By on May 14, 2008

m3-sr4.jpgThe fact that we’re even having this discussion tells you how far Audi’s come in the uber-sports sedan sweepstakes. Normally, this comparo would write itself. BMW M3 = driver’s car with super smooth, vicious punch. Audi RS4 = sure-footed supersonic GT with numb tiller. BMW fun. Audi fast. BMW wins. But since this contest was first mooted, The Boys from Bavaria have made the jump to V8 space, while Audi have finally figured-out how to make not dying entertaining. But has anything changed? 

Well, subtlety is out. The M Team’s festooned the M3 with battle-ready vents, mesh grills, bulges and quad exhaust pipes. It's a bit of a Bangle blingmobile with bells on, but the bad Bimmer’s jewelry is entirely functional; should commuting turn violent, the M3 is ready. Unlike previous iterations, the new M3 doesn’t look graceful, elegant or demure in any way, shape or flame-surfaced form. At best, it’s like the bad girl the guys don’t respect– but really, really want.

interior.jpgAudi’s upped the ante by adding the Titanium package to the RS4. Ingolstadt’s imagineers have blacked-out the grill and fitted dark grey metallic wheels and exhaust pipes. So adorned, the RS4 look meaner yet more understated than the M3. It’s more stealth, more wealth, more stealth wealth. The RS4 is like the nerdy girl with a devilish streak ready to let her hair down and set the library on fire.

Welcome to the bat cave, sir. Both the M3 and RS4’s cabins are dark und somber, in the great German tradition of humorlessness minimalism. The RS4’s standard A4 interior sets the bar for seamless build quality and functionality. Despite the delicate indelicacy of small buttons next to a large nav screen, Audi’s MMI system makes the iDrive seem like a fussy, overcomplicated interface. Which, of course, it is. (The salesman spent 15 minutes trying to convince me the wart would become intuitive once I became one with the force.) While the iDrive bulge makes the dash look lumpen, BMW gets bonus points for crafting a light blue leather interior that matched the outside color to perfection.

engine.jpgThe M3’s seats offer all the right curves and adjustments; cosseting and caressing my keister like a [legitimate] massage therapist. OK, lose the brackets. Sticking with the theme, the RS4’s seats are a masochist’s best friend. You sit on their granite surface rather than in them, enduring rather than enjoying their embrace. Of course, both driver’s thrones were designed for one thing: helping you lose your license as quickly as possible. So let's get on with it, then…

An idling M3 doesn’t burble like ye olde eight-cylinder M5— the gold standard for American muscle cars (go figure). But crank the M3’s eight to its 8500 rpm redline and the aural assault will loosen even the most stoic mother-in-law’s bowels. Yes, but– hit the RS4’s “S” button and the four-door sounds like a dinosaur gargling. Specifically, a T-Rex. Watch the light turn green, slam the Audi’s accelerator and all the lost souls of Las Vegas are gathered-up and cast into Dante’s inferno. Part muscle-car, part Ferrari, all testosterone; the Audi wins the aural charisma contest hands down.

side.jpgAh, but the BMW holds an ace up its sleeve– as I discovered power sliding down Durango St. towards the Wynn Las Vegas. No car, not even a Porsche C4, makes going fast so easy. The M3 is always in tune with its driver’s needs, sending a constant stream of entirely useful real-time data. Better still, the BMW’s chassis remains composed in every situation, no matter how… extreme. But here’s a surprise: the M3’s steering is over-light, over-sensitive and over here. Who’d a thunk the Bimmer would suffer from Audi’s old Achilles heel?

Strange but true: the Audi feels more hard-edged, more like a track day special than the BMW. Harder riding, heavier helmed and less computerized, the RS4 is the more engaging steer, especially at nine or ten-tenths. Unlike the BMW, the Audi challenges you to go faster, makes you work harder and leaves you feeling like a champion for doing so. The main problem: the suspension is so hard that daily driving leaves you with an unnatural desire for a Swedish Tempurpedic.

rear1.jpgAfter driving the BMW and Audi for several hours, the M3 emerges as the most civilized, fastest, most capable, best value GT car in existence. It’s supremely capable in all situations, adjustable in ways I never thought possible, at speeds I’ve never thought advisable. It’s the obvious winner. Yet if I were to spend my own money, I would buy the RS4. It’s the more challenging– and rewarding– vehicle. It’s also a bit rarer and more aesthetically subdued. The BMW M3 is man’s best friend, a perfectly trained thoroughbred that knows how to hunt. The Audi RS4 is a wild animal that begs to be tamed. It’s my kind of sports sedan.

