Have 50 lakhs burning a hole in your pocket? Not interested in an SUV or a crossover? The good news is that you have three brand-new sedans to choose from. But which one is best?
If you’re the sort of person who prefers books over a Kindle, a laptop over an iPad, and newspapers over social media, there’s a good chance that you also prefer sedans over SUVs or crossovers. You see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with following the latest global trends, however, sometimes ‘tried and tested’ is just better than new-age and with it. And, in that sense, a three-box vehicle is the closest to the generic idea of a car rather than a high-riding vehicle.
And if that’s your viewpoint, now is perhaps the right time to buy a luxury sedan. Why? Well, that’s because if you’re planning to shell out around ₹50 lakh, or thereabout, on a swanky saloon, you’re really spoilt for choice.
In the month of January alone, three new luxury sedans made their way into our market. Audi fired the first salvo with the updated A4, followed by Volvo retaliating with the all-new S60, and then BMW launched the long-wheelbase 3 Series, or Gran Limousine, to even the score. But, the question is, which one is best?
If a sedan is supposed to be elegant and classy, then it’s the S60 that impresses the most – for it sticks to the rulebook with tremendous grace. That’s not to say that the 3 Series GL and the A4 are unsightly, they’re not, but they do look a bit anonymous in comparison to the Volvo. That said, they do carry that quintessential German attitude.
Look at the A4, even though it’s the same old fifth-gen model underneath, it doesn’t look dated at all. Plus, in the latest update, the A4 has received a brawnier nose, angrier eyes, and multiple creases on its body. Overall, it looks very striking.
Now, I think that the 3 Series GL sits somewhere in between the Volvo and the Audi. It’s neither pretty nor outright aggressive, but it does look quite sporty and handsome – a sports sedan in the true sense. What we have here is the Luxury Line variant, but there’s also an M-Sport variant on offer, with bigger 18-inch M-wheels, fatter rubber, and a sporty body kit. One thing that I would like to add here is that the 3 Series GL, with its longer wheelbase, exudes that biggish posh-saloon feel – something that neither the Volvo nor the Audi can match.
While the design is a matter of personal choice, it would be criminal to say that the 3 Series and A4 look as desirable as the S60. The latter two, perhaps, have more desirable badges, but in terms of design, the S60 has them licked.
The interiors of these cars tell a similar story. The S60, with its well laid out and elegant interior, leaves a lasting impression. Just like all new Volvos, taking centre stage here is a large 9.0-inch touchscreen, which not only sits on the dashboard like an iPad but is also as crisp and responsive. The problem, however, is that it packs virtually every in-cabin control – from climate controls and safety aids to vehicle settings, everything has to be accessed using the touchscreen. That’s not very practical, especially when you’re on the move. The front seats are superb and offer unmatched comfort. The Volvo is well kitted out in terms of features and equipment, too, since it’s only offered in single Inscription trim.
Step into the 3 Series, and you’ll find yourself in a familiar cabin. Apart from the upholstery, the GL’s cabin is identical to that of the regular model – the dashboard is angled towards the driver, and everything is easily within reach. The front seats can be set really low for a sporty feel. Everything here oozes quality.
There’s a 10.25-inch touchscreen, as well as physical controls for it on the centre console, making BMW’s iDrive the most intuitive and practical infotainment system of the lot. The digital instrumentation is great but looks a bit boring to me. In terms of features and equipment, the 3 GL is as well-equipped as the Volvo. Plus, it’s the only car here to come with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a 360-degree camera.
The A4’s interior, on the other hand, misses out on some key features. The audio quality of the music system isn’t that great – both the Volvo and BMW come with Harman Kardon sound systems. Also, it doesn’t have a panoramic sunroof, which is standard in the other two. However, I find Audi’s cabin to be the most cutting-edge and modern. The overall layout is clutter-free and neater than the other two. And to top it off, the new 10.1-inch HD touchscreen is terrific. The fully-digital Audi Virtual Cockpit is easily the best of the lot too. It also has wireless smartphone charging, just like the other two cars. The front seats are spacious and comfortable, but a tad too hard. That said, Audi’s fit-and-finish is the best here – only by a whisker though.
