Audi S3 Alternatives

6 minutes Published: 01/04/2020
Alasdair Cherry

The Audi S3 is the high-performance alternative to the Audi A3 Sportback. Opt for the S3 in a sportier Cabriolet trim, and you better make sure to keep a couple of pairs of shades in the glovebox for those sunny days. 

This compact premium performance car combines family-friendly practicality with explosive performance to make it one of the best small cars on the market.

Unfortunately, the extra thrill doesn’t come cheap. Priced around £12,000 more expensive than the similarly decorated Audi A3 S Line, the S3’s price tag might deter the average Joe from splashing out.

Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system complements the S3’s 2.0-litre (306bhp) turbocharged petrol engine, which comes fitted with a seven-speed S-Tronic automatic gearbox as standard. The Audi S3 accelerates from 0-62mph in rapid 4.7s and reaches a top speed of 155mph.

Despite the hefty price tag, the S3 is one of the best small luxury cars. The range-topping interior is matched by high levels of standard spec and compelling performance - it’s just a shame that fuel economy is rather disappointing, but we guess you can’t have it all!

Been eyeing up the S3 but not sure you want to take the plunge? Check out this list of Audi S3 alternatives to see what other fish are in the sea.

Are you set on an Audi, but keeping your options open? If so, check out our Audi TT alternatives list for a compilation of sporty coupes. If you’re considering something a little more practical, our Audi Q3 alternatives list offers a wide range of robust SUVs. If you like the look of the S3, but don’t need something so powerful, our Audi A3 alternatives list is perfect for you.

1. Mercedes A Class Hatchback AMG S

RRP: £49,235 - £55,235
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine:
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 192g/km

Pros

  • Speed

  • Tonnes of grip

Cons

  • Pretty expensive

  • Excessive road noise

As the fastest model in the A-Class range, the Mercedes A45 AMG is a ferocious beast with a sporty interior to match its dynamic performance. The entry-level ‘4Matic’ trim is on par with the Audi S3 in terms of performance, but the top-spec ‘S’ trim is in another dimension. Dubbed a ‘super-hatch’, the 405bhp 4-cylinder engine can reach 62mph in a frightening 3.9 seconds. 

Despite the superior performance, running costs let the A45 AMG down a tad. With fuel economy of 38.2 mpg and CO2 emissions of 169g/km, the ‘4 Matic’ trim is less cost-effective than the S3, as well as being more expensive in the first place. 

When comparing boot space, the A45 AMG (370 litres) has the edge over the S3 (340 litres) when the seats are up. However, this extra room eats up space in the rear seats, making it hard for tall adults to get comfy in the back. 

2. Volkswagen Golf Hatchback R

RRP: £31,455 - £35,760
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 159 - 199g/km

Pros

  • Great comfort

  • Seriously quick

Cons

  • Dull cabin compared to alternatives

  • 4x4 system reduces boot space

The high-performance Volkswagen Golf R is the hot hatch equivalent of Clark Kent. On the outside, it looks like your run of the mill Golf, but under the bonnet, we all know of its hidden capabilities. 

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the VW Golf R is shared with that in the Audi S3, so performance is tick for tack. 

Step inside the cabin, and you see why Golf R is slightly cheaper (RRP around £36,000) than the Audi S3. The dim cabin is pretty unadventurous, despite it being built from high-quality materials. The revamped leather-bound steering wheel is a classy touch, but the optional Nappa leather upholstery that comes as standard in the Audi S3 is only available as a hefty optional extra. 

There should be no complaints from passengers in regards to comfort. The supportive seats provide a relaxed experience, while there’s enough room to squeeze three tall friends in the back. 

3. BMW 1 Series M135i

RRP: £30,655 - £39,545
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 3.0
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 154 - 188g/km

Pros

  • High-quality interior

  • Brilliant infotainment system

Cons

  • No longer has a six-cylinder engine

  • The gearbox can be hesitant

As you’d expect from a BMW 1 Series, the interior cabin is brimming with quality materials and boasts a world-class infotainment system. If you want to experience a true alternative to the Audi S3, the BMW M135i is a superb hot hatch that is incredibly comfortable and an absolute pleasure to drive.

