BMW has announced the official launch of its M135i xDrive at next week’s Paris motor show and although it won’t be available here in the UK, we were curious to find out how it compared with Audi’s RS 3 Sportback – the enthusiast’s choice for those seeking the ultimate in high performance and all-weather traction.

The rear-wheel drive M135i is blessed with a powerful 3-litre TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder engine, enhanced by M Performance upgrades to deliver 315bhp and 332lb-ft (450 Nm) of torque. It’s a strong yet frugal powerplant that achieves a remarkable 35.3mpg and C02 emissions of 188g/km.

With the addition of xDrive, the M135i gains 75kg in weight, but thanks to its standard 8-speed sport automatic transmission, C02 emissions are actually reduced to 182g/km while fuel consumption improves to 36.2 mpg.

BMW’s new M135i xDrive is 75kg lighter than the similarly powered RS 3 Sportback.

How do they compare?

We’ve put together the following comparison table, to see just how the M135i xDrive and RS 3 Sportback compare on paper.

BMW M135i xDrive vs Audi RS 3 Sportback

Engine 2,979cc six cylinder 2,480cc five cylinder TFSI
Transmission 8-speed sport automatic 7-speed S tronic
Max. power 315bhp 335bhp
Max. torque 332lb-ft (450 Nm) from 1,300 to 4,500 rpm 332lb-ft (450 Nm) from 1,600 to 5,300 rpm
Unladen weight(kg)* 1,515 kg 1,575 kg
Top Speed (mph)** 156 mph 155 mph
0-62mph acceleration (secs) 4.7 seconds 4.6 seconds
CO2 emissions (g/km) 182 g/km 212 g/km
Fuel consumption (mpg) 36.2 mpg 31.0 mpg
Price (£)*** £29,995 for M135i RWD (EUR 44,000) £39,950 (EUR 49,900)
‘Benefit-in-Kind’ (BIK)**** 26% 33%
* Unladen weight less 75kg for driver and luggage (Directive 80/1268/EEC).
** Top Speed limited.
*** M135i XDrive is only available in Europe – the ‘£’ price refers to the rear-wheel drive M135i which retails at 10% less than the M135i xDrive.
**** Benefit-in-Kind (BIK) is the percentage of the total value of a company car which is taxable, based on its CO2 emissions.

* * *

As you can see, BMW’s larger 3-litre six, complete with twinscroll turbocharger, valvetronic, double-vanos and high-precision direct injection produces less power than Audi’s 2.5-litre 5-cylinder, while they both produce identical peak torque – albeit delivered lower in the rev range in BMW’s M135i.

But while the M135i xDrive is a tenth of a second slower than the RS 3 to 62mph, it’s considerably more efficient when delivering that performance – 5mpg more frugal and a 30g/km reduction in CO2 emissions is the difference between the 33% ‘Benefit-in-Kind’ (BIK) tax on the RS 3’s higher list price compared with just 26% for the M135i.

Audi’s RS 3 Sportback is powered by a 335bhp/332lb-ft 5-cylinder engine, putting its power to the road via its quattro all-wheel drive transmission.

The M135i’s fiscal advantage over the RS 3 continues when we look at the overall purchase price. In Germany, xDrive adds EUR 1,830 to the M135i’s retail price, while the 8-speed auto adds a further EUR 2,320, even so, the BMW is still EUR 6,000 cheaper than the Audi (or around £4,500), making it by far the more prudent car to buy.

While conventional wisdom suggests Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system ‘should’ be the more accomplished package, there’s plenty of evidence (and our own firsthand experience) to show that BMW’s xDrive system is more often superior in practice, both for traction and more importantly in terms of driving enjoyment.

It’s a compelling argument that’s worth reinforcing – despite all of Audi’s Vorsprung durch Technik, the principles of a good handling car have little to do with which end is doing the pulling (or pushing), but instead the kinematics of weight distribution, suspension alignment, pick-up points and steering angles.

While Audi has come a long way in recent years with models such as the R8, RS 4 & RS 5, TTS and RS 3, the boys (and girls) from Munich have been schooled in the subject of ‘Ultimate Driving’ dynamics and it’s this experience which often makes the difference between a good and a great car.

“Anything you can do I can do better..” – BMW has the gall to take on Audi’s super hot-hatch at its own game.

We haven’t had the opportunity yet to drive the M135i xDrive, but unless BMW has completely rewritten the script, we’d expect it to be the more agile and intuitive car out of the pair to drive.

So, should Audi executives be apprehensive of BMW’s move into their niche, which up until now was the solitary playground of quattro GmbH?

Well, it will take a while for the conservative masses to hear about BMW’s high-performance xDrive offerings, but when they do, Audi will no longer have cause to charge such a premium for the mystique of all-weather traction.

It’s an interesting move by BMW, one which certainly encroaches on the centre-ground held by Audi’s S/RS performance models. Whether BMW will eventually offer the M135i xDrive in other markets will depend very much on demand, but they could, and perhaps they really should.

Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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