As an unbiased auto enthusiast (I own neither A4 nor E46), I just wanted to make a few comments to those people (most directly my own brother Alex B) who are upset or shocked by the Car & Driver six-way test outcome. Actually I wasn't going to say anything, but Mike Derucki made a wise-ass remeark down below that prompted me to write something.
First of all, a 1-point victory is prety meaningless considering that such subjective categories as styling goes into the scoring. However, the same BMW enthusiasts (my brother Alex included) who boasted about the 1-point win by the 328i sport over the A4 2.8Q in tests by the same magazine should be gracious in placing second this time and accept the verdict this time as well.
Second, those people who are blaming C&D for not testing a 323i with sport suspension and 16" wheels should keep in mind that the rather base 323i tested was already the most expensive car of the bunch at something like $28,250. The only way to add factory 16" wheels or sport suspension to the car is by deleting the $600 15" alloys and adding at least $2400 (net $1800 addition) to the price of the car. The MSRP would then hit 30 grand, placing it far above the cost of the other competitiors in the field. Therefore, I think the 323i chosen for this particular test ($25K sedans) was a fair and unbiased choice by C&D.
The 323i got very high marks by Car & Driver in just about everything. The main criticism by C&D (mediocre handling and lack of sportiness in standard trim) is something most people here would agree with. Some of you guys have likened the handling of the standard-suspension E46 to a Buick!
Finally, I am sure a proper 323i with 16" wheels and sport suspension would have beaten the A4 1.8TQ by a point or two, but then those two cars would not be in the same narrow price range. One good outcome of this test is that maybe now E46 owners will give the A4 some of the respect it deserves (and vice versa). Competition is good for both companies.