Do I want a BMW or an Audi?
October 1, 2007 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to trade in my SUV for a station wagon. I think I've narrowed it down to the BMW 328i and the Audi A4. Can those of you who've driven those cars (or anything from from a similar line; any bmw 3 series, any Audi A4 or TT) share your experiences with me?

Both are incredibly safe, seem to have a fairly low depreciation, and have won various awards. They're within a few thousand dollars of each other, price wise. I like the performance of the BWM better, but I like some of the Audi features better.

I've no idea how much an Audi is to maintain, but it's my understanding that BMW is crazy expensive.

Share your experiences, give me your opinions, help me make a decision. (And yes, I realize that buying either car kicks me out of the "art" crowd into the "yuppie scum" crowd. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for a 5 star crash rating, rear airbags and a center LATCH for the kidlet seat. )
posted by Peecabu to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
paying cash or financing?
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 9:37 PM on October 1, 2007

My aunt owns a BMW 5-series and an Audi A6. She says that overall, she prefers the BMW. In fact she's getting rid of the A6 and is replacing it with a Toyota Prius.

I had a chance to drive the A6, and while it was a comfortable ride, I really disliked its automatic transmission. It gave the impression of having plenty of power, but damn if I could make it show me much of it.

Any particular reason you're not looking at a Volvo?
posted by falconred at 9:45 PM on October 1, 2007

You'll need to drive them yourself to know which one is best for you. Part of the appeal of these things is the feel of driving them, and that varies from person to person. For instance, my dad has a BMW (I think, the exact one you're looking at), and he loves it. It's got gadgets and is luxurious and when he wants to, he can punch it around corners feeling comforted that he'll loose his nerve before the car looses its grip. I, however, wouldn't think of buying one. The iDrive system befuddles me, the lag on the automatic transmission is frustrating, and the feel of the car doesn't fit me. When we test-drove an Audi (I think we looked at the A6) I thought it was pretty sweet (it was a while ago, so I can't go into the same detail)

Anyway, you should go in and talk to the dealership (both come with included maintenance for the first few years, as I recall, so they're part of the package you're getting). Drive the cars, and figure out which one was made for you.

(And be willing to check out cars that you don't think fit your image. My dad thought he'd never buy a BMW - he wouldn't even consider it until I pulled him into the Audi dealership. After he test drove that car, he was so happy because after a month of looking at cars, he found one that he was excited about.)
posted by Galt at 9:57 PM on October 1, 2007

I want to trade in my SUV for a station wagon.

In what locale is the Audi A4 or BMW 328i considered a station wagon?
posted by mmascolino at 10:07 PM on October 1, 2007

You have it down. Audi has a nicer interior/more features. BMW has the performance.

Maintenance costs will be similar.

Personally, I went with BMW, but if I was looking at a wagon, I'd go for the A4 (just for looks).

mmascolino: There are both A4 Avants as well as BMW 3 series wagons.
posted by mphuie at 10:12 PM on October 1, 2007

Interesting...I can honestly say I've never seen that variant of either line of car. In fact it station wagons around here don't appear to be popular at all, but I guess I learned something new today...thanks.
posted by mmascolino at 10:23 PM on October 1, 2007

thought of a subaru outback ?

2.5xt is nice as is the 3.0 hse
posted by iamabot at 10:37 PM on October 1, 2007

I'm going to ignore the question and recommend a Lexus IS. It's safe, luxurious and a great ride.
posted by null terminated at 10:48 PM on October 1, 2007

Full disclosure - I've owned 2 bmws and am a huge fan. I've never driven an A6.

If you like cars and driving, get the BMW. There are a hundred tiny things they've engineered to make driving an engaging experience. The feedback through the steering and the pedals. The noise of the engine. The seat bolstering. The armrests.

If you ever think you might do any drivers' education, the bmw for sure. If there will be snow, probably the audi.

Depreciation on used bmws is very good. I bought a 2000 323 coupe in 2003 and sold it this year. All said and done it cost me the same as leasing a honda civic.