Back seat driver
If rear space and comfort are your priorities, look no further than the 3 GL. Thanks to its extended footprint, the BMW has a roomier back seat than the other two. Not only that, the rear bench of the GL feels plusher and more premium too. What really helps the case is the GL’s immaculate ride quality and stellar refinement levels – it completely isolates you from the outside world. My only niggle is its low-speed ride. Even though the suspension has been softened compared to the regular 3, the GL has a firm ride at low speeds.
In comparison, the Audi has a more polished ride - in fact, the A4 offers the best ride quality of the lot – it’s absorbent and glides over bad roads with complete ease. The downside of a softer setup is that you feel sharp bumps at high speeds, but, otherwise, it’s silky smooth.
Like the BMW, the A4’s cabin is super quiet and has great noise insulation. The only problem is that, when it comes to space at the back, it’s no match for the BMW – or even the Volvo for that matter. However, it allows you to sit upright, with decent headroom. Also, the seats offer good thigh support. And because of its taller doors, getting in and out is quite convenient too.
The S60 is roomier than the Audi, but the rear bench is very low and it’s reclined at a sharp angle and has dismal thigh support. As a result, you end up sitting with your knees pointing up, which isn’t very comfortable, especially on long drives. However, it’s not all bad – it’s the only car here that comes with 4-zone air-conditioning, meaning that both rear-seat passengers can adjust the temperature individually. Plus, the S60 also gets pillar-mounted air-vents. Three passengers at the back will be a tight squeeze though, owing to a prominent transmission tunnel. But then that’s something with which both the BMW and Audi suffer too. The biggest problem with the Volvo is its ride quality – it’s unapologetically firm. At low speeds, it can get jarring on bad roads. As the speed rises, the ride settles down, but it continues to be very busy – you always feel when there’s a change in the road surface or when you hit wavy roads.
Ahead of the curve
Now, the S60 could have easily redeemed itself had its firm suspension setup made it dynamically more exciting. But that’s not the case either. Despite its taut suspension, the Volvo isn’t the sharpest machine for corner carving. When pushed hard, its body roll becomes evident. Also, its front-end isn’t as sharp as the others. And the reason is that the Volvo is the heaviest on the list – it tips the scales at 1,677kgs, while the A4 and 3 GL weigh 1,555kgs and 1,640kgs, respectively.
Get behind the wheel of the A4, and you immediately notice that it has markedly sharper handling than the S60. The steering is more direct, although it isn’t as weighty as that of the Volvo but the turn-in is quicker, and it tracks the corner predictably as well. There’s a hint of body roll when you push it hard, but it always remains beautifully tied down. The A4 feels surefooted and agile at all times, which is something that inspires a lot of confidence.
However, it’s the BMW again that trumps both the Audi and Volvo in terms of handling. It may have a softened suspension, but it’s as engaging as the regular 3 Series. The steering is sharp and responsive, and around corners, the 3 GL is a more precise handler when compared with the other two. The steering seems a bit dead on-centre, but it’s more accurate and linear than that of the Audi or Volvo. I needn’t mention that the BMW is a rear-wheel-drive car, unlike the front-wheel-drive layout of the other two. Consequently, the 3 GL brings more adjustability and fun into the mix.
The moment you step on the gas pedal of the BMW, you know that it’s game over for the other two. With 255bhp and 400Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor, the 3 GL further asserts its authority. This is the most powerful and quickest accelerating car here. The four-pot unit is free-revving and offers fiery performance. Not to mention that the refinement levels are class-leading, and the shift-quality is silky smooth.
In Sport mode, the throttle response becomes even sharper and the gearbox becomes more alert. Not that it’s necessarily needed because the 3’s 8-speed torque converter is a mind reader of sorts, as it always keeps you in the right gear at the right time. That said, in the 330 Li Luxury Line spec that we tested, the steering wheel didn’t have paddle-shifters, which definitely took away some of the fun. Now, the spec-sheet mentions paddles as part of the standard kit in all 3 GL variants, so either it was a typo or someone forgot to fit them on our test vehicle.
