You might not know it but Germany is the battleground for a furiously fought civil war between two carmakers. Audi and BMW are two of the world’s foremost makers of luxury and executive cars, and both hail from the southern part of the country.
Audi has long drawn buyers through its ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ (Forward Through Technology) ethos, while BMW has trumpeted its cars as ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ since the 1970s.
Given that they are both chasing the same sort of thrusting power-broker buyers with the same sort of vehicle line-ups, it’s no surprise that rivalry between the two brands is intense.
The Audi brand can trace its origins back to 1906, making it the elder of the two companies by around a decade. Its name is derived from the Latin translation of the last name of its founder, August Horch – it means “hear” in German, which becomes “audi” in Latin.
The four rings of the Audi logo each represent one of four car companies that joined to create Audi's predecessor company, Auto Union.
These were Audi, DKW, Horch (August Horch’s first company), and Wanderer. Post-war, the company’s small two-stroke cars were far from the luxury offerings it builds now.
Throughout the 1960s, Volkswagen took an ever-larger holding in Audi, and has developed it into a luxurious brand. Audi is also known throughout motorsport, having turned rallying upside down with its Quattro, and using its technology to revolutionise many areas of racing, including touring cars, Le Mans, and Pikes Peak.
BMW, meanwhile, began life as the Rapp Motorenwerke company, which built aircraft engines. However, after the ousting of founder Karl Rapp in 1916, the company’s name was changed to the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW).
Following the end of the First World War, the company was forced to cease aircraft engine production, so branched out into motorcycle building, which it continues to do today under the BMW Motorrad umbrella.
The company’s first automobile was the 1928 Dixi, which was in reality, an Austin 7 built under licence from the British company. BMW reverted to aircraft engine building for the Second World War, but by 1958 was in financial trouble, so began to rebuild itself by selling its own version of the Iso Isetta bubble car.
Since then, the company has grown to become one of the world’s foremost builders of luxury and sportscars, plus motorcycles, and engines. The company also owns the Mini brand, as well as Rolls-Royce motor cars.
Today, the range of vehicles produced by each company almost mirrors exactly that of its rival. For fans of trendy small hatchbacks, Audi offers the A1 supermini. There’s no direct BMW rival, but the company owns the Mini brand, which is aimed right between the A1’s eyes.
They both compete in the premium hatchback sector with the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, moving up into the compact executive arena with the A4 and 3 Series. Executive buyers can choose between the A6 and 5 Series, while luxury buyers have the choice of the Audi A8 or BMW 7 Series.
Fancy an electrically powered vehicle? Well, Audi is rapidly developing its e-tron brand, and offers the A3 e-tron petrol-electric hybrid hatchback. while the BMW i sub-brand already offers the i3 electric family hatch or the i8 supercar.
The two companies even compete on two wheels, albeit indirectly. BMW has been a manufacturer of motorcycles since shortly after the end of World War I. Audi has never made motorcycles, but it is the owner of Italian superbike brand Ducati…
If you’re an SUV aficionado, yet again both companies can provide; the Q3 in the case of Audi and the X1 from BMW. Need space? Well why not decide between the Q5 or X3, or if you need even more space, there are the Q7 and X5 to opt between.
Coupé buyers are spoilt for choice, too: Audi sells the TT coupé and roadster, while BMW offers two in one with the Z4 hard-roofed drop-top.
As part of their individual drives to cover every area of the marketplace, both brands have invested heavily in high-performance engineering, and the upshot is that they each make some of the best sporting saloons and hatchbacks you can buy today.
If someone is in the market for one of Audi’s RS models, they’d be a fool not to compare it with something form BMW’s M division, and vice-versa.
The two companies are even affiliated with two of the most luxurious brands in the world, because Audi’s sister company under the VW Group umbrella is none other than British luxury marquee Bentley, while BMW owns arguably an even more luxurious British brand in Rolls-Royce cars.
They even compete in in-car technology: BMW pioneered the use of in-car infotainment with its iDrive system, while Audi closely followed with its Multi-Media Interface, which does largely the same job.
The two brands are at loggerheads in virtually every area they can, one stealing a march in a certain area, with the other easing ahead in another. The battle between the two has intensified over the past few decades, and looks set to only become more closely fought.
However, in the end, every fight needs a winner, and in this case there will be only one. Who? Well, all of us of course. These two companies offer some of the best products through the car-buying (and motorcycle-buying) marketplace, and their never-ending struggle to be better than the other will only benefit buyers with quicker, lighter, more efficient and comfortable cars that are superb to drive. Let battle continue.