The BMW M340i’s explosive price-performance ratio may have put the new Audi S5 in a tough spot, but it won’t go down without a fight. So, grab your popcorn, as it’s now time for a classic Audi vs BMW showdown.
The rivalry between Audi and BMW is an automobile equivalent of the one between Apple and Samsung or Airbus and Boeing. And, as with all big-brand wars around the globe, you’ll find scores of keyboard warriors from both camps arguing about the merits of their favourite label and dissing the other at the same time.
Being a brand loyalist is no bad thing – it shows that a product is more than just a commodity to its users and it also demonstrates how well a brand’s philosophy connects with individuals on an emotional level. However, when these brand advocates turn into fanboys, it gets a bit tedious. A case in point is the launch of the new Audi S5 in India. As soon as Audi put the price tag on the 2021 S5 in India, rabble-rousers from the Munich camp were out in full force.
‘Tell you what, the S5 Sportback is D.O.A!’ said one fanatic on #BMWgram. Now, you might find it funny – well, I did – but there’s some truth to this. Compared to the locally-assembled BMW M340i xDrive, the S5’s asking price is quite ridiculous. But, as always, there are two sides to this story. First, the Audi is a CBU, so the high import duties hurt its chances automatically. Second, it’s not really a direct rival to the M340i – the S4 is. The S5 Sportback is a stylish and pricey four-door coupe based on the S4. But honestly speaking, that’s none of our concern – it’s Audi’s call on what products it brings to the market and at what price.
Having said that, there is a scope of comparison between the two. That’s because both are halfway-performance cars from Audi and BMW in India, which are aimed at someone looking for fiery performance in an everyday luxury car. In that respect, these two are pretty evenly matched. And that’s what inspired us to do this comparison. So, which one is the more wholesome package?
A Foregone Conclusion? Maybe Not
On paper, all odds are against the S5. However, that’s the story on paper, and honestly, that’s where it ends. In reality, there’s one thing that tilts the balance in Audi’s favour, and by quite some margin – the S5 is a thing of beauty!
The moment you park the S5 and M340i next to each other, it’s impossible to think objectively – the Audi’s swashbuckling Sportback/Coupe look in the turbo blue paint scheme completely mesmerises you, and the BMW’s rather simple three-box proportions do little to dispel that magic. Props to the designers at Ingolstadt, who successfully infused a new lease of life into the S5. With the 2021 refresh, more RS testosterone has been pumped into its muscles, adding enormous character to its overall appearance.
Now, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with the BMW’s design – it looks mean, purposeful, and aggressive like a 3 Series should. The only problem is that it looks a little too familiar – apart from a new pattern grille and grey bits here and there, you can’t say that it differs from the regular 330i M Sport in any meaningful way. On the upside, this makes it an ultimate sleeper, especially in this Dravit grey shade – it can literally fly under the radar.
The Audi’s cabin feels a wee bit more special too. Frameless doors definitely help its case. The overall design, with brushed aluminium inserts, light grey upholstery, Alcantara/leather Audi Sports seats, and a panoramic sunroof – all give the cabin an airier feel than the BMW’s all-black sporty theme. However, the M340i kicks the S5 in the guts with its long list of standard features. Adaptive laser headlamps, a head-up display, a Harman Kardon sound system, gesture control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, electrically adjustable side bolsters and more – everything is standard in the M340i. BMW’s iDrive, with its physical controls and a touchscreen, is also more convenient to use than Audi’s new 10.1-inch touchscreen, which now doesn’t have any physical knobs or controls. Audi’s screen has better resolution though, and the instrumentation is livelier than BMW’s. Most of the equipment on the S5, like the 19-speaker B&O sound system, head-up display and other cosmetic bits are optional extras.
