In the pantheon of German luxury brands, there are three dominant players: it’s Audi versus BMW versus Mercedes-Benz. Although the rivalry between the three has been raging on for almost 100 years, and the battle between BMW and Mercedes remains quite fierce, Audi versus BMW is the fight that has grown antagonistic over the past two decades as both brands aggressively pursue younger, affluent shoppers.
Both brands continue to offer extensive lineups of luxurious cars and SUVs, and both have developed certified pre-owned programs that continue to grow in popularity. In 2019, most new and pre-owned car shoppers interested in luxury, performance, and style usually end up cross shopping models from both Audi and BMW.
That’s adroit. It’s important to compare vehicles before you buy with good knowledge of what to look for. And we’re here to help you through that shopping process. Here we’ll compare the two successful German luxury brands and their most popular models. We’ll also answer these important questions:
- What is the difference between Audi and BMW?
- Audi versus BMW: which is better?
- Which is more reliable, Audi or BMW?
- Which is more expensive, Audi or BMW?
- Audi versus BMW: which has a better reputation?
- Which has lower maintenance costs, Audi or BMW?
Audi is actually part of the Volkswagen Group, which also owns Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. BMW also owns Rolls-Royce and Mini. This allows Audi to share many of the components of its cars with its other brands. The Audi A3, for instance, shares some of its platform and powertrains with the VW Golf, while the Audi Q7 shares many of its parts with the Porsche Cayenne.
Still, it’s BMW that offers a wider range of engines and hybrid powertrains. This variety of technologies also includes a unique inline six-cylinder engine, which is extremely smooth and remains popular in the 3 Series and X5. BMW also uses inline engines with four-cylinders, V6 and V8 designs, and in the M760i sedan it uses a twin-turbo 6.6-liter V12 with 600 hp.
All of BMW’s engines are turbocharged, which uses the engine exhaust gases to spin a turbine that forces fresh air into the engine at well above atmospheric pressure, increasing power, but with almost no sacrifice of fuel economy. Audi also uses turbocharging extensively, but its supercharged V6 is still used in the Q7.
BMW also offers buyers more dealerships around the nation than Audi. BMW has 341 dealerships in the United States, while Audi has just 220. This may make it a bit easier to find a BMW dealer near your home, especially if you live in the suburbs.
It may also make it easier to find the exact BMW model you’re looking for in dealer inventory and it may make it easier to finance the terms of deal. This is important when you’re buying the car, but it’s also important to have a dealer closer to your house when the car needs service. Traveling to a far off dealership for service is not a good use of your time.
Last year BMW outsold Audi in the United States. This isn’t anything new, BMW has been outselling Audi in America persistently since the 1980s.
In 2018 it was Mercedes that sold the most luxury vehicles in the United States. But it was close. Mercedes sold 315,959 vehicles last year, which was only about 4,000 cars and SUVs ahead of BMW, which finished in second place. Lexus finished the year out in third place, while Audi was fourth with 223,323 vehicles sold. Acura and Cadillac finished the year fifth and sixth.
For most of the year, the BMW X3 was the brand’s top-selling BMW model, while over at Audi the Q5 was its best seller.
Twenty years ago this would have been a very easy question to answer. If you wanted a great driving experience and the most performance you bought a BMW. If you wanted the additional all-weather traction of an all-wheel drive system because you live in a snowy climate, well, then you bought an Audi. But it’s not quite that elementary anymore.
Today Audis are great drives. They’re powerful and responsive. They’re fun to drive, they handle well and they like to be driven hard. At the same time, BMW has made a massive investment in all-wheel drive technology, which is now offered on all of its sedans and of course its SUVs. Audi also once had an advantage over BMW when it came to interior design, but that’s also no longer the case.
Still, we have to give the edge to BMW. The brand continues to use rear-wheel drive architecture throughout its line up, which provides better balance, greater response and ultimately better handling than the enslaving front-wheel drive architecture used by Audi.
Front wheel drive platforms, which Audi uses in its sedans, as well as its popular Q5, usually push the engine further forward in the vehicles structure. This puts more weight over the cars front tires and the result is inferior handling and lethargic response. Please, don’t misunderstand. Audis aren’t disinclined to perform, they just don’t offer the discriminating enthusiast driver the same depth of engineering and deft dynamics tuning as BMWs.
BMW also has the advantage over Audi when it comes to reliability. Every BMW recently received an above average predicted reliability rating. Its highest rated model was the popular 5 Series, but the 2 Series, 4 Series, X1 and X4 also scored impressively.
Audi’s scores are considerably lower and the brand finished with an overall average score. Of Audi’s 12 models, only three have an above average predicted reliability rating, the A5, A7 and A8, and four others were scored below average.
Audi and BMW compete head to head in many vehicle classes, but not all. BMW offers significantly more models than Audi, so it’s not always a fair comparison when it comes to price, but generally, Audis are more affordable than their BMW rivals.
