The clerk at the liquor store didn’t ask for my ID the last time I went and it sent me spiraling because I began to realize a few things about my age.
I’m not “old” by any means but I think I might be getting “too old” for some things including Hello Kitty underwear, clubbing, and perhaps even cereal for dinner.
I turned 30 this year and I have also started to believe that I’m “too old” for hot hatches. As much as I love driving cars like the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Honda Civic Type R, I can’t be seen in such juvenile cars anymore. How are people going to take me seriously as a professional and a contributing member of society with a car designed to appeal to 18-year-old boys with generous parents? I’m at a point in my life where I want a more mature, respectable “grown-up” car, but I’m not willing to sacrifice fun or performance. Luckily, there are a few options, and the 2018 Audi S3 and BMW M240i are at the top of my shopping list. They’re not crazy expensive and I don’t have kids, so I can afford to be a bit selfish with a smaller, more luxurious car. But I’m having a tough time deciding which car is better.
ALSO SEE: 2018 Audi S3 Review
The regular Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series (230i) don’t do it for me because they’re too basic and the performance isn’t at the level that I want it to be, but the ballistic RS 3 and M2 are just a bit too extra and expensive for everyday life right now. The S3 and M240i offer the perfect middle ground for someone like me.
Different Approaches to Performance
The Audi S3 is powered by Volkswagen Group’s smooth and refined 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which outputs 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feed of torque from 1,900 to 5,300 rpm in this subcompact sedan. All-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission come standard. Zero to 60 mph happens in 4.6 seconds, and the little sedan feels light on its feet, easily zipping around and passing slower cars.
In the past, the fact that the S3 isn’t available with a manual transmission would have been a deal breaker for me because I was a basic car bro who used the #savethemanuals hashtag on social media, but these days, I could go either way. The thing about being older is that I’m also a bit lazier with this three-pedal business. I still prefer manuals because they’re more engaging and fun to drive, but I deal with a lot of traffic and was unsuccessful in my attempts to make my boyfriend learn to drive stick, so a quick-shifting auto isn’t the end of the world. And the one in the S3 is sharp and intuitive except for some hesitation at slow speeds and at a sudden full throttle application. Still, I never find myself needing to use the paddle shifters, as it always seems to know what gear to be in.
|Vehicle||Audi S3||Advantage||BMW M240i|
|Engine||2.0L turbo 4-cyl||-||3.0L turbo inline 6|
|Torque||280 lb-ft||BMW||369 lb-ft|
|Transmission||7-speed DCT||-||6-speed manual|
|0-60 MPH||4.6 seconds||-||4.6 seconds|
|US Fuel Economy (MPG)||22 city/28 hwy/25 combined||Audi||19 city/28 hwy/22 combined|
|CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km)||10.6/8.3/9.6||Audi||12.5/8.4/10.7|
|US Starting Price||$42,900||Audi||$46,295|
|CAN Starting Price||$52,795||BMW||$49,145|
The BMW M240i coupe outguns the S3 with a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six that sends power to the rear wheels via a slick six-speed manual transmission (AWD with an eight-speed automatic comes as an option). The engine in the M240i makes 340 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, which is available from 1,520 to 4,500 rpm. The sprint to 60 mph takes just 4.6 seconds, equal to the S3’s time. So although the M240i has more engine and a lot more power and torque than the S3, it’s not dramatically quicker. The biggest difference is that in the BMW, the power feels more readily available and easier to access. Even in sixth gear on the highway, for example, there’s still plenty of passing power available without having to downshift. Acceleration is plenty ferocious in almost any gear.
And although I really like the auto transmission in the S3, the moment I got into the M240i and realized it was a six-speed manual version, I still got overly excited about it. Not only is it notchy and intuitive to use with well-defined gears and short throws you could do with a flick of the wrist, but it also has automatic rev matching, which might be the most underrated feature in manual cars besides a hill start assist (the manual M240i also has this feature so you don’t roll back on steep hills or ramps). The stiff and quick to bite clutch takes a bit of getting used to, so the automatic rev matching makes it that much easier to drive smoothly right from the get-go. Not having to heel-toe, which I’m not that good at anyway, is a bit of a relief.
ALSO SEE: 2017 BMW M240i Coupe Review
The other biggest difference in how the two drive is balance and personality. Although the S3 feels crisp and confident darting around and diving into corners, the BMW feels more willing to change direction, the steering is heavier and more engaging than the S3’s, and I really appreciate its near 50:50 weight distribution. And when equipped with the optional M Performance Exhaust, the inline six makes all sorts of fun, burbly noises that the restrained and quiet four-cylinder S3 just can’t match. The S3 makes me happy, but the M240i makes me giggle, and that’s an important difference.
Different Interior Approach
One area where the S3 dominates over the M240i is with its interior, which might be the best one in its class. Easily duping people into believing it’s much for expensive than it actually is, the S3’s interior is all sorts of upscale with its available quilted leather, metal trim, modern/minimal design, and gorgeous and crisp digital dashboard. While both have equal build quality and use premium materials and trim, the layout of the BMW feels dated compared to its Audi rival. One advantage of the BMW, however, is the availability of a touchscreen, which makes it more user-friendly.
Also, if you have passengers on the regular, they will appreciate the two extra doors and roomier back seats in the S3. The BMW coupe simply can’t match the S3 in terms of practicality, as even my 90-pound, five-foot-one sister found it a bit snug in the M240i’s back seat and not the easiest to get in and out of.
Including destination fees, the BMW M240i starts at $46,295 in the U.S. ($49,145 in Canada). Optioned up, it was $51,182 ($59,445 as tested in Canada). The Audi S3 starts at $42,900 and optioned up was $51,850 as tested ($52,795/$58,595 as tested in Canada). To start, the S3 is more affordable, but getting both cars optioned up nicely brings the pricing closer together and the price climbs quickly because both companies love to charge you out the wazoo for all the goodies.
The Verdict: 2018 Audi S3 vs BMW M240i
These cars are both so good that it’s tough to reach a definitive verdict, but it’s a bit easier if you can zone in on what you want/need in a car. The BMW is easily the better driver’s car because it’s more engaging than the Audi: a rear-drive, six-cylinder, manual transmission car with a shouty exhaust checks all the right boxes for driving enthusiasts. However, a caveat: A lot of the M240i’s personality is rooted in the manual transmission and rear-wheel drive dynamics, much of which would be taken away if you opted for the xDrive model, which is only available with the automatic transmission. If you absolutely must have AWD, then go for the Audi, but if you don’t get enough bad weather to care, the rear-drive manual M24oi is the only M240i worth getting.
The Audi is a better car if you prioritize luxury and practicality over driving dynamics. The practicality of having two extra doors, decent back seats, and standard all-wheel drive can’t be denied, and the swanky interior with all the impressive party tricks like the digital dashboard and quilted leather are sure to wow your friends more.
As the more practical and responsible choice, the S3 won’t do you wrong, especially because it still drives exceedingly well, but as I try to grasp onto my youth, I’m leaning more towards the BMW simply because of the giggle factor. I’m an adult, but it doesn’t mean I have to be “grown up.”