ROAD TEST: BMW M3 Competition vs Audi RS4 Avant

For decades, through all its generations, the BMW M3 has held the upper hand in the battle of the iconic German performance saloons, but diehard Audi Sport fans have always been vocal against this. As the G80-generation M3 Competition arrives in South Africa more or less at the same time as the updated B9 RS4 Avant, it’s again time to pit them head to head to see which heritage hero ends up on top.

The fighters

The M3 is mechanically identical to the M4 Competition we tested in our August 2021 issue, aside from the four-door body style. Compared to the F80 M3 M-DCT Competition tested in October 2016, the new M3 is a bit heftier on the scales at 1 738 kg but an increased power output of 375 kW more than compensates for this. What it translates to is a power-to-mass ratio increase of 18 W/kg. The G80 sedan no longer has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution owing to a heavier nose that now has a 53% share of the car’s mass. Furthermore, an eight-speed automatic torque converter replaces the razor-sharp seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Despite the drastic – and divisive – exterior styling treatment, the M3 Competition retains most of the previous generation’s core principles. Similarly, while it runs on an all-new platform, the M3 Competition carries over the front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension setup of yore, Active M Differential and 380 mm front and 370 mm rear ventilated brake discs.


As for the Audi RS4, it’s largely unchanged from the model we sampled in our June 2019 issue. Notable alterations consist of mostly cosmetic and comfort features such as revised head- and taillamps, and a new front bumper with remodelled air intakes. In the cabin, the wagon also boasts Audi’s upgraded MMI touchscreen infotainment system. Under the bonnet, the Porsche- derived 2,9-litre twinturbopetrol V6 remains the same with 331 kW.

Where the chassis is concerned, the RS4 Avant utilises a multilink setup front and rear. Together with its quattro all-wheel-drive system, this gives it a somewhat portly mass of 1 878 kg. Based on the figures alone, the Audi RS4 is down on power and up on weight versus to the M3 Competition, which might suggest the brash Bavarian has a victory all sewn up already. Except, as we’ve seen all too often, it’s not how much power you have but how you put it down that matters.

Part of the package

As with all vehicles from the German Big Three, several optional extras can be fitted to create a more conclusive offering. With our M3 Competition test unit, the list is shorter than we’ve come to expect from BMW M cars. M carbon-fibre bucket seats at R82 500 are present and correct, and it boasts a pair of shadow line Individual headlamps at R6 200. That’s it. Not at all over the top.

On the other hand, the Audi RS4 Avant test unit provided to us came fitted with R273 400 of optional extras. Included is Dynamic Steering (R18 900), a top speed increase to 280 km/h (R35 200) and the Audi Sports Differential (R25 500). Furthermore, comfort features such as adaptive cruise control (R34 000), Matrix LED headlamps (R9 050), panoramic sunroof (R28 000) and head-up display (R18 500) have been tagged onto the starting price. Even with all this equipment, the RS4 Avant stands in our garage at R1 569 400; less than the M3 Competition’s all-in asking price of R1 877 388.

The family car

Ever since their inception, the BMW M3 and Audi RS4 have been marketed as everyday supercars … vehicles that can accommodate the whole family and just happen to go like the clappers, too. In terms of packaging, based on our measurements, the practicality of these body styles is closer than you might assume. Even in wagon form, the RS4 boasts the same utility figure as the M3 sedan. With the parcel shelf in place, it has fractionally less boot space than the M3.

This is an interesting outcome that can be explained by each vehicle’s overall dimensions. The M3 may have a slightly shorter wheelbase but the new platform is longer, wider and taller than the RS4. It’s also 17 mm lower to the ground. Good for handling; not so good for zipping over speedbumps. Front and rear headroom in the M3 is more generous than the RS4 but rear legroom is 25 mm less than the Audi’s. Giving the RS4 Avant a slight edge is its ability to tow an unbraked 750 kg (provided the R15 300 trailer hitch is specified). So, if your weekends involve trailering toys about, the Audi is the one to go for.

