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      08-28-2010, 10:02 PM   #1
Neon01
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It's come down to two - M3 or S4. My final decision (I think...) - LONG

Be warned, this will be long and very detailed.

For background, I'm currently driving a '09 335i coupe, which I do love, but now that I'm able to afford a little more car, I've got the bug again. I'd also like something with 4 doors to make the change really worth it too.

So I spent the entire weekend test driving a few M3s and S4s back to back to back to get as much experience as I can. I'm going to give an account of both, but keep in mind these are my opinions, and I'm not implying that they are necessarily correct. Don't be offended if I've said something in contradiction to the way you feel.
First, the M3 sedan:

Interior: Quality of materials is top notch, everything laid out perfectly, despite the somewhat "austere" appearance. Part of this could be that I'm accustomed to my 335i, and it's essentially identical in form and function. What few minor differences that existed were generally positive (like the added bluetooth functionality on 2011.5 models, the center armrest extender, and other bits). The one thing I didn't care for was the soft touch plastic trim around the shifter. I actually like the aluminum in my 335i better, and it found me wishing that that piece had received the same trim as the dash, since over time the plain black plastic will probably show wear quickly. Seats couldn't be more comfortable. Grip you and swaddle you at the same time. Just incredible. Back seat was comfortable too, just enough room without being too big. My biggest gripe is that they don't have Coral Red for the interior. I thought I wanted Fox Red until I saw it in person. Now I don't care for it. It's more like brick, really. Too much brown for my tastes. I'm not sure what that leaves me with. I guess black, but that seems so mundane. Hate silver, and I've never seen Bamboo. It seemed that the coupe seats actually felt better than the sedan, but I guess that doesn't make sense, since they're the same exact seats, right? I don't like the fact that they essentially make you purchase the hi-fi sound system for a whopping $2k now, since the base system just sucks..bad. Wish they had a L7 system for $800ish like the 3er.

Exterior: What's not to like. It's an M3. A perfect 10 imo. It's got that mean, aggressive look (especially the comp package that I'd plan on ordering) that I love.

Handling: Wow, just wow. It was hard for me to get a good idea of what aspect of the M Drive was really making the difference (power, EDC, steering), but when you set that car up for spirited driving, it just feels like heaven going through the twisties. Oddly enough, the coupe I drove seemed to feel better than the sedan, though they weren't back to back, so its hard for me to assert that the difference is real. Anyone have input on the comparison between coupe and sedan?

Transmission (M-DCT): Incredible. _Insert other superlative_. The only fault I could find with the system was that it didn't like to downshift in D mode. Even in D-5, downshifts required substantial throttle application to occur. This is not at all the case with my 335i. I'm sure this is to pump up the EPA figures...sadly. I don't know that there's anything I can do about it either, unfortunately.

Engine: The sound is pure bliss. I could literally listen to it all day long. Unfortunately, the power plant doesn't exactly scratch me where I itch. After driving my 335i, the power delivery of the M3 just isn't immediate enough for me. I know it's actually fast, it just doesn't _feel_ fast until I get it at least 4-5k rpm. The power and torque are definitely there, I just had to work a lot harder to find them than in the 335i. Luckily the M-DCT makes the job much easier. I know many have said it, but the lack of torque in the lower rpm band (below 3k rpm) is really a detractor for me. When this is coupled with the transmission's resistance to downshifting unless you really goose it (in D mode), this definitely makes the car feel a little less than the supercar than it is. I definitely feel like I could learn to drive this car in such a way that it would feel really fast all the time (i.e. keep revs up much more than I do now), but it would probably result in terrible gas mileage. Then again, it'd be an aural delight.

Overall: The package was great, I truly loved it. Handling was extremely crisp and controllable, the engine sound was ecstasy, and the interior was comfortable and solid. However, if I'm honest, the lack of torque did dampen the experience for me. I was also put off by the fact that I couldn't stand Fox Red (which leaves me limited interior color options), and the _perceived_ difference between the sedan and the coupe. For whatever reason, the coupe just _felt_ better. I'd love it if someone came in here and (honestly) told me I was nuts, and that they both should feel virtually identical while driving.

