Why the comparison?
The compact premium convertible market used to consist of no models, but in the space of a few days both Audi and BMW have introduced contenders. Which means this is about as relevant a head-to-head as we'll ever produce. So if you like the idea of a 'four seat' compact convertible with a folding canvas roof and a prestige badge on the grille then you'll need to visit either a BMW or Audi showroom. BMW's Convertible is based on its 1 Series, more specifically the 1 Series Coupé, Audi's A3 Cabriolet being based on its A3 hatchback.
How are they similar?
Both are German, wear premium badges and are touted as four-seaters by their respective manufacturers. Prices are close enough to ensure that buyers are unlikely to be making a decision based on price and both eschew the current trend for folding hardtops in preference of folding canvas roofs with plenty of acoustic damping. Those roofs are fully powered and they may be dropped or raised on the move. They're both available in showrooms in time for summer, their launches so close you have to wonder if BMW and Audi have been spying on each other.
Canvas roofs mean that for convertibles they offer decent boot space roof up or down, and if you want to carry longer loads in either they both offer load-through facilities in the back seats. The rear seats in either car are otherwise pretty hopeless, the A3 featuring rather upright backrests but decent legroom, the BMW lacking legroom but offering more forgiving backrests. The ride quality in both is respectable, as is the resistance to scuttle shake, both feeling solid despite having had their roofs removed. Crucially, each is rather enjoyable to drive.
How do they differ?
Despite the common aim the Audi and BMW's differences are as marked as their similarities. The BMW is rear-wheel drive, the Audi driving its front wheels. Audi has opted for a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 197bhp, while the BMW uses a naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine that delivers 214bhp. That allows the BMW to reach 62mph in 6.8 seconds, the Audi taking 7.4 seconds. The 1 Series is based on the Coupé body, so it's got a longer boot line, the Audi's hatchback origins obvious due to its truncated rear. The Audi has twin - and rather ungainly - roll hoops behind the rear seats, BMW opting for a neater pop-up system.
BMW uses its EfficientDynamics system to keep emissions and consumption low, but it's the Audi that offers better fuel consumption and a lower CO2 rating. The BMW's figures are 34.9mpg and 195g/km compared to the Audi's 37.1mpg and 182g/km. The Audi's roof operates significantly faster than that of the BMW too, meaning maximum exposure time in the sun in between our summer rain.
So which one would we have?
Unsurprisingly both are rather desirable. We prefer the svelte looks and sonorous sounding straight-six in the BMW, but the Audi actually feels more nimble on the road. The Audi wins on interior style too and for legroom - should you ever find those rear seats occupied. Ultimately it's a question of style, something crucial in this market, and which badge you prefer. So let's call this one a draw, the decision being yours.