The brand-new BMW 3 Series is arguably one of the most important launches at this year’s Paris Motor Show. The German compact executive sedan flexes its muscles in a class defined by the decades-old rivalry with Mercedes and Audi. The latter presents itself with the A4 which was launched two years ago but will undergo a subtle facelift for the 2019 model year.

BMW’s legendary 3 Series gets a seventh generation for 2019. Known as the G20, next year’s car has a new platform, is bigger all round and features bold styling even with the lower trim line option. BMW says it is sportier than the previous generations, but purists already lament the lack of a manual transmission.

The Audi, in comparison, is a car that’s already reached the mid-point of its production cycle. The styling is more conservative, consistent with Audi’s decision over the past few years to not introduce particularly eye-catching design cues. As such, the BMW might be the one you notice first, but the longer Audi shouldn’t be ruled out from the get-go.

Read on to find how the new BMW 3 Series stacks up against the Audi A4.

Exterior

2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Audi A4
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The new BMW 3 Series sedan is a car legendary for its handling characteristics and performance in class and BMW want to revive that with the seventh generation of a car that’s been in continuous production for 43 years. It obviously faces strong competition from the arch-rival German brands Mercedes-Benz and Audi, as well as other manufacturers such as Jaguar or the electric Tesla.

To underline the sporty nature of the 3 Series and to set it apart from the more sedate-looking C-Class and A4, BMW designers gave their compact executive sedan a more intrepid look with many styling and character lines.

But, before we delve into the details, here’s what we see with the naked eye: that the new 3 Series are bigger than the old (F30) generation. It is 185.3-inch-long (3.34 inches longer than the old 3 Series), 71.9-inch-wide ( which is 0.6 inches wider than the ’12 model) and 56.7-inch-tall. Naturally, the wheelbase has also been extended, by 1.6 inches to be precise, and now measures 112.2 inches.

By contrast, the A4 is slightly longer at 186.1 inches but it has a shorter wheelbase of just 110 inches. The Audi is also minimally wider at 72.5 inches and sits just 0.5 inches lower than the Bimmer. So, while size isn’t a clear differentiator, the design language is.

Front

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BMW brings forward a new design language with this 3 Series and that’s most evident at the front. The two large kidney grilles are now are now together in a single chromed frame and are linked to the headlights. These, in turn, are characterized by a sharp lower line, seemingly dividing the two headlamps. The separation is underlined by two styling lines that are a continuation of two angled bars in the main grille. These lines, however, do not appear on the lower trim level 3 Series which has a different front bumper with two NACA-style air inlets on the side and a main central inlet that has its outer points facing down. In contrast, the upper-trim model’s bumper is busier with the bigger main inlet that points upwards and larger outer intakes that include the indicators and fog lights. The hood which slopes forward towards the headlights, following the line of the upper edge of the kidney grilles is characterized by four styling lines.

The Audi A4, on the other hand, even after it went through the makeover, looks much more docile. Granted, the outer inlets now have a more edgy look to make way for the duct below the main grille. The grille itself is poking forward a bit more after the facelift but it’s still the same familiar tilted hexagon shape with horizontal chromed bars. The headlights also retain their angular look with a shape that’s echoed by that of the taillights.

Overall, the A4 is the more conservative of the two, although BMW themselves have made it possible to choose between a more subtle nose, on the lower-end S and SE versions, and a more aggressive one on the top-tier M-Sport variant. It’s your choice.

Side

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The side profile of the BMW is far more muscular than that of its predecessor. Two character lines elevate to the back end of the car at in-line with the door handles, coupled by a third line which traces to the rear quarter panel. An important feature is the ‘Hofmeister kink’ – the familiar counter-swing at the trailing edge of the side window graphic. This stylistic element of the window frame is now integrated into the C-pillar, giving the rear doors a frameless glass edge. Basically, the lines on the side direct your vision towards the rear. The wheels on the S and SE are exclusive 17-inch or 17-inch alloys while the M-Sport trim level comes with its own 18-inch rims.