To help you calculate which models are more affordable we’ve listed every Audi and every BMW model along with its base price, not including the unavoidable destination fee, which is usually about $1,000 on most models. Notice that BMW offers a more expansive variety of vehicles than Audi. Comparable models usually offer similar features and options.
- Audi A3 $33,300 vs. BMW 2 Series $37,300
- Audi A4 $39,200 vs. BMW 3 Series $40,250
- Audi A5 Sportback $44,200 vs. BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe $44,750
- Audi A6 $58,900 vs. BMW 5 Series $53,400
- Audi A7 $68,000 vs. BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo $70,300
- Audi A8 $83,000 vs. BMW 7 Series $86,450
- Audi Q3 $34,700 vs. BMW X1 $34,950
- Audi Q5 $42,950 vs. BMW X3 $41,000
- Audi Q7 $53,550 vs. BMW X5 $60,700
- Audi Q8 $67,400 vs. BMW X7 $73,900
- Audi A5 Coupe $44,200 vs. BMW 4 Series Coupe $44,950
- Audi A5 Cabriolet $51,200 vs. BMW 4 Series Convertible $53,100
- Audi TT $44,900 vs. BMW Z4 $49,700
- Audi R8 $169,900 vs. BMW i8 $163,300
These BMW models don’t have a direct competitor from Audi.
It should also be noted that both Audi and BMW each have many high performance models that have been modified for additional power and handling. These models usually cost more than the more pedestrian versions. BMW’s high-performance M division is best known for the legendary M3 and M5 models, but it has also created high performance versions of the BMW X3, X4, X6 and others.
Audi offers a two-tiered approach to its performance offerings, with S and RS version of many models. The RS cars offer a substantial performance increase over the S versions. Shoppers interested in Audi high performance should shop the RS3, RS5, and RS7.
When it comes to performance, BMW’s reputation is superior to Audi’s. Yes, Audi’s perform well, but BMW practically invented the sport sedan about 50 years ago. And its M3 and M5 models are global performance legends. Even BMW’s long running tag line, “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, has cultivated the brand’s fun-to-drive reputation for decades.
Remarkably, BMW has been able to simultaneously cultivate its Green reputation. Over the last decade it has offered many more electrified models than Audi, including plug-in hybrid versions of some of its sedans and SUVs. Today, in 2019, it offers two plug-in hybrids, the i3 and i8, as well as an all-electric version of the i3.
BMW is also more inclined to experiment with exotic materials than Audi. The BMW i3 and its exotic plug-in hybrid sports car, the i8, have carbon fiber structure, which is very light, but also very expensive. This technology is common in race cars. The structure of most production cars is either steel or aluminum or a combination of each.
That said, Audi has offered more EV models than BMW, and its new all-electric e-Tron SUV will certainly put a charge in its reputation for building environmentally conscious vehicles.
Where Audi’s reputation shines is style and design. Audi’s are beautiful. Most are so visually striking they turn grown men Pavlovian. They look youthful and dynamic, and they have for a very long time. There are also many beautiful BMWs, but most are just attractive and some over the years have been just plain grisly.
Audi continues to lead the way when it comes to exterior design. It’s one of the preeminent reasons why its celebrity with younger luxury buyers continues to propagate.
Scrutinizing the data reveals that both BMWs and Audis are among the most expensive cars to keep on the road when it comes to maintenance costs over the first 10 years of their lives. BMWs, however, have the dubious distinction of being at the very top of the list.
This is surprising, since every new BMW comes with free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years or 36,000 miles, including complimentary oil and filter changes. Audi doesn’t include complimentary maintenance into the price of its cars.
Regardless, in their first 10 years on the road, the average BMW costs its owner $17,800 in maintenance, which is higher than every other brand. This is especially relevant to the shoppers of certified pre-owned and used models.
Audi’s numbers are better, but still pretty embarrassing. In their first 10 years of ownership, the average Audi costs its owner $12,400 in maintenance. Only Volvo, Cadillac, Mercedes and BMWs cost more to keep on the road. Remember, these numbers include the labor of the service, but also the cost of the parts.
Every new BMW and Audi also comes standard with a comprehensive but limited warranty. Every BMW and every Audi is covered by a vehicle warranty for four years or 50,000-miles, whichever comes first.
Audi and BMW build some of the greatest and most compelling cars and SUVs in the world. We recommend cross shopping between the two brands. But don’t just shop virtually. Go to the dealership and take a test drive. Get behind the wheel of these impressive machines. Experience the pull of the engine. Feel the leather, play with the infotainment system and other features.
Ultimately you’re buying a luxury vehicle because you want one, not because you need one. Forget the drama of the Audi vs. BMW rivalry. Buy the car that captivates your heart and elates your soul. It’ll be the best one for you and your family.