The BMW M235i and Audi S3 both offer typically German levels of performance and refinement in stylish and practical packages but which of these two rapid and versatile family cars is the most tempting?
Well proportioned features and carefully positioned creases line the flanks of the 2 Series’s svelte profile and subtle hints such as the broader lower air intakes and twin exhausts leave you in no doubt that this is a performance car.
In contrast, the look of the S3 has remained mostly unchanged since 2013. Although it still confidently hints at the underlying pace from its 296hp, 2.0-litre engine, its more rounded form is starting to look a little tired compared to the rest of the Audi range.
Upgraded xenon headlights and LED tail lights have helped give the S3 a recognisable presence even at night and the subtle chrome strip which surrounds the side windows stops it looking too understated. In the present company, however, the Audi will always be the more conservative choice.
Visual changes to these cars extend to the interiors. In the BMW, ‘M’ badges feature extensively throughout and, although originally based on the 1-Series, the M235i offers improved cabin space for front seat occupants. Supportive seats allow you to make the most of the performance on tap comfortably and confidently.
The S3 shares the A3’s fantastic interior but adds leather trimmed sports seats for additional lateral support. A flat-bottomed steering wheel sits in pride of place in a well thought-out and beautifully built cabin.
The 3.0-litre turbocharged engine in the BMW is a real jewel and has been praised for its combination of smooth power delivery and pleasing soundtrack that accompanies every burst of acceleration. With 325hp available, the BMW has the edge over the Audi in terms of power and, although able to go from 0-60mph in five seconds flat, it’s beaten by the S3’s impressive time of 4.8 seconds.
The emissions figures tell a similar story – the Audi produces 162g/km of CO2 and the BMW makes 189g/km, meaning they are separated by a ‘VED’ road tax band. The BMW will therefore cost you a surprising £115 more each year to tax until 2017.
BMW takes pride in offering you the “ultimate driving machine” and has clearly gone to great lengths with the M235i. Although many features such as a limited-slip-differential and M Sport adaptive dampers are optional extras, the standard M235i performs admirably on the road with superb agility and composed handling.
Push a little too hard and some of these costly extras might start to sounds appealing but, for a combination of driver involvement, usability and comfort, the M235i is hard to beat.
The Audi S3 offers drivers maximum pace with minimal fuss which might sound appealing but, if you prefer a more involving drive, you might climb out of the S3 feeling a little cold. If being thrust efficiently towards your destination is what you expect from a sporty hatchback then the grippy and sure-footed Audi could be your ideal mix of performance and refinement.
Although it has a large 390-litre boot, the BMW’s narrow saloon-style boot opening makes it much more difficult to load than the Audi S3. A lower roofline and lack of rear doors makes getting into the back tricky but, once seated, adults will find it a comfortable place to sit.
The Audi offers a slightly smaller 325-litre boot but, being a hatchback, these seats can be folded down to create a 1,060-litre boot with the added bonus of a spacious opening making loading very easy. Climbing into the back of the Audi is far easier than the BMW and passengers will find they have much better leg- and headroom once seated.
It’s worth noting that the BMW is available as a hatchback in the form of the M135i if your need for space is a priority and the Audi as a saloon or even a five-door hatch if those rear seats are likely to be called into regular service.
These cars both excel in different areas so choosing between them depends greatly on what you expect from your £30,000. Prices for the Audi and BMW are comparable and can reach very nearly £40,000 if fully specced but, keep your pen under control when looking at the options list, and you’ll have one of two fast, fantastically well built family fun-boxes.
The BMW is undoubtedly the driver’s car of the two and, although it’s a shade slower to reach 60mph, it offers significantly more feedback through the controls than the Audi.
If you are more mindful of running costs and spend most of your time behind the wheel with two or more passengers, then the Audi is the car for you. Offering a practical yet exciting package, the S3 fends off an imposing challenge from arch rival BMW.