Buy a few year old used e46 wagon, do some preventative maintenance (look around for tips), you can't do do better.
posted by milinar at 10:50 PM on October 1, 2007

The people I know that have owned Audi's have had to deal with a lot of reliability issues -- I can't say whether or not this applies generally.

They're both going to be expensive to maintain as they age, so I don't think there's a way around that. Pick up a copy of Consumer Reports to find out what they say, as I trust them with these sorts of things.
posted by spiderskull at 11:07 PM on October 1, 2007

I have had an SO own an A4 avant- and I myself own a BMW. The driving feel of the Bimmer will be better, but the ergonomics of the Audi are beyond reproach. Also remember that you can perhaps purchase a 328 XiT- bimmer geek-speek for the all-wheel-drive wagon.
posted by wzcx at 11:29 PM on October 1, 2007

Since you asked for opinions, here's mine. Almost all German cars went to hell as far as reliability in the past decade. VW/Audi and BMW especially. Their drivetrains are typically good, but you're going to have a lot of little, annoying (and expensive!) problems.

If you need a wagon, I'd suggest a Subaru.
posted by knave at 1:08 AM on October 2, 2007

Have you driven them both yet? I've driven both the A4 (2.0Tq) sedan and the 3-series (335i) sedan, so we're not talking an apples-to-apples comparison, exactly, but close enough.

The steering and brake feel on the A4 were dreadful--I found the steering dangerously (and confusingly) overboosted at parking-lot speeds, and the brakes seemed to be on an on/off switch with about 1/4" of travel. It felt great at speed, but heaven help you if you want to stop. To the best of my knowledge, this was the standard steering rack. It's also got a somewhat-tighter rear seat than the bimmer.

The BMW, on the other hand, has very heavy steering at all speeds (which I prefer) and powerful, but easily-modulated brakes. The interior, though, can't touch that of the Audi. Some people will say that Audi interiors have slipped, and I won't neecessarily argue, but simple things like the radio display are abysmal in the bimmer and quite nice on the Audi.

Both cars drink premium and get similar fuel economy. They both come with scheduled maintenance included. They will probably have similar reliability (i.e., you won't get through owning them without some kind of trouble, but hopefully it will be minor). Drive them both, sit in them both, and see which one works for you.

Take a look at crash ratings for the Mazda6 wagon and Subaru family of wagons, though; I haven't, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that they come out well, too, and might be worth considering.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:39 AM on October 2, 2007

I've no idea how much an Audi is to maintain, but it's my understanding that BMW is crazy expensive.

First 6 years maintenance on a new BMW: ~$1200 total. First four are free, you can extend that all-inclusive coverage for another two years. (Shop around, the maintenance extension can be sold by any dealer, and is good at all dealers.) Apparently Audi ended their similar program with the '07 model year.

Coming up on 5 years with my M3. (Too tall for the Audi.) I'd definitely get a BMW again. FWIW, The 540 sport wagon I test drove a few years ago was a blast.
posted by trevyn at 4:41 AM on October 2, 2007

I was in a similar situation recently: after a decade of driving trucks and suv's i was ready for something a little more fun to drive. I considered a lot of cars including the 328 and the A4. After driving both of them and weighing the pros/cons of each the BMW won out handily.

The overall driver experience is better on just about every level: the performance is exceptional for a car of it's class (non-GT, entry-level luxury) and the fit-and-finish is tops.

My friends who have (or have had) the A4 have all discarded them after a short ownership with generally disparaging comments, usually all related to reliablity and costs. If you plan on leasing, the BMW program includes *all* service except tires and gas. I think this even extends to purchased vehicles for the first 4 years...after that though I'm sure a A/C compressor will run you $1000! They (at least my dealer) will even drop off a loaner car where you work and bring your car to the shop for you so you will be rarely inconvenienced with that car (although i havn't had to use that yet).