With 188bhp and 320Nm, the Audi’s 2.0-litre 40 TFSI unit may seem a bit low on power, but it’s no slouch. Of course, it won’t be able to keep up with the BMW, but it won’t be left eating dust either. In fact, the A4 is a pretty quick car. It does suffer from low-end lag but after 2,000rpm, it starts singing along. The engine refinement is impressive, and the quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearbox is very responsive. However, it’s not as telepathic as the BMW’s torque converter, especially under hard acceleration – it doesn’t drop cogs as quickly. There are, however, paddle-shifters, which makes life easier and, invariably, more enjoyable.
The Volvo’s 2.0-litre engine behaves as if it’s not interested in this battle. Even though it produces 188bhp and 300Nm, it’s nowhere near as quick as the Audi. Unlike the other two, the power delivery is linear, and there’s no kick in its performance in the mid-range. Also, it gets relatively more audible once it spins past 4,000rpm. The 8-speed torque converter is smooth shifting and prioritises comfort over the urgency of doing a 0-100km/h sprint. But it’s not as quick, especially during kickdown, it definitely feels slow to respond. Overall, the Volvo’s powertrain lacks the urgency of the other two.
Choosing a winner from this trio was always going to be a bit difficult. Personally, I’d pick the BMW because I enjoyed driving it the most, but then that wouldn’t be a fair assessment. So, to come to a more objective conclusion, I’ve decided to do a quick rewind and pick the winner based on five parameters: design, interior, drivetrain, comfort, and value-for-money (VFM). So, let’s see:
Design: The Volvo hands down looks the best. This is a no-brainer.
Interior: This is tricky. The Audi’s cabin feels the most modern and cutting-edge, while the Volvo feels more special. The BMW has more features than the other two. So, let’s call this a tie.
Comfort: The Audi has the best ride quality, but the BMW is more spacious and rides really well. So, it’s a tie between the Germans.
Drivetrain: This one is easy. It’s got to be the BMW. It has more power, a telepathic gearbox, and rear-wheel drive.
VFM (Value For Money): Now this is what it all boils down to. I think both the Audi and the Volvo offer great value for your money, especially the Volvo because it’s a CBU. Despite that, it’s the most affordable here. Not to mention, it looks brilliant, both inside and out, which is its major USP.
The Audi A4 is the jack of all trades, and is hard-to-fault in any department – it ticks all the right boxes in a very clinical and German way. Maybe it’s not as desirable as the other two, but think logically, and you can’t ignore it.
The BMW, well, it’s the most expensive, but it’s also the most spacious, most engaging, and offers the best of both worlds – a great combination of sportiness and luxury. For the extra money, you do get a lot more in return without compromising on the ‘sheer driving pleasure’ of a BMW.
So, even if you think objectively, it’s the BMW that wins this battle – and quite convincingly at that.
The S60 clearly stands out from the 3 Series GL and A4, thanks to its striking design, which is understated, contemporary and classy.
Offered only in single Inscription trim, the S60 is well kitted out. The rear bench is spacious but lacks under-thigh support.
The 3 Series Gran Limousine’s cockpit is familiar – driver-focussed & sporty.
Thanks to its long-wheelbase, the 3 Series Gran Limousine brings with it that biggish posh sedan appeal.
The 2021 A4 is based on the fifth-gen platform of the car, but it now gets an angrier face, more features and a more powerful 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine.
Not only is the 3 Series Gran Limousine plenty quick in its 330i-spec, but it’s also the only car here to be offered with a diesel engine.
- 2021 Audi A4 40 TFSI
- 2021 Volvo S60 Inscription
- BMW 330Li Luxury Line
Engine: 1,984cc / Inline 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 7-Speed DCT / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 188bhp @ 4,200 – 6,000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1,450 – 4,200rpm
Price: ₹46.67 lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-factor: It may not be as desirable as its rivals, but you’ll struggle to find fault with the A4.
Engine: 1,969cc / Inline 4-Cylinder/ Turbocharged
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 188bhp @ 5,000rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 1,700 – 4,000rpm
Price: ₹45.90 lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-factor: It’s classy, drives well, and, more importantly, stands out from the crowd.
Engine: 1,998cc / Inline 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Power: 255bhp @ 5,000rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,550 – 4,400rpm
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Rear-Wheel Drive
Price: ₹51.50 lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-factor: The most spacious, engaging, and luxurious offering in the segment. Need we say more?