S & M for Beginners
Earlier, the job of an S or an M-Performance model was to bridge the huge gap between the regular variants and full-blown RS or M versions. However, with downsizing and forced induction being the order of the day, the gap between the high-performance derivatives and these mid-level performance cars has narrowed significantly. In fact, the S5 and M340i now feature engines as big as that of the RS5 or M3. Of course, the RS5 and M3 get more sophisticated internals and twin-turbos – both the S5’s and M340i’s six-cylinder units feature twin-scroll turbos – but if you talk about the difference in performance, it’s not that much.
Take the S5 for instance, it develops 349bhp and 500Nm of torque. Mated to an 8-speed torque converter and quattro AWD, the S5 can catapult from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds – less than a second slower than the RS5. Like any fast Audi, though, the S5 gains ground in a very nonchalant way – no drama, no wheelspin, leech-like AWD traction, and neck-snapping acceleration. What’s more, the V6 motor has a strong surge right from 2,000rpm to all the way up to its 6,700rpm redline. Torque pours thick in the mid-range, and irrespective of the gear you’re in, the speed build-up is brisk.
In the BMW, you’re in for a different kind of experience. At 382bhp, the M340i’s straight-six develops more power than that of the S5, albeit torque is identical at 500Nm. Like the Audi, it’s paired to the same ZF-derived 8-speed automatic gearbox and comes with xDrive AWD traction. But this is a different animal altogether – the M340i is quicker to launch and redlines at 7,000rpm. Even its acceleration is vicious – it does 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds. What blows my mind is the fact that this makes it only two-tenths slower than the all-new M3 sedan! In terms of outright acceleration, the M340i has the S5 well and truly licked.
What’s more, the BMW’s engine and gearbox are better synced than the Audi’s – the ZF transmission is smoother, slightly quicker, and more alert in kick-down. Make no mistake, on its own, you’ll never find the S5’s drivetrain missing a beat. It’s just that when you drive both the cars back-to-back, you’ll find the BMW’s gearbox to be slightly more responsive and seamless in its operation. In comparison, the transmission in the Audi feels a little lethargic – when you flatten the throttle pedal, there’s a noticeable lag before it downshifts. Part throttle inputs also result in a momentary delay in the Audi – something that’s very evident when the engine is off boost and spinning below 2,000rpm. The BMW, too, suffers from some initial lag, but the transmission does a better job of masking it.
Since these aren’t actual RS or M cars, they haven’t got outright shouty exhausts. Still, both sound pretty sweet and sporty.
Another area where the BMW stamps its authority as a driver’s car is when you go around corners. Thanks to its 10mm lower and stiffer springs, staggered tyre setup, and more wheel camber than the regular 3 Series, it feels more like a sports car than a family sedan in terms of the driving experience. It’s sharp, precise, and agile – the M340i really is a bargain!
The BMW’s xDrive AWD system, coupled with an electronically locking rear differential, gives the M340i immense grip and control. However, for fun seekers, it has a trick up its sleeve too. When you switch to Sport or Sport+, the xDrive starts favouring the rear axle more, albeit it never sends all the drive to the rear wheels. With traction control turned fully on or partially off, you can provoke and upset the car’s balance to get the tail out. However, being an AWD, it’s a little tricky to control the car from then on. As soon as the rear starts to swing around, the drivetrain starts feeding torque to the front wheels so as to claw you out of what it thinks is an unwanted situation. As a result, the front wheels dig harder and start gaining traction, which ends up in a vicious snap back the other way. Four of the five attempts I made to get an opposite lock shot ended up in a spin. I’m by no way suggesting that I’m the Keiichi Tsuchiya of Greater Noida, but I’ve definitely had better (read: less humbling) days behind the wheel of a BMW at work.
The S5’s quattro AWD is in total contrast to the M340i’s xDrive. Instead of attacking corners, it likes to hug and kiss them in an unflappable fashion. Even though the quattro system has a default 40:60 front-rear torque split, it never really feels rear-biased. It, too, has a sport differential like the BMW, but the S5’s drivetrain doesn’t entertain any kind of messing about. Clumsy inputs and unnecessary provocation will only result in gruelling understeer.