I highly recommend getting the leather/bluetooth upgrade option. once you use it with your cellphone you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.
posted by monkeybutt at 5:39 AM on October 2, 2007

I have a BMW325xi and love it. It is a driving experience unlike any other and at this point I couldn't imagine driving any other kind of car - the engineering is excellent and the car is incredibly nimble. I bought the car via BMW's European Delivery Program - there is a price break because you don't have to pay import tax (because you take possession at the factory), the dealer is more likely to negotiate price more because of the way BMW works this program with dealers and it was a pretty fun experience. Occasionally BMW has a free ticket to Europe deal as part of the package. We picked up the car in Munich and drove it in Europe for six months (the maximum possible). I've never driven an Audi but compared to other cars in this price range I have driven (Mercedes), the BMW wins on all counts.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. To answer some questions:

I'll probably do a cash purchase, since interest rates for loans are higher than interest rates for a CD.

I have driven the BMW, but have not made it to the Audi dealer yet. Everything I'm using as comparison is reports from Edmunds, Consumer Reports and the like.

I love the way the BMW handles. I prefer fast, smooth sports cars, and the BMW lets me pretend I'm still driving one. Heh.

I like the practicality of the Audi interior (again, on paper as I've not seen it up close yet) just because cloth really is more practical for someone hauling stuff, kids, and critters

Audi isn't offering the OMG warranty anymore, and thus the 4 year "we'll fix anything but tires" warranty of the BMW looks better.

The Lexus IS is a sweet ride, but not practical for what I need. I actually need something that can move 800 pounds of stuff at a time.

I'm not looking at a Volvo because I don't much care for them, and as silly as this sounds, they don't come in red. Red and sporty, after the last few years of driving a soccer mom mobile, is pretty high on my list of important things. I realize it's silly. I don't care.

Subaru and Mazda: I hadn't looked at those. I'll go take a gander at their specs. Although, it appears that they do not come in red either. What is it with car companies not carrying red cars? Every line should have a red option.

Actually, the Mazda looks pretty sweet, even without the red, and is coming in at about 10k less than the BMW. I need to check if I can get rear airbags on it. If so, I'll add that to my test drive list.

Again, thanks everyone for all your input. It's been very helpful.
posted by Peecabu at 8:17 AM on October 2, 2007

Hey Peecabu, comin in a little late, but wanted to add... I was in your position a few months ago, deciding between the audi and the mazda, and other cars of that similair design. After trying out all the vehicles, I really wanted on the MazdaSPEED3. This is a great sporty little wagon that has some real pickup. Only problem was, when I was searching the speed3 was impossible to find in Southern California. Only 4 dealers had them in stock between san diego and Los angeles. And they were trying to charge me a few grand over MSRP. I'm pretty sure the mazda is available in red as well. You might want to add the speed3 to your test drive list, it was a fun car to drive. (I eventually settled on mazda3 wagon, its been great so far)
posted by ShootTheMoon at 8:59 AM on October 2, 2007

I actually need something that can move 800 pounds of stuff at a time.

If that's a serious estimate of weight, I'd be careful with that requirement. Make sure the transmission can handle high loads like that. Most of these saloon-type cars aren't designed to haul a lot of weight, so a truck might be better for this.
posted by spiderskull at 11:51 AM on October 2, 2007

Apparently the 328xi can handle a payload of up to 1102 lbs. Still, I'd be hesitent on pushing the limit here, as it will wear down the drivetrain.
posted by spiderskull at 11:57 AM on October 2, 2007

The A4 (well, the prior generation A4) has a softer ride than the 3-series. But that's the tradeoff for the fact that the 3-series handles far more responsively than the Audi. The controls in the BMW feel more directly connected to the car and as a result, the driving experience is more fun. The 3-series is the most enjoyable car that I've ever driven. (I've only driven both of the cars a couple of times each-- not owned one and used it on a daily basis.)

(And compared to the Subaru Outback-- at least the prior generation Outback-- the BMW feels more solid and better constructed, and handles much, much better. But, this is relative to their price. The Subaru is a very good car, but for more money, the BMW is an even nicer car.)

Seeing that both makes can be less than perfectly reliable and expensive to service, plus considering the fact that BMW covers service on new cars, but Audi has discontinued their similar program, I would weight that heavily towards BMW.
posted by andrewraff at 1:48 PM on October 2, 2007

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