The Subaru WRX, and its more expensive and more powerful STI sibling, have long dominated the rally stage as well as the hearts of many young car enthusiasts. It’s easy to see why the WRX is so attractive, it’s fast, fun, comes with a manual and can be driven rapidly on nearly any surface with ease. However, the WRX lends itself to only the group of enthusiasts who like massive rear wings, huge fender flares and massively loud exhausts. Someone who wants a quieter, in both sound and look, go-fast rally-bred experience, in both sound and look, must look elsewhere. And the problem with that is, there isn’t much else that has the same capabilities. Except for maybe the Audi S3.
Back before the days of the Subaru “Rex” dominated rally stages, it actually was an Audi that set the rally world on fire. The original Audi Quattro, a fire-spitting all-wheel drive, turbocharged hatchback set the rally world ablaze with its instantaneous victories. It dominated a rally world filled with rear-wheel drive Lancias and front-wheel drive VWs and Fords. The Audi Quattro was a revelation and blazed a new path for Audi and its future Quattro nameplate.
Ever since the days of the original Audi Quattro, Audi has been using its famous nameplate all-wheel drive system to set itself apart from its German rivals. Performance Audis always have a distinct traction and usability advantage over cars like BMW’s M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG (though many AMGs are now available with 4-Matic all-wheel drive and BMW M may be using xDrive soon). So the only logical competitors for small performance Audis, like the S3, would be rally-bred performance cars, like the Subaru WRX and STI.
Both the WRX and S3 are heavily turbocharged four-cylinders, both are available with manual gearboxes, both are all-wheel drive and both have four doors. They’re more similar than you might first think. Though they do go about the performance all-wheel drive thing quite differently. The Rex uses Subaru’s 50/50 front to rear torque split symmetrical all-wheel drive system, while Audi uses its venerable torque-vectoring Quattro system. The Subie might have the edge, in terms of strictly off-road traction. However, Audi’s Quattro system in the S3, with its ability to shunt power to either axle and inside or outside wheels depending on the situation, gives it an edge on tarmac and through corners, regardless of surface.
While the Subaru is all function and no form, with its gigantic wing (now optional), rock hard suspension and no nonsense demeanor, the Audi is a bit more mature. The S3 is refined and upscale, with loads of leather and carbon fiber, fancy technology and some of the most comfortable seats in the segment. However, the S3 is considerably more expensive, costing almost $20,000 more. But admittedly, for it you get about $20,000 more car. So they are both two very different approaches to a similar idea. The WRX is the rally-bred car you get if you want no frills all-wheel drive performance. The S3 is the one you get if you want a similar experience bumper refined and more grown up. But no two ways about it, the S3 is most definitely an alternative to the WRX and it has even more interesting Rally lineage.