Despite losing its six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive capabilities, the M135i is still a thrilling drive. The new engine layout has created more space in all five seats, on top of making the M135i much more fuel-efficient than the outdated M140i.

BMW’s renowned iDrive infotainment system is a huge selling point if you’re into your gadgets. The standard 10.3” colour touchscreen is one of the most user-friendly and modern systems going and gives you the option to operate it via the screen, rotary dial or by voice command. 

In spite of all the 1 Series’ technological know-how, it’s particularly irritating that Apple CarPlay only comes with a one-year subscription, while Android Auto isn’t available at all. 

4. Ford Focus Hatchback RS

  • Doors:
  • Engine:
  • Fuel:
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive:
  • CO2:

Pros

  • Extremely fun to drive

  • Sporty looks

Cons

  • Mundane interior

  • Boot space depleted by 4WD

The Ford Focus RS is a captivating hot hatch with a sporty exterior to match its powerful engine. 

The RS has been given a serious makeover in comparison to the Focus we all know and love. The deep front bumpers, boot-lid mounted spoilers and eye-catching grille all play their part in turning this car into an elegant powerhouse.

The vigorous four cylinder, 2.3-litre (350bhp) petrol engine is powered through a four-wheel drive system. This, in combination with Ford’s pioneering high-tech mechanics, ensures the RS handles with impeccable precision, making it a more enjoyable drive than the Audi S3. 

5. Skoda Octavia Estate VRS

RRP: £26,130 - £30,480
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body:
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 117 - 188g/km

Pros

  • Very practical

  • Well-built interior

Cons

  • Dull cabin

  • Not very enthralling

If practicality is king, Skoda’s high-performance Octavia - the VRS - is well worth a gander. Not only is the Octavia VRS incredibly spacious, it’s also got a dynamic engine and a respectable interior.

The VRS is reasonably quick off the mark, has plenty of grip and is particularly relaxing on the motorway. That said, it’s not as exciting or enjoyable to drive in comparison to the premium hot hatches. 

As a high-performance family car, the Octavia VRS is an absolute gem. It’s marauding body ensures that there is lots of legroom in the back, and the ginormous 590-litre boot puts the Audi S3’s 340-litre capacity to shame. The five-star Euro NCAP safety rating is another notch in the VRS’s family-friendly belt.

6. Honda Civic Hatchback Type R

RRP: £30,140 - £30,960
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M
  • CO2: 170 - 215g/km

Pros

  • Outstanding Performance

  • Very comfortable

Cons

  • Annoying infotainment

  • No four-wheel-drive system

The Honda Civic is a decent hatchback, but the high performance, Honda Civic Type R hot hatchback is next level. It blends the everyday comfort and practicality of the Honda Civic with exceptional performance to rightfully earn it’s status as the ultimate boy racer. It’s marmite looks may put you off though.

In terms of ability, there’s not many hot hatches on the Civic Type R’s playing field. There’s plenty of grip when taking on bends at speed, while the agile steering and comfortable suspension ensure you’ll have no complaints on a countryside cruise. Although, the lack of a four wheel drive system makes the front tyres susceptible to slipping on a wet day.

The Civic’s low-slung driving position is reminiscent of an arcade rally simulator, and the racing-red, figure hugging sports seats feel extremely cosy when sitting behind the wheel. 

Summary

Still leaning towards the Audi S3? We can’t fault you if you are. With it’s chic styling, dynamic performance and cutting-edge virtual cockpit system, there’s a lot to like about the S3.

However, it’s not the only high performing hot hatch on the market. The BMW M135i matches the S3 across the board, while the likes of the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R are more enjoyable to drive and cheaper, but lack the S3’s interior panache.

If practicality is a top priority, the Skoda Octavia VRS is a viable option, but yet again, fails to live up to the hype of their premium alternatives both inside and out. 

Fancy having a look at some other Audi alternatives? Check out our Audi TT alternatives list for a wide range of dynamic coupes. If you’re considering something a little more space-orientated, our Audi Q3 alternatives list offers a wide range of robust SUVs. If you’re looking for a more affordable equivalent to the Audi S3, our Audi A3 alternatives list is a great starting point.