Now the S4 (this will have some comments referring to the M3 for comparison, since it occurred afterward):

Interior: I used to think Audi was far and away BMW's better in interiors, and there are quite a few things I _do_ like better about the B8 S4 interior than the M3, but it's certainly not so cut and dry. The overall quality of materials in the Audi definitely felt subpar. For example, there is a large piece of silver plastic trim that surrounds the MMI display that looks like it's something that should have been rejected from an Infinity. This piece should match the material in the inlays (aluminum, carbon fiber, etc). Also, little things like the complete lack of armrest pads on the doors in the Audi made it feel a little cheaper and less comfortable. On the other hand, many things about the Audi trounced the BMW, like the seat aesthetics (the black and red nappa leather seats with red contrast stitching for seats and steering wheel was to die for), the info vie w on the gauge cluster is multi-color and conveys much more information, the little dials for volume and selection on the wheel are very ergonomically pleasing, the tach and speedo that sweep from 6 oclock position instead of the standard 7:30 position like a Ferrari, the interior lighting scheme is a nice cool white/red instead of a (imo) garish orange/red, and others. The seats in the Audi were very nice (better than my 335i), but I'd put them just a peg below the M3 in comfort, plus they don't have the adjustable bolsters like the M3 (a trifle, but nonetheless). I didn't like the diminutive second cupholder in the Audi, but I do like that the first one is deep and located in the center console, not on the dash. Still, have to give the edge to BMW for the cupholders. I missed the small storage compartment under the armrest in the S4. I kept trying to "open" the armrest, as it feels thick enough that it should open. Also unusual since I recall my 2000 S4 had an armrest that would open. I did like the fact that it was height adjustable. A major letdown in the S4 was the height of the door armrest. I felt that it was too low to use for anything but the lowest seat height setting. Maybe it's just me. Also, it could use a thicker steering wheel. I liked the MMI system a lot, and the B&O sound system was great (though it could really use an EQ), but I think I'd give the nod to the BMW Nav system/interface. After getting used to using the Idrive system in my '09 335i, it's hard to beat the efficiency you can achieve with the 7-button system on the BMW. The Audi system was nice, but I think even with a lot of use I'd probably have to look down to find most of the buttons that are farther from the knob. The glove compartment in the S4 was nice and spacious, but seemed to hit my knees when I sat in the passenger seat even with the seat moderately far back. The rear of the S4 was very nice, and had little elastic map pockets on the front seatbacks (something conspicuously absent on the M3). I also missed the M3 (and 335i) interior "club" lighting. Maybe I just couldn't see it though as it wasn't fully dark yet - does the S4 have ambient lighting in the door areas like BMW?

Exterior: The S4 is one classy car. It's the best looking S4 to date, by FAR. This certainly says a lot. However, aside from the cool LED daytime running lights, it just doesn't have the "mean" factor that the M3 has. It looks more proportionate as a sedan than the M3 does though, I think. I like the aluminum mirrors and the rear of the S4 definitely looks better than the M3. From some of the other angles though, it appears a little plain compared to the M3. I would have liked some fender flares over the somewhat slab sided A4, but I guess they reserve those for the RS-series only. Just a few more cues to the fact that you're getting more than an A4 with the S-line package would be nice. The wheels were the biggest weakness IMO. The standard split 5-spoke on the prestige package are a little ho-hum, and the Ti "sweep" 5-spokes if you get the $400 Ti Sports package looked dreadful in photos (though I admit they might be better in person).

Handling: The S4 I drove did not have Audi Drive Select or even the sport differential, so this may change if those are added, but I really felt that the S4 handled extremely well. Actually, much better than I thought it was going to. It did resist rotation a little when I really pushed it, but it took a lot to get to that point. It felt so planted and surefooted that it was extremely confidence-inspiring in the twisties I took. Didn't feel quite as _good_ as the M3 dynamically, but felt like it would handle a short spirited drive with just as little drama and just as much fun as the M3. On the track, I'm confident the S4 would do very well, though it might not feel as good as the M3 while doing so. The ride in the S4 was perhaps a touch more rough (again, without ADS) than the M3 in comfort or normal settings, and maybe on par with the M3's sport EDC setting.

Transmission: Loved the S-tronic about as much as the M-DCT. It felt a little closer to a true automatic since I didn't get the slight feeling of a slipping clutch at low speeds like the M3, but it felt superb when up/downshifting while moving along. Shifts were clean and extremely quick, just like the DCT in the M3. Auto mode left something to be desired, as it was also saddled with a logic that demanded short shifts at 1500 rpm (I'm told you can adjust this if you use the dynamic setting with ADS, but again, this car didn't have it). Just like the M3, you really needed to get into it in order to wake the car up. Also like the M3, the auto mode was smooth as butter on accel and decel. A major gripe of mine with the S4 was the "farting" noise that accompanies upshifts under heavy throttle. I'm told this is normal and is a byproduct of extreme rev reduction by the ECU to rev match for the next gear. It doesn't sound _that_ bad, but I'm sure I'll have to answer questions about it any number of times when I carry passengers. Unfortunately it gets louder with an aftermarket exhaust too (which the S4 could really use). Another gripe I had was that the S4 doesn't indicate which gear it's in when in Auto mode, making downshifts for passing something of a best guess.