The Audi’s side is, again, cleaner. There’s a styling line that helps the side skirts, now with an added Audi logo on them, pop out as well as waistline that follows the contour of the hood, connecting the outer point of the headlights with the outer point of the taillights. Simplicity at its core, although the profile can be mistaken for that of the 2012 A4 or even older, depending on how familiar you are with the model in general

Rear

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At the back, you are greeted by two, elongated, taillights emphasized by the bulging spoiler incorporated in the trunk. The two air inlets on either side are designed to embrace the area of the bumper where the exhaust tips exit. Meanwhile, on the S and SE models, the NACA-style ducts at the front are simulated at the rear to homogenize the design.

The back of the A4 has some elongated taillights of its own which narrow down within the second element that sits on the trunk itself. The facelift brings new exhaust tips in the shape of an askew parallelogram.

The two cars are comparable at the back although, yet again, BMW exudes more stamina with its bigger rear bumper and extra inlets.

2019 BMW 3 Series vs. Audi A4 exterior dimensions

2019 BMW 3 Series 2018 Audi A4
Length 185.7 inches 186.1 Inches
Width 71.9 inches 72.5 Inches
Height 56.8 inches 56.2 Inches
Wheelbase 112.2 inches 111 Inches

Interior

2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Audi A4
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This one really isn’t a fair battle for the Audi A4 as it’s an older car with older technology, one that doesn’t stack up with what Audi has to offer on the A6 or A7 models. That’s why Audi’s only redeeming factor should be the size of its interior. However, since we don’t know what interior measurements the 3 Series boasts, it’s impossible to compare right now. We can point out, though, that the G20 will have more legroom than the outgoing F30. That one had 42 inches of legroom up front and 35.1 inches in the back. Expect the room in the back to grow by at least five inches. The headroom on the F30 is 40.3 inches and this is unlikely to change by much although, due to the new car being wider, you should expect more shoulder room which now sits at 55.1 inches for all the passengers (excluding the fifth one sitting in the middle of the back seat, obviously).

The A4 is very similar in interior measurements to the 3 Series F30, so the G20 has to improve on its predecessor.

The Audi has 41.3 inches of legroom up front and 35.7 inches for those sitting in the back seat. Meanwhile, the sedan from Ingolstadt offers less headroom than the sixth generation 3 Series already and by a few inches (38.9 at the front and 37.4 behind). The volume of the trunk is 16.95 cubic-feet while the Audi only has 13 cubic-feet to brag about – although it’s easy to access and fill up.

Beyond the issue of size itself, the interior of the 3 Series feels slightly more modern. The whole dash is slightly angled towards the driver, a feature reminiscent to the ageless 3 Series E30. The dials and everything else behind the typical three-spoke BMW steering wheel, which is similar to the one on the Z4, is displayed on a 5.7-inch display (called BMW Live Cockpit) while the center console is dominated by the 8.8-inch center digital display that controls the whole infotainment system and more. You can also opt for a 12.3-inch display behind the steering wheel and a 10.25-inch one in the middle of the console with the BMW Live Cockpit Professional pack. The design of the dash is dominated by clear straight lines with elongated air vents in the middle with more buttons sitting just below it. The gear shifter is new as is the iDrive selector.

The materials and colors available vary depending on trim level and your personal preferences. In any case, it’s not as sci-fi as some Mercedes-Benz interior, but it looks solid, it looks upscale and it looks rather intuitive. Even the basic seats offer good side support while the back seat doesn’t seem cramped. The M-Sport package comes with different seats and Vernasca leather. It’s notable that all 3 Series models benefit from 40:20:40 split folding rear seats and folding rear headrests as standard (same for the A4). Hidden interior lighting with up to 11 color options is also available as standard, something you’ll find in the Audi as well.

2016 - 2018 Audi A4 High Resolution Interior
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The interior of the A4 doesn’t shock anyone. Everything is where you’d expect it to be and, if it wasn’t for the 8.3-inch display, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you’re sitting inside an older model. Talking about the display, it’s similar to that of lower-end Mercedes-Benz models which have that IPad-shaped screen slapped on top of the console as if it’s a last-minute addition. Indeed, the digital screen on the A4 similarly feels like an afterthought. The console also houses two air vents, the A/C controls, and some other buttons. It’s pleasant, and sobriety is the name of the game, but BMW’s interior looks somewhat better. Now, Audi being Audi, I don’t expect them to go chase the must futuristic interior in the class with their next A4 so expect a similar look for years to come. This isn’t something bad, just a bit bland.

