What are they like inside?
The Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series are virtually on a par for dashboard usability, although the A4 has a higher-quality feel. Its stalks are perfectly damped, the fit and finish feel top-notch and the switches are logically laid out and not too numerous.
The broad digital readout in front of the driver adds further appeal, but you have to spend £450 to get this, on top of £1450 for the Technology Pack. The high-set, fixed central colour screen is standard, though; it’s just a shame it doesn’t retract in the way it does on many other Audi models.
The screen in the 3 Series looks like less of an afterthought, and while it isn't as plush inside as the A4, it still feels very well put together. Its rotary air-con controls are simple, too, while BMW's user-friendly iDrive system makes it easy to access and adjust the car’s other functions.
A big touchscreen is the main focus in the Jaguar XE, but this is rather slow to respond and more distracting to use on the move than the infotainment systems in its rivals. The XE doesn’t feel as solidly built as those cars, either, and there are other areas in the XE – particularly the aftermarket-looking rear seatback releases – that feel quite cheap.
Still, all have good driving positions; the XE’s seat is particularly supportive in corners, and most drivers will find it easy to get comfortable in any of these cars. However, you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support in all of our trio, which is worth doing if you expect to do a lot of miles, and electric seat adjustment is also a pricey extra across the board.
The A4 is best for space and practicality. It offers the most leg and head room in the front and back, although all three have raised central tunnels that make a middle passenger feel a bit cramped. The A4 also has standard 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that fold to leave a smooth but slightly sloped load bay, whereas you pay extra for this flexibility in the others.
Try to load some luggage and the A4 continues to impress. Its boot is the longest here, and it’s a convenient square shape that’s not so affected by the rear wheelarches that intrude on the boot space of the other two.
Visibility is worst in the XE, which has chunky front and rear pillars and a narrow rear screen. The A4 is easiest to see out of, thanks to its more upright pillars, and side mirrors that are mounted farther back than usual, providing a clearer view out at junctions than you get in the others.
Page 2 of 4