Engine: Ohh, lord. Man, did Ingolstadt do this one right. _If_ I have anything bad to say about this engine, it's that it isn't loud enough. Sadly, I'm not sure I could ever put an aftermarket exhaust on for fear of louder "farts". The engine in the S4 is just fantastic. Pulls HARD at all points of the tach; there is _always_ power when you want it. Until I drove this, I actually thought my 335i had very little lag. In truth, I still do, for a turbo, but this is truly lag-less. The only other nit is that the power band seems to flatten after about 6k rpm, which effectively reduces your redline even further. Still, with the flat torque curve on the S4, that's at least 4500 _very_ useable rpms. I've read that some tuners are opening up that power from 6k up too, so there may be more to the story eventually.

Overall: The S4 does about 95% of what I want it to do extremely well. It feels fast (much faster than I expected), it handles well, it feels very planted and secure, it has a great interior with few faults and a phenomenal aesthetic, it has a very smart looking exterior, and it can do everything I could conceivably want it to do with aplomb. Unfortunately it didn't give me the emotional connection I got with the M3. I never felt like I was driving a $60k sports car, I felt like I was driving a very fast and sporty looking luxury car.

The decision: Unfortunately, after some real reflection and a lot of test driving, I'm still not sure which car I'm going to go for. I really hate to admit it, but I'm actually somewhat biased toward the BMW since I've been a BMW guy for the last 6 years and they've always treated me right. The last Audi I owned I loved to death (2000 S4 2.7 T), but it did leave me with a big repair bill on account of failed turbos, and I always felt like the ugly duckling when I would show up to the DC metro area BMW car club meets with my S4 (they met far more regularly than the Audi group at the time). I know that the S4 has come a LONG way since then, and I shouldn't let this affect my decision, but if I'm honest to myself, it does a little. Despite everyone saying that the S4 is a competitor to the 335i, and the M3 is more competition to the RS4, I disagree. It may be that an M3 could spank an S4 at the track, but in my experience, both handle much better than my 335i, and both have similar features and benefits for a _roughly_ similar cost. My brain is telling me to just forget the M3 since the daily drivability (read: torque) of the S4 beats the M3 pretty substantially. And I probably spend 70% of my miles commuting, so that's a strong selling point for the Audi. Plus it has AWD and an interior aesthetic that I'm going to appreciate more than the M3 on a day to day basis. However, at the end of the day, I'm not getting into an M3, and the emotional attachment of the M3 just won't allow me to move on and forget it. Right now I'm about 60/40 in favor of the S4, but I can't seem to truly make up my mind. Oh well, I suppose I could have worse things to worry about.

Any thoughts?

I think you deserve some kind of award if you read all of this, btw.
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Last edited by Neon01; 08-30-2010 at 07:27 AM.
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      08-28-2010, 10:14 PM   #2
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Geez, nice write-up!!

What's your gut and heart telling you?
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      08-28-2010, 10:27 PM   #3
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I went through the exact same decision process. The S4 impressed me quite a bit and I think the engine is underrated on paper. The one I drove was loaded out with the special interior and I came away with the feeling that I liked the interior slightly better than the M3, but I think it came mainly from the nav/menu display and the seats. That's not to say that the seats in the M3 are inferior, just different. My finances were a little tight at the time and for nearly 15k less I almost went with the S4.

That being said, what sold me on the M3 was the abundant options for setting up the car. The S4 with it's comfort/dynamic/sport modes are nice, but sometimes I just want a little of one and a lot of the other.

2 things pushed me over the edge to the M3, the masterpeice V8 and the customizing ability of Mdrive. When I heard that the sedan AND the V8 were going away from the next gen M3, I figured I'd be kicking myself if I didn't get it now. There will plenty of 6 bangers around when this M3 runs it's course in my garage.

Oh and now that i've had mine a while, your comment on D mode not downshifting quickly enough, I found that you need to have the power button in at least sport, but more over into sport plus to mitigate that issue.
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      08-28-2010, 10:29 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neon01 View Post
Interior: The one thing I didn't care for was the soft touch plastic trim around the shifter.
It's actually leather man. With the option of 'extended' leather below it, and all the lower dash area. I have that, but it's not too noticeable due to being black. But feels and smells great .