2019 BMW 3 Series vs. Audi A4 interior dimensions

2019 BMW 3 Series 2018 Audi A4
Legroom front 42.0 inches 41.3 inches
Legroom rear 35.2 inches 35.7 inches
Headroom front 38.7 inches 38.9 inches
Headroom rear 37.6 inches 37.4 inches
Trunk volume (SAE) 17.0 ft³ 13 ft³

Technology

2019 BMW 3 Series
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Both cars are filled to the brim with technology, as any executive sedan should be, even the more compact ones.

Any BMW 3 Series comes with LED headlights with cornering lights, reversing camera with reversing assistant, and more.

You can get Apple CarPlay with your 3 Series as well as Wi-FI and you can option a multimedia system with a 20 giga-bytes hard-drive. The new car is also equipped with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, an intelligent, digital character that responds to the prompt “Hey BMW”.

The Audi has SDXC card slots with 64 giga-bytes operating capacity, Bluetooth, smartphone interface, adaptive cruise control, voice control options, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system on the top-tier Prestige trim (BMW has Harmann Kardon sound system). The newer BMW is more tech-savvy than the Audi.

Drivetrain and Performance

2019 BMW 3 Series
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As I said, the first 3 Series engine options that will hit the market in March of next year will only be available with the ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox. In fact, only the RWD diesel 3 Series sedans (318d and 320d, not the 330d) will have the 6-speed manual. All xDrive cars will also come with the automatic transmission.

The U.S. market will initially get the 330i with its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four capable of 255-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and an average fuel consumption of 48.7 mpg.

The M340i that will follow has the 6-cylinder turbocharged engine from the Z4 capable of 382-horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque in this guise. The upcoming 320d turbocharged four-pot will be good for 190-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and have a fuel consumption of 67.3 mpg. Regardless of engine and transmission choice, the 3 Series will weigh about 3,400 to 3,500 pounds. Other engine options will arrive in due time.

In terms of systems that keep you on the road, the new 3 Series Saloon comes with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) which features anti-lock braking (ABS) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), but also a variety of stabilizing functions and the Start-Off Assistant. The Performance Control function is also standard.

2016 - 2018 Audi A4 High Resolution Drivetrain
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With the Audi A4, you can choose between two (rather similar) 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gas engines.

The ultra version has 190-horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque with an advertised fuel consumption of 31 mpg (both have a top speed of 130 mph, but the more powerful one reaches 62 mph in 5.7 seconds while the other one takes 7.1 seconds to reach 62 mph, similar to what the BMWs can do). The other one is more powerful with 252-horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and an average fuel consumption of 27 mpg. The gas-powered 330i is, then, far more economical than its Audi brethren with equal engine capacity. Obviously, the Audi also comes with DSC, ABS, anti-lock brakes and traction control. The BMW, though, has an automated parking option.

2019 BMW 3 Series vs. Audi A4 specifications

2019 BMW 3 Series 2018 Audi A4
Engine 1,998 cm³ four-cylinder 2.0 TFSI four-cylinder
Engine power 255 HP @ 5,000 – 6,500 RPM 252 hp @ 5,600-6,000 RPM
Engine torque 295 LB-FT @ 1,550 – 4,400 RPM 273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 RPM
Transmission type 8-speed automatic Seven-speed FWD S tronic
0-60 mph 5.6 seconds 7.1 seconds
Top speed (optional w/perf. tires) 130 (155) mph 130 mph

Final Thoughts

2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Audi A4
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The BMW 3 Series is the natural evolution of the breed, not a revolution. It is bigger than the older models – with a longer wheelbase than the E39 5-series – and looks bolder with the M-Sport package. The engines are more fuel efficient, and that’s even before we mention that BMW wants to introduce a 330e Electric version at some point in the future.

Granted, Audi fights an uphill battle against the new BMW as any car that’s in its third year of production would. The styling is more understated and the interior is also less modern, not to mention the smaller trunk. The MSRP of an Audi A4 ranges between $36,000 and $51,400 while the new 3 Series will start at $40,200 which is about as much as the F30 costs now.

Further reading

2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Audi A4
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Read our full review on the 2019 BMW 3 Series.

2016 - 2018 Audi A4 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Audi A4.

2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Mercedes C-Class
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2019 BMW 3 Series vs 2019 Mercedes C-Class

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