Just a few decades ago, it was easy to differentiate between the three German luxury brands. Mercedes was the sophisticated, big body, big engine player. Audi was the turbocharged problemed child with the confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive. And BMW was naturally-aspirated with rear-wheel drive and 50-50 weight distribution. But nowadays, they all have super sophisticated cockpits, refined all-wheel drive options, and efficient and powerful turbochargers.
What I’m getting at is that each company’s philosophies are a lot closer in every category than they ever used to be! So, that’s why I’m going to dig into the three big European car brands. And at the end, decide whether or not Audi is the king of the castle. Is Audi the best European car brand today? Let’s find out.
Are BMWs Good Cars?
Lets start off this article with a little Bavarian flavor, shall we? BMW once graced us with incredible sports cars like the the E30 M3. And although it lacked pure grunt, it made up for it with a revvy 4-cylinder motor, superb 50-50 weight distribution, and handling as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Eighteen years later, BMW stayed true to focusing on driver dynamics and experience by making our dreams come true with the BMW 1M, a future classic with its perfect weight distribution, wide fender flares hiding massive tread, and a similar personality that made the E30 so much fun!
BMW has continually won the hearts of everyone that has ever driven one. Inline-sixes are synonymous with the brand, and they sound oh-so good when dialed in. Let’s be real, for decades, if you wanted a “driver’s” car, there was really only one choice. Wait for it… wait for it… BMW, baby! But, the last few years haven’t been so kind to them.
What character they had using almost exclusively naturally-aspirated powerplants has been traded in for turbocharged versions, which, yes, are more fuel efficient, but provide a counterfeit driving experience. Case in point: here is an E92 M3 with a naturally-aspirated S65 4-liter motor that revs to an astronomical 8,250 RPMs. Oh my gawd… that gives me goosebumps! And now, here’s the successor: the F82 M4 with its twin turbocharged S55 3-liter motor huffing and puffing as loud as it can. And I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just… different. I’ll let you guys be the judge. Do you like the sound of the naturally-aspirated M car or the twin turbocharged better?
BMW as a whole has evolved and really tried to make a car for everyone. Lets say you’re looking for an SAV, which stands for Sport Activity Vehicle. You can have your pick! From the compact X1, the rebellious X2, the adventurous X3, the coupe-inspired X4, the OG X5, the reimagined X6, and the large and in charge X7. Yeah, to say they’ve gotten a little diluted would be an understatement.
There’s no doubt BMW was once the head honcho for driving enthusiasts, but that title may be coming to an end. And the place we spend 95% of our time, the interior, is the lowest quality of the bunch. The ergonomics are great and if you like Spartan interiors that are easy to use, it could be your cup of tea. But most buyers of a European luxury car want to have their cake and eat it too, and BMW is less and less becoming the flavor of the week.
Are Mercedes Good Cars?
If you’ve ever owned a Mercedes, you know the brand has deep roots. They’re tanks, over-engineered and known to go for hundreds of thousands of miles if properly cared for. And with those miles owners grow to appreciate the loyalty of the brand more and more. Plus, they made the 190E Cosworth 2.3, the full package with a well-excecuted body kit, including one of the best wings in the business, a limited slip differential, and an out-of-this-world 2.3-liter 8-valve 4-cylinder ready for a performance of a life time!
The cars in the 80’s and 90’s were solid, reliable, comfy, rattle-free, powerful and a real pleasure to drive. And back then, the interiors were really what set Mercedes apart from the competition. Oh, and you got the AMG models like this C63 AMG (2010ish) with a massive 6.2-liter engine providing incredible performance and dismal gas mileage. Plus, an understated exterior giving it more of a sleeper look.
If I had to explain the difference between AMG, Audi’s RS, and BMW’s M division to someone… AMG’s are more of a muscle car ready to shove your eyeballs to the back of your skull at a moment’s notice. Audi’s RS is the race-inspired, confident, all-wheel drive line Audis. BMW’s M division used to be dedicated to their most prestigious road-legal sports cars, but now seems to be slapped on pretty much every model available. Hey, there’s an X3? Lets make it an X3 M performance by slapping an M badge on it and sell it for more! The M badge just doesn’t mean what it once did. It’s saddening.
But what’s also sad is just like what we saw with BMW and their SAV X models, Mercedes’s downfall was when they decided to add way too many new models to their lineup. Not only is the expansion to over 40 models confusing consumers, but there inherently will be bugs in each new model, and it takes more resources to fix them in a timely manner.
So, you have these brands trying to appease more customers, making more models, and like they say, mo’ models mo’ problems! And Mercedes’s once class-leading interiors are still stylish, but they’re not next-level anymore. They’ve always been one of the top brands when it came to comfort and luxury, but now that the competition has caught up, their plan to fill every niche with a new car isn’t working in their favor!
Are Audis The Best European Cars Now?
Audi has always been a bit different. See, back in the 1980’s, we saw them transform from a brand only a bank manager would drive to a brand young, enthusiastic, aspirational buyers would consider.Their advertising slogan was “Vorsprung Durch Technik”, which means for “Progress Through Technology“. They had the aerodynamic, the four-wheel drive, even car phones to set themselves apart from the pack. And no car epitomizes that more than their first joint venture with Porsche, and building the Audi RS2, the estate car loaded with a powerful 2.2-liter turbocharged motor running 1.4 bar of boost, a 6-speed manual gearbox and a chassis that’s athletic enough to affectionately call it a performance car hero. As you can tell, I love this thing!
But for decades Audi kept pushing their technology, and with that have had some major reliability issues. And as with anything, if you continue working on your weaknesses, they will hopefully someday become your strengths. So, when the Audi RS3 sedan hit the US a few years back with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, telepathic steering, and most important, superb reliability. It was a testament to their perseverance and that car had the perfect blend of speed, comfort and agility.
Audi has always had a model to compete against Mercedes and BMW. But until recently, consumers were more inclined to pick a luxury car without the four rings. But let’s talk about today. Is Audi the best European car brand to buy right now? Well, all three brands have continued to grow and push each other, which in the end, the consumer is the winner. That is if they don’t grow too fast, as we saw earlier!
10+ years ago, Audi was the go-to brand if you wanted all-wheel drive. Now, BMW has their xDrive and Mercedes has their 4MATIC, so its now kind of a moot point. BMW used to hold the title as ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, but with a bazillion models in their lineup, and many of them being big SUVs like the BMW X1, are they still making ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine‘? And Mercedes, who once built cars with unmatched quality and luxury, have been reeled in by the competition, and no longer stand out above the crowd. And last but not least, Audi, who I think has come the furthest in the past few decades as a luxury car brand, who didn’t do it without a ton of trial-and-error, and thankfully never gave up!
I think because of their underdog mentality, Audi has been able to become the best overall European car brand! They’ve got you covered from the perky little Audi A3, all the way to the daily drivable supercar, the Audi R8. They blanket every niche with a competitive offering, and their tech-forward approach means their car will be at the cutting edge of what’s available.
In the past, the differences between each company’s philosophies were a bit more pronounced, but nowadays, they’re a lot closer in every category. And Audis interiors are the perfect balance of premium, sporty, and luxury. And since that’s where you spend 95% of your time, it’s got to be good! That’s why we here at Ideal think Audi takes the crown.