Seems like you already answered your own question. And yes, the S4 is more comparable to the 335i(s) than an M3, and substantially cheaper similarly equipped. Totally different engines (S/C V6 vs NA V8), plus RWD vs AWD. Seems like you're an FI guy; a high-revving engine will never feel like an FI down low, so you might be disappointed with the S65 over time. Good luck.
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      08-28-2010, 10:31 PM   #5
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Great write-up...thanks.
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      08-28-2010, 10:38 PM   #6
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STOCK vs. STOCK the S4 beats the 335i in every comparison I've seen. S4 is heavier but has more whp. This will likely change with the F30 but as of right now, S4 has the advantage as it probably should, being newer. If I was in the market right now, I'd take and S4 over a 335i hands down.
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Last edited by southlight; 08-29-2010 at 09:34 AM. Reason: removed quote
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      08-28-2010, 11:22 PM   #7
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A lot of work, nice post as I'm sure many will disagree, and a few may agree in certain areas. I'm not a huge Audi fan as imho their consistency has been in question over the last
few generations. However, it's the present that counts mostly, but reputation does have it's influence. I've known many Audi owners who've experienced the turbo failures, costly repairs and hair pulling service adventures and as pretty as some are, no jumping ship for me. I've owned BMW's for the last 15 years and I'm comfortable sticking by this brand as it's been consistently reliable year after year.

I do agree that the first response to your post was overboard and a tone not appreciated, but at the same time, there are those that are BMW lifers and can't help but get spun.

If you're going to be commuting 70% of the time and many of the performance features of both vehicles won't be seen or heard except 30% of the time, AND you've owned both brands, why all of the confusion? I really hate to admit it, but I'm actually somewhat biased toward the BMW since I've been a BMW guy for the last 6 years and they've always treated me right. Sounds like you've said it all right there. An important consideration these days.
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      08-28-2010, 11:26 PM   #8
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Unfortunately, they price things awkwardly, the S4 is more expensive than a 335. I get the feeling that the 335is is supposed to be the answer to the S4/S5.



A few things:

You seem surprised at the lack of turbo lag in the S4, but in reality, even though the badge says V6T, it's a supercharger.

I agree the M3 seats are more comfortable than my 335 sedan's.

I prefer the look of the Audi hands down, interior and exterior. I'm sure I'll love my M3, but I know I'll look and shed a tear whenever I see an S5.

You mention the lack of padding on the S4's door armrest, I have the same complaint about E9x, my 335 is downright painful on long trips, I have to force myself to keep my elbow in my lap.

Not that I think the DCT downshifting complaints are unreasonable, but when I switched from manual to steptronic, I trained myself to use the shift gates. Now I can't NOT use them, if I leave the car in 'D', I tend to flip it into neutral without thinking I can understand the D mode complaints, but since I prefer to shift all the time and think others should too, I find myself not caring.

Also, per the above, I found the S4 annoying because the upshift/downshift on the s-tronic stick is reversed from the BMW. I could get used to it, I'm sure.

One last anecdote, I drove both the S4 and the S5 cab. I was certain that I wanted the S5 cab, but had already made an appt to test drive the M3. The sound alone won me over, and the fact that the RWD would be more fun. I have a 335xi, and while I like the AWD 'planted' feel, I think it can be somewhat boring at times. Last, and this was the real nail in the coffin, mid-60's residual on the E93, as opposed to mid-50's on S4,S5,S5 cab. That alone would make the S5 cab more than an E93 for a lease, even though there's a $10k difference!

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      08-28-2010, 11:31 PM   #9
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You're nuts, OP, of you think the S4 can touch the M3 in any way.
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      08-28-2010, 11:36 PM   #10
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m3 hands down. s4 looks too generic for 60k. get something that stir you soul if you really have to fork out that kind of money. it has to look the part, sound the part. just my 4 cents.
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      08-29-2010, 05:11 AM   #11
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To the OP: excellent review! Both cars are great, you can't go wrong with neither of them. Good luck with your decision!

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      08-29-2010, 05:43 AM   #12
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I went through the same deliberation 2 months ago. My $0.02, the S4 was a great all-round package. Great engine, interior and features etc, I think you've outlined the plus points pretty well. Bottom line for me was that the S4 felt like an upgraded A4, or a sport version of the A4 at least. The M felt and drove like a unique car, everything about it was nailed, 'sculptured' mechanically and visually. I ended up getting the M. I see the S4 every now and then, its a nice car but it doesn't make me smile like the M does. Life's too short man, don't settle for anything less..
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      08-29-2010, 06:40 AM   #13
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You are certainly right when you say the S4 is a beautiful car. It really is. But seriously, it's not in the same league as an M3 in any category.