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37 Comments on “2008 BMW M3 vs. 2008 Audi RS4...”

  • avatar

    Very sweet review/comparo, thanks!!

    And I see the RS4 still instills the same same feeling thant it did in Justin!

    I’ve always loved Audi’s S and RS cars (not that I’ve ever driven one) due to their understated nature. They make great sleepers, particularly in Euro guise, where they’re mostly Avant cars (i.e. wagons).

    If I must disagree on one point, it’s regarding the previous gen M3. It certainly was NOT an understated car. Among others, my wife categorized it as a “50-year old man who sees himself as a boy racer” kind of car. Good-looking car, yes, but understaed, no.

  • avatar

    I don’t think the expression “volcano making love to an avalanche” will ever leave my head, thanks to Señor Lieberman’s RS4 review last year.

    One other notable point: One of these is available in a wagon. Drool.

  • avatar

    Great write up TTAC!
    It’s like the rich man’s Evo VS STI comparo.
    I expect the RS4 to be a rarer car.

  • avatar

    Very nice review!

    Can’t stand the look of a four-door M3 though… just doesn’t work for me.

  • avatar

    Very nice, Captain.

    Drove the M3 sedan the other day and concluded:
    –engine doesn’t sound as nice as the Audi’s
    –steering way too light

    Seems we concur.

    Did your M have the M Drive settings? Were you able to detect much difference in the steering between “normal” and “sport”?

    I couldn’t, but suspect that the salesman and I weren’t operating it correctly.

    Anyway, I have a hard time seeing how the M3 makes sense (aside from as a fashion statement) compared to the 335i except for drivers who regularly drive very challenging roads.

    On the reliability front, in TrueDelta’s results the Audi A4 is doing at least as well as the BMW 3 these days. Go figure.

    Of course, the real reliability story is what these cars are like out of warranty. Real guts is owning either without a financial safety net.

  • avatar

    @ash78: yup that was a good one

  • avatar

    Execellent review of two very fine cars. I must say this has been one of if not the best review I have read here.

    From the tone of it I get the impression that both are wonderful rides and you really will need to test them out to find out which one fits you best, if you are lucky enough today to be considering the purchase of one.

  • avatar

    They are even better here in Tampa, because Reeves Imports sells both. Without question, the best service in the country.

  • avatar

    Despite the delicate indelicacy of small buttons next to a large nav screen, Audi’s MMI system makes the iDrive seem like a fussy, overcomplicated interface. Which, of course, it is. (The salesman spent 15 minutes trying to convince me the wart would become intuitive once I became one with the force.)

    I guess it’s because I’m such a gadget freak, but I have had no issues using iDrive. I guess I am one with the force…

    Anyway, I have a hard time seeing how the M3 makes sense (aside from as a fashion statement) compared to the 335i except for drivers who regularly drive very challenging roads.

    That’s what I thought after having driven them both within about an hour. Get the Dinan chip, exaust, oil cooler, and intercooler and you get up to 398 HP in the 335i. It would still be much cheaper than the M3…

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    Great write-up, I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. I too would have gone with the RS4, if only for its Avant.

  • avatar

    LOVE IT! this was the missing link the site needs. forget forums etc. just give me these kinds of reviews!

    RS4 for me also.

    keep it up guys.

  • avatar

    Got the M3 over the RS4. Drove em both, but for all around driving, the RS4 wore me out while the M3 just trundled around humming (so to speak) until you made THE request. Then..all hell broke loose. I’m gonna track and the 3 just seemed more……ummmm…….more.

  • avatar

    This review had one impediment: word limit. I think comparos deserve 1200+ words, as this just felt more amuse bouche than meal. A delicious amuse bouche, though :)

    I love it when a reviewer admits a preference (going for the RS4 despite the M3’s general awesomeness), and showcases it as part of the review.

  • avatar

    ROFLMAO, my Evo pwns both of these POS

    Just kidding – great review (and I don’t own an Evo).

    Jordan: not in the US, unfortunately. Or else I’d have one RS4 in the garage and zero licenses in the wallet.

