Euro NCAP awarded the 3 Series a firm five stars in its most recent test, so you know you’re getting into one of the safest cars on the roads.
Standard safety kit includes features such as airbags and Isofix child seat points.
The 3 Series also gets a crash sensor activation system that will ensure to keep you safe in case of an accident – airbags will activate, doors will unlock, and the hazard lights and fuel will be cut off.
Audi’s A4 is very similar when it comes to reliability and safety – it offers industry-leading tech.
Some of its safety features include impressive brakes, adaptive cruise control, and automatic braking.
All these safety features allowed the A4 to score a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
BMW 3 Series
Boot space: 480 litres
Boot space: 480 litres
Verdict: BMW 3 Series or Audi A4: which should you buy?
You’ve read all the above and still haven’t made up your mind? Well, hopefully, this verdict will help guide you in the right direction.
If you’re someone who appreciates the finer things in life – including a smoother ride – then we would suggest opting for the Audi A4 because it features loads of tech, is very comfortable, and looks the part too.
However, if you like to enjoy your car a little more down a twisty British B-road, then we couldn’t recommend the BMW enough.
Sure, the 3 Series may scream 'executive saloon' but it can also be an absolute riot in the right hands.