Blood Brothers: Audi S3 vs VW Golf R

Words by Matt de Prez @mattdeprez
Photography by Rowan Cullen @rowancullen

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When VW launched the Golf GTi in the late 70s it showed the world that a car can combine the practicality and running costs of a humdrum hatchback with the performance and handling of a sports car. Although not the first, the Mk1 GTi is regarded as the spiritual father of the hot-hatch. Car manufacturers have since spent the last forty years trying to perfect the recipe.

Today, the Golf GTi is a benchmark model, it has a superb blend of power, handling, economy and practicality. There is even a diesel version! The top-of-the-tree model however, is the Golf R. It’s based on the same blueprints as the GTi but has more power, more driven wheels and more exhausts.

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Similarly Audi offers up the S3. It is essentially the same car as the golf underneath, the entire drive train is identical. As such, power outputs and performance figures are equal.

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Both cars are powered by the VW Group’s 2.0 direct-injection turbocharged engine. It develops 295BHP and 280lb ft of torque. A six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch automatic delivers power to all four wheels using a haldex differential system. VW call it ‘4motion’ and Audi use the historic ‘quattro’ namesake. The system allows power to be distributed between the front and rear axles depending on grip levels which means you get maximum performance in any conditions.

The self shifting DSG (VW) and S-Tronic (Audi) are quicker and more economical; nailing the 0-60MPH dash in 4.7 seconds and averaging 40MPG. If you opt for a manual the 0-60 time jumps by two tenths to 4.9 seconds and MPG drops to 39. Both cars max out at 155MPH.

On the road, a number of driver adjustments are available. In the VW the Dynamic Chassis Conrol or DCC has three settings: Normal, Sport and Comfort which affect the stiffness of the dampers and steering. Audi uses a system called ‘Audi Drive Select’ which offers up the same adjustability. Both cars use an artificial exhaust note system to compensate for the lacklustre sound the TFSI generates.

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Inside, the Audi comes with leather seats as standard and a retracting multimedia display. High quality materials are the order of the day and the premium feel is exactly what we have come to expect from Audi interiors of late. The VW doesn’t lag far behind but needs the optional leather seats and 8″ touchscreen multimedia system to compete. The Golf interior feels more befitting of a sports car with lots of piano lack trim, bucket seats and blue accented dials.

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The Golf R is available as a 3 or 5-door hatchback and estate. The S3 is available as a 3-door hatch, 5-door ‘sportback’, saloon or convertible.

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So how does one choose between them?

Firstly, they cost about the same. The Golf is actually more expensive if you spec it up to match the S3’s standard equipment but both cars will set you back around £30,000. However, the Audi has a bigger options list. So if spec and tailoring is your thing then you can spend upwards of £40k on an S3.

On the road there are subtle differences between the two. Both are great fun to drive but the classy Audi feels more grown up and has lighter steering with less feedback. The Golf feels more aggressive and encourages you to explore the harder edges of that fantastic chassis. It’s possibly due to the fact that the Golf R is VW’s top-end model whereas the S3 sits at the feet of its 361BHP RS3 bigger brother.

Many motoring critics claim that the Golf GTi is brilliant enough and buyers should save the £3000 premium for the R – But recent tests have found the R to be as potent on track as the £40k RS3 which hierarchically is its true rival.

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