Oh, and like a few folks before me who commented on the second post:
SuperlativE90...you should be banned, you should grow up. Different opinions are what makes this board great.
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      08-29-2010, 09:04 AM   #14
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If you're not going to track the car, take trips in the car and want more than 200 mile range I'd HIGHLY suggest the S4.

Last edited by quality_sound; 08-29-2010 at 10:57 AM.
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      08-29-2010, 09:10 AM   #15
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To me it sounds like your common sense is telling you the S4 is the more logical choice. It is more practical with all wheel drive and lots of torque down low. I am not a big fan of AWD just because you don't get the same sort of feedback like you do with RWD.

As far as the E90 vs E92 in handling, that is an entirely different thread. They both handle great but to me the sedan is a bit more rigid. The driving instructors that have driven my car say they prefer the sedan to the coupe. They may also tell the coupe guys they like it over the sedan.

It also sound like your heart is telling you to get the M3. The Audi will get the job done but the M is going to give you wood on a daily basis.

Go with your heart.
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      08-29-2010, 09:23 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quality_sound View Post
If your'e not going to track the car, take trips in the car and want more than 200 mile range I'd HIGHLY suggest the S4.

Is a 200 mile range pretty standard for a 60/40 mix of highway/city?
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      08-29-2010, 09:33 AM   #17
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Neon01,

Stick with the M3, Audi S4 has its few good points but it can't beat the ultimate driving machine. see you at the Meet and Greet at BMW of Bel Air on 09/25/10 with your new M3.
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      08-29-2010, 09:36 AM   #18
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Quote:
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Is a 200 mile range pretty standard for a 60/40 mix of highway/city?
No, you will get 200 if you are driving the M3 pretty aggressive. you should average around 230-260 per tank full.
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      08-29-2010, 09:39 AM   #19
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First of all, great right up. Lots of time spent, lots of details given.
Second of all, I don't think you could go "wrong" with either car. They are both fantastic cars in their own right.

I am a loyal BMW owner and have been with my last 5 BMW's, but with that said, we don't have an Audi dealer within 45 minutes to an hour of my house. If we did I would have ended up with an Audi in between one of the BMW's just for a change.

I think as a practical 4 door car the Audi wins. Not that it beats the BMW, but it is a bit more practical. A bit roomier in the back seats, slightly easier getting in and out and the AWD. Growing up in DC I would think the Audi would be a better choice for you.

They are both bad ass cars and you can't go wrong with either one. All the Audi haters will of course say different on this forum, but this is a BMW forum. I am sure if you posted this on the Audi forum you would have similar comments. The BMW haters would tell you your an idiot, the cars don't compare blah, blah, blah...... Bottom line, the cars do compare. One is FI one is NA, but they are on the same general level of quality, comfort, performance etc.

Go with your gut.
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      08-29-2010, 10:14 AM   #20
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Great post. Several months ago, I was in the exact same position as you. I had initially expanded the search to a few additional cars, but ultimately narrowed it down to the S4 and M3. I was impressed by the S4, and agree with many of your comments. Overall, however, the S4 just didn't connect with me the way the M3 did. After test driving the S4, I really wanted to like it more than I did...I just didn't leave the dealership with the "WOW" feeling I had hoped for. It's a great car and anyone that has one should be happy. HOWEVER, when I drove the M3 I was absolutely blown away by how much fun it was to drive. I felt very connected to the car and the overall performance was unbelievable. I basically left the BMW dealership feeling that I HAD to have the M3. The S4 didn't give me the same feeling. Although the M3 is about $20K more than the M3 (at least the way I optioned it out)...I felt the price was justified b/c if I got the S4, I would always be skeptical of what I would have missed from the M3.

Note: I ordered the M3 coupe...didn't drive the M3 sedan.
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      08-29-2010, 10:50 AM   #21
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As a note, I'm planning on doing a Euro delivery if I get the M3, and with the options I'm looking at the price difference between the two cars is about $3k at most.

Regarding the sedan vs. coupe topic, I did a little search for info, but couldn't find anything worthwhile. If anyone has any good links or info they can share, that would be appreciated.
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      08-29-2010, 10:59 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neon01 View Post
Is a 200 mile range pretty standard for a 60/40 mix of highway/city?
My commute is 22 miles each way, and about 18 of that is autobahn and I've never seen more than 18.5MPG so I usually refuel between 235 and 250-ish miles. If you do a 60/40 split you might not even see 200 before you need to gas up. This V8 is thirsty and the EPA estimates are very, VERY optimistic.
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