  • avatar

    One point re: the comparo; The M3 sedan runs about 56K while the RS4 is about 74K. Hmmm. That helps in the decision process a bit.

  • avatar

    @ Karesh,

    Great minds think alike. And the dealer showed me how to setup the Mdrive system. We set it to full comfort, and then full “hardness”, and the only difference we could tell was the suspension. I could feel a vibration from the road in sport, and not in comfort. And in Sport, you could hang the back end our a lot easier as the stability control didn’t cut in quite as soon. I left the stability control on as I was on public streets, and I already have one speeding run-in with Clark County’s finest (but no ticket!).

    And I was also looking at the reliability ratings on TrueDelta before the review. Amazing how Audi has progressed since the mid-90’s!


    I would like to have carried it out to 1600 words, but I wrote this in a bought of insomnia trying to reset my schedule for night flying. I had to stay awake till 4am, so I could not wake up till at least 12noon the next day for a take-off later that evening. After 800 words, I was done…. done! And my jet broke, so I didn’t take off…. write your congressman, we need more funding!

  • avatar

    This is a timely review as my own shortlist is down to these 2 vehicles. I have leanings toward the Audi only because it’s so rare and the interior is so much easier to live in. I do agree with the seat comfort also. But of late, I’ve seen as many Audi RS4’s where I live as I see M3’s.

    The issue holding me back is Audi’s reliability record and customer service record. That has me looking BMW’s way.

    Still, two great cars.

  • avatar

    I’ll take a 911
    Thank you, drive thru.

  • avatar

    @ Beken,

    if reliability is a problem with Audi, Consumer Reports and TrueDelta have pegged the A4 as a bit more reliable than the current 3-series, both of which have been pretty good as of late.

    So drive both, and as for customer service, every Audi and BMW dealership I have visited has been all over the charts, so visit several, and smoke a lot of tires (that you don’t own!) before you buy.

    You won’t be dissappointed with either vehicle.

  • avatar

    Nice review.

    I agree with the comments on the Bimmer’s dowdy interior, especially with the flat black swath of plastic in place of wood or aluminum (~$500 gets you wood/metal). But is it just me or are the current A4 interiors just a bad place to be in? I was at the 08 Chicago auto show and they had a show car with a gray interior that reminded me of a Dodge (not good).

  • avatar

    RS4 rarer, really? Not in Colorado. I have seen just as many of these as I have M3’s(reffering to the E46 M, I have yet to see any new M’s on the road). I am certain the weather here sways some to purchase this over the M.
    Right now I am in the market for AWD sports coupe or sedan and at 70K I would not even consider this car. It just looks to boring. For this price I would take a used 2006 or 2007 certified carrera 4 any day.

  • avatar

    Good review. I truly lusted for the RS4 after JL’s review but I can’t get past the engine way too out front design and RWD>AWD. It will be interesting to see what the next RS4 bring to the table with the new chassis architecture Audi has developed.

    @ Michael Karesh, I agree the 335i can stomp the M3’s performance in almost every way with a few mods and for less money but I do think the M3 is a different enough vehicle to justify its existence.

    Also, even if the M3 and RS4 have similar reliability, BMW offers 4yr 50K service and maintenance while Audi does not.

  • avatar
    Jim K

    Good review. I really like the RS4 and if I was in the market I would probably buy it if the current E90 M3 didn’t exist. However, since the 4 door M3 is being manufactured this time, I would have a hard time buying the RS4 over it.

    The discussion of modding a 335i with Dinan products vs buying an M3 is an interesting one. Using rough numbers, there is about $16k difference between an M3 and 335i the way I would option the cars ($60k for the M3 vs $44k for the 335i). The Dinan S1 package (engine software, oil cooler, exhaust, stage 2 suspension, antiroll bars etc.) is $8034 plus 22 hours labor. Let’s call it $10k total to purchase the parts and have them installed. This brings you to within approx $6k of the price of an M3 (and I don’t think this includes the intercooler, so add another $2k for that).

    With no disrespect to Dinan products (everything I have heard about them is excellent), the price delta is just too close for me not to go with the M3 vs a Dinanized 335i.

  • avatar

    Jim K
    That, plus you’ll probably have an easier time selling a stock M3 vs. a modified 335i. Just my gut feel. I agree it’s too close with that math.

    The other alternative…aftermarket chip it (with dual programming) and keep other mods to a minimum until the warranty ends. Dinan’s high prices are in part because they preserve the warranty.

