Have you been captivated by Audi’s premium ethos, but still contemplating your best fit? Well, if you’re leaning towards a small luxury sedan with a high-performance option, you’ve come to the right place!
Available in cabriolet, saloon and sportback form, the Audi A3 is a true jack of all trades. The A3’s endearing interior is matched by its compelling performance to make it one of the most popular small family cars out there.
But what about the A3’s high-powered alternative, the Audi S3? With unmistakable similarities both inside and out, what are the real differences between these two very capable Audis? Is the Audi S3’s mammoth engine really worth the extra money? Read on to find out!
For more on the Audi A3 range, check out our A3 Cabriolet Review, A3 Saloon Review and A3 Sportback Review. If you want to compare the Audi A3 against its hatchback rivals, our Audi A3 vs Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series, and Audi A3 vs Seat Leon comparison posts are a great starting point. Keeping your options open? Our Audi A3 alternatives post features a list of the A3’s nearest and dearest.
Audi A3 vs S3
Do you pay the hefty price tag for peak performance or are you more concerned about affordable running costs? Let’s take a look at both these cars side-by-side and review the differences.
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: P
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 150 - 199g/km
Great infotainment system
Premium interior cabin
Unresponsive automatic gearbox
Could have more standard safety kit
BMW M145i more fun to drive
To the naked eye, the Audi A3 Sportback and S3 Sportback may look like identical twins, but the car enthusiasts amongst will certainly enjoy a subtle game of ‘spot the difference’.
In comparison to the Audi S3, the Audi A3’s range-topping S Line trim is its closest competitor. Both of them don their own unique 18” alloy wheels, but The ‘5-arm dynamic’ design that graces the S Line’s wheels are slightly less adventurous than the windmill-esque ‘5-twin-spoke star’ design that looks the part in contrast grey with a glossy diamond cut finish.
You’ll also notice a faint distinction between the two cars when you zone in on the iconic front grille. The S Line wears a titanium black front grille, while the S3 has an exclusive platinum grey singleframe grille that adds a refined gloss to the front end. Although they’re both extremely elegant, we feel the S3’s glitzy grille combines effortlessly with its diamond cut alloys to constitute a more inspiring look.
The S3 also comes with enhanced ‘S’ specific styling and badging, brake calipers and full automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers that turn on and off according to conditions.
The Audi A3 is available in a wide range of petrol and diesel engines that come with both automatic and manual gearboxes. However, the two cars do share a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
If you’re expecting to clock up a lot of motorway miles, the Audi A3’s 2.0-litre (150bhp) S Line 35 TDI S Tronic diesel engine is an absolute trooper. A smooth six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive comes as standard on the A3, but Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) system is also available. With an official 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 135mph, there’s no denying the A3’s sporty capabilities, but how does it compare to the more powerful S3?
The Audi S3 has taken the A3’s 2.0-litre engine and turned it into a turbo-charged powerhorse. Available in only one petrol output - that it shares with the Volkswagen Golf R - the S3 50 TFSI quattro S Tronic packs a whopping 305bhp thanks to a helping hand from the S3’s standard quattro four-wheel drive powertrain. Whizzing from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and reaching a top speed of 150mph reinvigorates this family hatchback into an everyday sports car! Sports suspension, magnetic adaptive dampers and Audi Drive Select are also fitted as standard to allow the driver to change between five different driving modes.
The Audi A3 Sportback interior cabin and Audi S3 Sportback interior cabin boast very similar interior cabins that ooze sophistication and luxury.
Both models come with heated alcantara leather-upholstered front seats, but the S3s seats have sport bolsters and contrasting stitching with the ‘S’ badge embedded into them. They’re both extremely well-built from high-quality materials and they also share a nifty panoramic sunroof. The S3’s flat-bottomed steering wheel is another subtle feature that gives the S3 a more well-rounded feel.
We’re not going to lie, the standard infotainment system on both of these cars are nowhere near the calibre of their closest rivals. The A3 has a slightly larger (7.0-inch) MMI infotainment screen than the S3 (5.8-inch), but they both electrically retract into the dashboard which we think is a bit naff and out-dated in 2020. They’re both controlled by a rotary dial between the front seats which is less distracting than a touchscreen alternative.
Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit system is an optional extra for both of these cars. This replaces the analogue dials with a more tech-savvy digital instrument that gives you access to a whole load of convenient features such as sat-nav, entertainment and all the driver information you could ask for. We really feel the S3 lacks a certain level of tech when you look at the price you’re paying for it.
Practicality is king when it comes to choosing a small family car. Both have a roomy cabin, decent boot and 5-doors, but who takes the crown?
In terms of boot space, the A3 pips it. The A3 Sportback boot size is 380 litres compared to the S3’s 340 litres, it also boasts a useful square shape and a wide opening to make packing those heavy items that little bit easier. With the rear seats folded, the A3’s capacity expands to 1,220 litres, whereas the S3 offers 1,180 litres.
The Audi A3 is also particularly roomy up front and there’s an ample amount of seat and steering wheel adjustment to ensure you won’t struggle to find a comfortable position. However, the front sport seats in the S3 feel slightly more comfortable on long journeys thanks to their cushioned lower back support.
The rear seats aren’t as cramped as you’d expect either. There’s more than enough head and legroom for two over six-footers in both cars, but try to fit three and you’ll really struggle due to a rather infuriating lump that commands the middle row.
The lower trims of the Audi A3 are actually very reasonably priced and pretty cheap to run. On the other end of the spec-trum, the S3’s going to burn a whole in your pocket due to its thirsty engine.
The starting MSRP of the entry-level (SE Technik) Audi A3 is around £23k, but you’ll find yourself adding more optional extras than it worth, so we recommend the £27k S-Line trim. Opt for the hard-hitting S3 and you’ll be forking out an extra £10k for the luxury sedan or £41k all-in for the cabriolet version.
In terms of insurance costs, the Audi A3 Sportback insurance group ranges from 18 (Sport) to group 27 (S Line), while most versions of the Audi S3 sit in insurance group 39, apart from the S3 Cabriolet, which is bumped up to group 42.
Fuel economy is another major selling point when it comes to choosing a car. The Audi S Line 35 TDI S Line 5dr S Tronic returns a rather impressive 62.8 MPG, while the Audi S3 50 S3 TFSI Quattro 5dr S Tronic is slightly less efficient with a claimed 40.9 MPG. Not too bad for a high-performance engine!
All things considered, the A3 takes it!
Despite the S3 having the edge over the A3 in regards to pure exhilaration and enjoyable driving experience, we can’t see a whole lot else that warrants the extra £10k additional fee.
Of course, we do recommend that you pay a little extra and opt for the Audi A3 S Line because the A3’s lower-spec trims are left a little wanting when it comes to standard kit and tech.
With a similar interior cabin, standard tech and exterior styling, the only real major difference belongs to the high-powered engine, but is that what you’re really looking for in a small family hatchback? Probably not. So for that reason, the Audi A3 takes home the bragging rights on this occasion.
Would you like to see the Audi A3 go toe-to-toe with its similarly priced premium rivals? Check out our Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 vs Volkswagen Golf, and Audi A3 vs Seat Leon comparison posts. We’ve also got our Audi A3 Alternatives post which showcases a bunch of similarly priced and performing cars on the market. For more on the A3, check our A3 Cabriolet Review, A3 Saloon Review and A3 Sportback Review.