ry Chris Bishop
Photos Jim McEwan
The German automotive
brands cast a mighty long
Their vehicles are usually technology groundbreakers, provoke serious
badge envy among rivals and customers alike and maintain enviable residual
But when they clash, and the top three Teutons are squaring off in the
premium hatch sector where they first impress customers, it can get ugly.
BMW wants a bigger slice of the pie than it can gobble with the three-door
Three Series Compacts and has cooked up a tasty quartet of One Series
The Munich mob believes their rear-wheel-drive tiddler is more than just a
Audi is not about to cede the ground it's steadily gained with the A3 range
since 1997, and quickly released three and five-door versions.
Ingolstadt's new A3 Sportback already has five variants and three gearboxes.
We've opted for the most popular auto transmissions and jumped upstream
from the entry-level cars, which kick off with 1.6-litre engines.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz's maligned A class is imminent. Only a last-
minute certification delay stopped one arriving for this comparison. (See page
65 for launch impressions).
The Stuttgart line-up starts at under $30,000 for a three-door appetiser. It has
nine varieties, including three and five-door models, four engine choices and
a CVT auto.
VALUE FOR MONEY
You certainly pay for a German compact. However, steep prices deliver high
levels of equipment.
For a start, there's ample active safety gear designed to prevent accidents.
Both German brands have specific traction control and stability control
systems, plus anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and
extra hydraulic assistance.
Common passive safety gear includes dual stage front airbags, side front
airbags and dual row curtain airbags.
These cars also share alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, cruise control,
steering wheel-mounted audio controls, front and rear fog lamps, first aid kit
and warning triangle, cargo curtain and a trip computer.
The Audi has a cassette player and CD player, headlight beam adjustment,
temporary use spare tyre, tilt-adjust front headrests, height-adjustable front
seatbelt anchors, pretensioners on all seatbelts plus load limiters for the
outers, and auto-windows from the key fob.
Its options include the $2450 auto, which takes the cost as tested to $43,300.
Plus there's auto-on lights ($510), interior lighting package ($475), metallic
paint ($1300), front centre armrest ($300), leather trim ($3200) and an alarm
($800), among other choices.
BMW counters, arguably more effectively, with rain-sensing wipers and
headlights, 'follow-me home' headlights, flat tyre monitoring system, sports
seats with extendable length and power wrap-around side support, centre
armrest, seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, and an anti-dazzle, rear-
As the auto tested here, it becomes a $44,100 proposition. Major options
include metallic paint ($1300), sports suspension ($500), leather trim
($2600), business navigation system with iDrive ($2500) and an alarm
BMW needs a kick for its weedy two-year warranty and falters a bit on
insurance costs and the parts list. However, it fights back on servicing costs.
An educated guess would have both cars neck and neck on resale after five
In terms of fuel economy, the duo could barely be separated after 500 km of
The BMW was more efficient on the highway, but thirstier when pressed.
Both prefer top-shelf 98 RON premium unleaded. The Audi has a bigger fuel
tank and a superior range.
DESIGN & FUNCTION
We can't help but be impressed with 120i's safety. As well as an alphabet of
active safety features, it earns a five-star EuroNCAP crash test score. Its sole
star for pedestrian safety in EuroNCAP is a minor letdown.
The Bavarian bopper also garners top marks for security, in part due to the
Datadots sprayed around the car.
And it edges further in front on the environmental rankings.
The BMW driver gets overly firm, supportive seats, with fine shaping and
plenty of adjustment.
However, the rear pew has an upright backrest, unsupportive base and
narrow centre spot.
And the rear-wheel-drive layout bites in spatial terms. The Beemer's
boot is slightly smaller, the transmission tunnel limits foot room in both
rows and its rear space is insufficient for three adults.
The minimisation of storage space in new BMWs is senseless.
We're not sold on the run-flat concept, either, as replacements and cost
are still issues, especially in regional areas.
The lack of any spare tyre drags down the BMW's practicality, even
though it has handy boot tiedowns and well-sited child restraint
Without the complication of iDrive, the One's ergonomics are good but
not great. Coincidentally, that is the story for its build quality as well.
Which is where Audi makes its move.
Audi's build-quality is a fillip and the A3 is no exception. Its panels are flusher
and narrower and its interior is a work of art. Although some audio controls
can be a bit small, its ergonomics are also largely fuss-free and logical.
The Sportback is also more spacious. A wider boot, better oddments space
and more rear seat space in every direction make ferrying five less of a
Seating in the Audi is a tad softer but still firm and supportive. The front seats
feel a bit narrow on the base, however passengers in both rows, and the rear
in particular, will appreciate superior shape and comfort.