However, drive it with a single-minded intent of going around a corner fast, and it rewards you with unmatched grip levels. Pick your line before entry, aim for the apex, and straighten the wheels before powering out at the exit, and you’ll find that the S5 hammers out of corners without any drama. It’s a neat and tidy handling package. There’s a little more body roll here than the BMW, but Audi’s precise and taut driving dynamics are impeccable.
The S5’s steering is also quite direct. Plus, it feels nicer to hold than the BMW’s excessively thick-rimmed wheel. As we’ve experienced with newer Audis, though, the steering gets artificially heavy in Dynamic mode. The BMW’s steering is slightly better in this regard. That said, neither the Audi’s nor the BMW’s steering has any real feel – they just aren’t very communicative. However, they do put the wheels exactly where you intend them to be.
As for the ride quality, the Audi feels more supple and quieter in everyday driving. The overall setup is still quite firm, so bumps and undulations at low speeds can jolt you around if you aren’t careful. In comparison, the BMW has an even firmer set up – something that’s quite evident over imperfect roads. Neither of the cars that we tested had adaptive dampers, but it’s an optional extra on the Audi.
Picking a winner from this test is one of the easiest jobs in the world. That’s because the first lot of the M340i has already been sold out in India, and the next one is expected to arrive around June or July. On the other hand, the S5, being a CBU, will be available in very limited numbers. So, the verdict of this story won’t have much bearing on the sales of these cars, which makes my life a bit easier.
Jokes aside, objectively, the BMW creams the Audi in every department – BMW fanboys were right. This is the real deal.
But here’s the second half of the climax. The M340i is the sort of car that eggs you on to drive like a maniac all the time – the performance is so spine-tingling that it could even get the Dalai Lama restless. And this is precisely why I love it and hate it at the same time. If you’re a track day regular, it’s the bargain of the decade, but for everyday driving – with so many variables on our roads – it may get a little frustrating when you don’t get to plant your right foot to the floor as often as you’d like. Trust me, it’ll drive you nuts because the M340i begs to be driven hard.
In comparison, the S5 feels more like a domesticated beast. You can zip in it around town like an absolute mad man if you fancy, but, then, you can also calm it down when you aren’t in a racy mood. It’s this dual aspect of the Audi that the M340i lacks. Agreed, the M340i is an M3 at half the price, but it’s a bit too one-dimensional in this sense. It’s like Christian Bale – always brilliant but takes his role a little too seriously.
And then there’s the matter of design and appearance. Well, the S5 is more desirable, period! It stands out from the crowd, grabs everyone’s attention, and feels more special. Plus, as a performance car, the Audi doesn’t drive like an old banger either – as a driving enthusiast, I can tell you that I enjoyed Audi’s unshakeable grip as much as I loved hooning around in the BMW. As performance cars, then, these are just two different paths that lead to the same goal.
In the end, the M340i is the clear winner of this test – mainly because of the S5’s exorbitant price tag. But if I have to be brutally honest with you, the S5 is the one that stole my heart.
- Audi S5 TFSI
- BMW M340i xDrive
Engine: 2,994cc / V6 / Twin-Scroll Turbo
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 349bhp @ 5,400 - 6,400rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1,370 - 4,500rpm
Price: ₹79.06 lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-factor: Stinking fast, sublime ride & handling, and drop-dead gorgeous looks. If you like to go fast in style, the S5 will suit you just fine.
Engine: 2,998cc / 6-Cylinder / Twin-Scroll Turbo
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 382bhp @ 5,800rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1,850 - 5,000rpm
Price: ₹62.90 lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-factor: Brutal performance, impeccable handling, mouth-watering pricing, and under-the-radar looks make the M340i the ultimate sleeper.
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How do you figure that a 340i (U.S. $59000) is half the price of an M3 (U.S. 75000)?
In India, the pricing structure is quite different. The M340i is assembled locally here, but the M3 will be brought into the country as a CBU (direct import), meaning it'll attract higher duties. So, that means the M3 will be nearly double the price of the M340i here.Reply