There’s been quite a lot said about these two cars since their inception a couple of years back. Built on the same platform, the Audi S3 and VW Golf R have been compared back-to-back since they debuted, with varied results. Many feel that the S3 feels like a more grown up, premium variant of the Golf R and some say it isn’t worth the extra cost. But now the Audi S3 has been updated for 2017 and brings with it improvements that just might convince the detractors.
The Audi S3’s biggest complaint was that it didn’t feel special enough. Its steering was too numb and nondescript and its chassis dynamics left a lot to be desired, especially when compared to it VW sibling, which is a riot to drive. But, for 2017, The S3 has received enough improvements that we feel it could be better than the famous Golf.
Firstly, and most importantly, Audi revamped the S3’s all-wheel drive system. While still a Haldex setup, like the Golf R, Audi has updated with multi-plate clutch that shifts power to the rear axle and is now capable of sending 100 percent of its torque to the rear wheels. Through hard cornering, the S3 will shunt the power rearward and actually give it rear-end rotation, something that was desperately lacking in the pre-refresh S3 and something we longed for. More importantly, Audi gave the computing duty for the all-wheel drive system to the same ECU that controls the traction control. This makes its power shifting even faster and more intelligent, always finding the proper grip. The Audi S3 can now properly handle and feels like a genuine sport sedan, the kind that made Audi famous.
Audi also revised the steering, making it faster lock-to-lock and providing better feel and feedback. While it still isn’t the most communicative rack we’ve ever used, it’s far improved and genuinely nice to use. You can place the front-wheels exactly where you want and always know where they’re pointing. It’s a proper car, this S3.
But that’s not to say the VW Golf R isn’t a proper sports car, because it is. It really is a fantastic handling car and has been the benchmark for the segment since its release. Its steering is sharp, if a bit numb, and its all-wheel drive grip is tenacious. It also has this wonderful chassis balance that makes it hilarious good fun to drive.
Throw in its hatchback practicality, luxurious interior that genuinely rivals the more expensive S3 and quirky good looks and you have an all-rounder that’s almost impossible to beat. The Volkswagen Golf R is probably the best all-around hot hatch in the world.
Both cars use the same 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder TFSI engine. In the US, both cars make 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque (in Europe the S3 makes 306 hp) and both are seriously quick. Though, the S3 is claimed to be just two ticks faster, doing 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds compared to the Golf R’s 4.9. Credit the extra speed to two things: Audi’s brilliant seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox (compared to Volkswagen’s six-speed DSG) and the more clever all-wheel drive system.
Before Audi updated the S3, the choice between these two was easy — the Volkswagen Golf R. Not only was it significantly cheaper ($36,470 starting price compared to the S3’s $42,900) but it was also more fun to drive and more practical. Now, though, the Audi S3 is far better looking than before, has a far more impressive interior (featuring the brilliant Virtual Cockpit) and handles better than the Golf R. Though it’s still much more expensive, we think its more premium looks, cabin and performance are worth the extra money. Which would you rather have?