It's on par with its foe for practicality, although at least it offers a temporary
use spare tyre.
However, in auto form it trails on emission levels, is marginally behind in the
security stakes and also fails to mount quite the same compelling case for
A four-star EuroNCAP score is not to shunned, but A3 is still a star behind
the Munich machine.
ON THE ROAD
It's hard to imagine two hatchbacks so philosophically different could be so
But they share the same engine outputs, offer near identical acceleration
times, and match highway rev levels and internal noise readings. Both are
middling performers with rewarding streaks. Their firm rides have impeccable
Pre-Sportback, we were happy to acknowledge the Beemer as the one to
beat for handling, courtesy of its pinpoint steering, cornering class and beaut
But Queensland's rough secondary roads and the far-too-firm optional sports
suspension create some doubts.
It smooth surface responsiveness is a burden on bumpy back roads. The
front end can be thrown off line and lumpy stretches cause constant steering
The 120i's engine is a smooth and purposeful performer, albeit a couple of
steps down from spritely. In auto, the gear changes are syrupy and kick-down
response is good.
The BMW has assured and progressive brakes and good noise suppression,
although there is wind noise at cruising speeds.
Audi's Sportback has a touch more engine roughness but less body flutter. Its
brakes lack feel compared with its foe, but they work effectively.
The A3 gearbox is stunningly smooth on the way up, but a fraction more
hesitant to kick down.
On these tyres, its low speed bump absorption is mediocre, but overall the
ride is plusher than the 120i.
This Audi's steering is not as communicative and it can't match the Beemer
for balance, but for a front-wheel-drive it does offer assuring accuracy,
outstanding grip and greater predictability on scuttled surfaces.
Keen drivers will be in their element in either car.
There's next to nothing in it, but in this comparison four circles prove better
The Sportback is more versatile, while still sporting enough. It is not as
pioneering or focused as the One Series, but should appeal to a greater pool
of potential owners.
A word of warning though. Late in the year, the Australia's Best Cars
weightings will add emphasis to areas like safety and security, where the One
excels. Stay tuned for the rematch.
WHAT THE STARS SAY
Audi A3 BMW 120i
Running & repair costs
A3 Sportback 2.0 BMW 120i
List price (excl. on-road
(#Does not include on-road costs such as tax, stamp duty, rego or dealer delivery fees.)
Standard features (S: standard; NA: not available; Opt/$:
Auto transmission $2450 $2200
Alloy wheels S S
CD player S S
Climate control S dual system S dual system
Cruise control S S
Alarm $800 $750
Leather trim $3200 $2600
Metallic Paint $1300 $1300
Power windows/mirrors S S
Remote locking S S
Spare wheel type Temp use NA (run flats)
Split/fold rear seat S S
Steering wheel controls S audio S audio
Sunroof $2950 $2200
Dual front airbags S dual stage S dual stage
Side front airbags S front S front
Curtain airbags S 2 rows S 2 rows
ABS/EBD/BA S/S/S S/S/S
Traction control S S
Stability control S S
Seat belt pretensioners S all S all
Height-adjustable seatbelts S front NA
Centre rear lap-sash belt S S
Engines in-line 4cyl in-line 4cyl
Max. power (kW@rpm) 111@6000 110@6200
Max. torque (Nm@rpm) 200@3500 200@3600
Driving wheels Front Rear
0-100km/h (secs) 10.8 11.2
60-100km/h (secs) 7.8 7.7
Braking from 80km/h (m) 24.6 23.2
Interior noise at 80km/h (dB) 66 66
Kerb weight (kg) 1345 1275
Max. braked towing capacity (kg) 1400 1200
Length/width (mm) 4286/1765 4227/1751
Wheelbase (mm) 2578 2660
Track (front/rear) (mm) 1531/1515 1481/1497
Turning circle (m) 10.7 10.7
Tyres 225/45/ZR17 205/50R17
Fuel consumption 98 RON 98 RON
Average (litres/100 km) 10.8 10.8
Best/worst (litres/100 km) 7/12.3 6.8/14.8
Tank (litres)/range (km, as tested) 55/510 50/465
Warranty (yrs/km) 3/100,000 2/unltd
Service intervals (km) 15,000 20,000
Approx service costs to 60,000 km $1186 $873
Parts bin (12 replacement items, e.g. brake pads, radiator hoses, air filter,
rear muffler, windscreen.)
RRP $3028 $3393
Insurance costs (annual^) $680 $812
^Based on an RACQI comprehensive policy for a 35-year-old male, maximum no claims bonus,
vehicle financially unencumbered, and a $350 excess. Postcode 4066.