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Comparison Test: 2005 BMW 545i vs. 2005 Audi A6 4.2

In the Disney-like German forests of Bavaria, only fifty kilometres separate Munich and Ingolstadt, the respective homes of BMW and Audi. Since the mid-'80s, when both companies started getting serious as car makers by moving up the automotive food chain, BMW 5 Series vs. Audi A6--both in the car mags and in the showrooms--has been a battle car zealots have been able to sit back and reap the rewards from.

(photo: John Leblanc, straight-six.com)
Demographically, these two cars are similarly as close in concept to their intended missions, and getting closer with each new generation. If not by sheer performance or outright value, the BMW 545i ($77,700) and Audi A6 4.2 ($72,900) represent the gold standard in the middleweight Euro luxury sport sedan class. These are the cars that competitors draw big, round targets around, Such barbarians-at-the-gates as Infiniti's M45 Sport ($71,800), the Lexus GS430 ($74,700), and Cadillac's STS V8 ($68,725) all wake up in the morning hoping to knock off these Teutonic titans.

Another notable distance was the 762 kilometres it took to drive these two cars back and forth from Toronto to Detroit to find out which one is the choice for those who love to drive. Immediate questions? Some think the latest 5 Series, introduced as a 2004 model, with its active-steering and less driver-oriented cabin (i.e. iDrive) have the BMW drifting towards the luxury side of the luxury sport equation. Others feel that this brand spanking new A6 is more of a driver's car than the last generation Audi mid-sizer, fast encroaching on its opponent from just down the autobahn. We'll see.

(photo: John Leblanc, straight-six.com)
Jumping into the Audi first, you immediately feel the extra space garnered by the lengthened wheelbase and forward relocation of the front suspension compared to the last A6. Unlike our 545i, which came with BMW's as-usually-excellent articulated front seats as part of an overall sport package, the Audi's standard seating is more accommodating for longer trips than nipping pylons in a parking lot.

Settling in behind the A6 4.2's leather cloaked steering wheel, with its chrome trapezoid trim that constantly reminds you of the new Audi corporate grille adorning the front of the car, and you are met by two metal-rimmed, teardrop-shaped units seen through the wheel. One encompasses the tach and engine temp gauge, the other, the fuel meter and speedometer. Squeezed between these two units is a small digital display that presents redundant information from the trip computer and nav system that can also be found in the colour display at the top of the center console. All of this info can be accessed through Audi's iDrive-mimicking single-dial interface called Multi Media Interface (MMI) as well.

(photo: John Leblanc, straight-six.com)
There's not a lot of difference between the way these two manufacturers have approached the current challenge of offering a billion different electronic features in a car without having to resort to an equal amount of buttons. I prefer BMW's approach where all functions can be accessed through the single iDrive controller. With Audi's MMI you also have to look down to push flat console buttons alongside the controller. The other writer on this trip wholeheartedly disagreed and is stuck in the MMI camp. Suffice to say, both interfaces are equally adept at taking your attention from the road ahead--never a good thing.