  • avatar

    @Jim K & Ash78. Excellent point about the cost of the M3 sedan vs the 335i with the Dinan packages. The 3 sedan is less expensive than the coupe which brings it in line. I think the main point is that the M3 is the whole package. I think the M uses maybe 3 components from the 335i. The rest of the car is pure M. No matter what you do to the 335i, it still isn’t an M.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    Vishnu Engineering has a chip for the 335 which runs around $1500-2000. If the 335i is not enough, this should do it for anyone who does not race their car on the track and values his license

  • avatar

    my favorite RS4 review line was: “Forget violence, you are now driving war.” I just saw one today sitting out front of a hotel. the pictures do not give this car justice. to me it is perfectly proportioned between restrained sophistication and ass-kicking brute force. when i see a car standing still, I always look at the brakes. Call me a freak, but there’s somthing about drilled and slotted roters that get me a little too excited. if I had the money and the inclination to burn buckets of fuel at every stoplight, I’d have one in my garage.

  • avatar

    While I like, really like the look of the RS4, two things make me pick the M3.

    1. I love the look of the M3, esp. in 4-door
    2. I can’t support a “sports” car that has the weight equivalent of a Maxda MX-5 over its front wheels (M3 has 50-50)

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    The current gen 3 series sedan looks like a Hyundai. Which is odd because the coupe is very nice. And considering that the brand new M3 is being compared to an RS4 riding on a six year old platform that’s due to be replaced soon, one might wonder if BMW is resting on their design-challenged laurels. They need to be very worried about the next RS4/RS5 on the B8 platform. It’s pretty clear that the CTS-V is already going to cause the M3 some trouble.

  • avatar

    FWD platform based 4WD with bad weight distribution is not the place you want to stick a good high revving V8 in. RS4 on a track: the squealing sound of understeer – the sound of dissapointment :)

  • avatar

    Very refined (re)view of the two. Great thing to read!

  • avatar

    The short of it is:

    On a scale of 1 to 10, the M3 gets 9.5 and the RS4 gets 9.6. Both are impressive, but i completely agree with the review. BMW would be well advised to lay off the flame surfacing and electronics complexity, otherwise the next M3 might slip to 9.4.

  • avatar

    Great review. I asked the question of TAC about a year ago, “Should I buy a RS4, a 08 M3 or a Lexus IFS?” and the simple answer came back: RS4

    I see TAC still feels the same. I bought the RS4 and would not even consider another car. It is a brute animal, a bad boy, an incredible rush, and will scare you to death. It is a hot rod. Thanks again for the advice

  • avatar

    The reviewer in this article obviously got confused with all the electronic settings of the M3 (and understandably so) and didn’t set the steering to the “sporty” setting or whatever it is called.

    I drove the M3 after switching on the M button with the proper configuration. I know it was the “proper” configuration because if the steering was any harder it would have been impossible to steer. It felt like as hard as having flat tires with no power steering.


    Sorry but the whole “I would rather have the car that tries to kill me” argument a little inane. It is very easy to design a dangerous car, it is very hard to design a car with composure under heavy pressure. I cannot appreciate the former.

  • avatar
    Jr- 2008 JET BLACK M3 Coupe

    The rs4 and m3 are both amazing cars. They are not at the level of a F430 scuderia or a lambo etc… I love the rs4 for it has tight suspension which enables the driver to make extremely tight turns at high speeds (thanks to quattro/4wd as well). The two biggest perks of the M3 are m-drive and the availability of a coupe. In turning the M-drive makes a BIG difference. When catapulting through a 60 plus degree turn at 80 plus mph press the M-drive button with the settings maxed out to performance in the settings menu and YOU will see what I mean.
    That’s all guys.

    (ZR4 shifter + valentine one= best protection!)

  • avatar

    I always find it ironic and comforting that when comparisons come out between two top end sports cars or sports sedans the name remains the same – Europe! Always European cars, and why not, engineered the best in the world! The BMW M3 Sedan and RS4 are brilliant automobiles. I have never owned an Audi but am an avid BMW owner and like the new M3 Sedan. I like the new RS4 also. It handles smoothly and is fast as hell and as usual Audi always keeps its architectural lines and design classic and straight to the point as do most German automobiles. It’s always classy and fast. I like the RS4 but my automotive and racing instincts will have to go with BMW!

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