Power to tarmac

The sensible, practical stuff dealt with, we must explore each vehicle’s performance and how they put their power down to the road. The BMW M3 Competition has a claimed zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 3,90 seconds. In the real world, from a standing start, the closest we could get was a 4,01-second benchmark time. By comparison, Audi claims a zero to 100 km/h sprint of 4,10 seconds for the RS4, although, we achieved a sub-4,00 second time, with 3,98 seconds to be exact. While both times are impressive, we must note it took our testers three attempts to reach this figure for the M3 Competition. The RS4 Avant was able to best its claimed figure right off the bat.

Once up to speed, the BMW M3 redeems itself beyond 100 km/h, achieving acceleration times to 120 and 140 km/h of 5,15 and 6,50 seconds respectively. The Audi RS4 Avant reaches these same speeds in 5,38 and 7,02 seconds respectively. Where in-gear tractability is concerned, we see similar results, with the M3 accelerating from 100-120 km/h 0,32-seconds faster than the RS4.

With respect to braking, the BMW trumps the Audi once more. The M3 Competition wears a larger standard set of brake discs, the fronts measuring 30 mm more than the RS4 Avant’s. Couple this with the fact that the Bavarian rides on a set of sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres while our RS4 test unit was on a set of Pirelli P-Zeros (an interesting change from the Continental SportContact 6 compound we saw on our last RS4). Regardless, both cars achieve an excellent rating as per our criteria. The M3 Competition was able to average a stopping time of 2,66 seconds and the RS4 recorded 2,74 seconds.

The battleground

Both marques have a long-standing history in motorsport, particularly in DTM. The developments garnered from the crucible of German touring car racing have filtered through to the road cars and is why the expectation for both of these cars to perform well on track is rather high. Considering this, we took both contenders to Killarney Raceway and had our own touring car-racer extraordinaire, Deon Joubert, set a lap time. Having just emerged from a rainy spell, the track was “green”, as they say in motor racing parlance and Deon was cleaning the track of dirt and debris with every single lap. By the time he was ready for a “hot one”, the weather had cleared, the track had dried up and the temperature was a steady 20 degrees, just perfect for the turbocharged saloons.

Once the laps had been set and the data processed, the times reflected what we had predicted from the performance testing figures. The Audi RS4 Avant completed a flying lap in 1:24,90. A somewhat underwhelming result considering the beloved B8 model from 2013 with its glorious naturally aspirated 4,2-litre V8 was 0,30 seconds faster. Of course, track conditions play a role but it’s also interesting to note the B8 weighed in at a heftier 1 891 kg.

On the other end of the spectrum, completely knocking its past results out of the park, the BMW M3 Competition achieved an astounding lap time of 1:20,90, making it the 15th fastest car we’ve ever track tested since starting the leaderboard in 2008. For reference, versus other BMW M products, this new derivative is 0,30-seconds faster than the pre-facelifted BMW M5 Competition M xDrive and 0,60-seconds faster than the track-focused F82 BMW M4 Coupé GTS M-DCT. That’s some serious speed.

The podium

As we mentioned earlier, the M3 and RS4 have always been pitted against one another as natural German foes. Yet, in reality, they have travelled very different paths. The Audi RS4 Avant refuses to compromise on daily usability and really does exist in a niche of its own in South Africa. Internationally, it will put up a fight against the M3 Competition Touring and AMG C-Class Estate. However, locally, it remains the only true performance wagon of its type, ensuring it a cult following.
Based on the numbers alone, the BMW M3 Competition is the clear winner of this match-up. Yes, we acknowledge the asking price is substantially more than that of the fast, fluid and generously kitted Audi RS4 Avant, but in the cauldron of Killarney Raceway – where speed, grip, braking and driver connection all come to the fore – it’s difficult to argue against a lap time that’s a full four seconds faster.

Audi RS4 Avant quattro Tiptronic
price: R1 296 000
power: 331 kW/5 700-6 700 r/min
torque: 600 N.m/1 900-5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 3,98 sec*
top speed: 250 km/h
CAR fuel index: 11,40 L/100 km
maint/serv plan: M5/100 000 km

BMW M3 Competition M Sport Steptronic
price: R1 879 182
power: 375 kW/6 250 r/min
torque: 650 N.m/2 750-5 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,01 sec*
top speed: 290 km/h
CAR fuel index: 12,24 L/100 km
maint/serv plan: M5/100 000 km

 

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CAR magazine