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Desktop Drives: Audi S3 vs BMW M240xi


Anyone who watches Top Gear/The Grand Tour will know what the trio think of Americans. We are fat, stupid, and stubborn. It isn’t a good combination, and sadly this view is indicative of the rest of Europe’s general view of the US as well. While I would like to think American’s are neither stubborn nor stupid—despite everything some American’s have done to convince the world otherwise in recent months—it is hard to deny America’s weight issue. Jeremy Clarkson and others would have you believe that cars are growing dimensionally to enable the “would you like cheese with that?” culture that America encourages. This growth to dimensions leads to reduced performance, and for some at least, the end of motoring perfection. Because of this, it seems easy to add a fourth to the list of American detriments: fat, stupid, stubborn, and slayer of the sports car.

Looking at American cars and their traditional performance goals—or lack thereof—it is easy to see how quickly the blame could be shifted on to our nation. However, for an example of how this increase in dimensions is truly a global phenomenon, one only must look across the pond, to the genesis of the automobile and supposed haven of the sports car: Germany, and its perennial “ultimate driving machine” producer, BMW. The original ‘small’ car that most people will remember or associate with BMW is the 3-series. The original, E21 generation of 3-series weighed a svelte 2434lbs, which is lighter than almost any car produced today. Over the years, generation by generation, the 3-serires grew larger and more bloated, until today when the current F30 generation weighs 3412lbs, almost half a ton heavier than the old one.

This global growth in automobile dimensions is down to many things, and is not attributable to a single country or demographic influencing global auto growth. Namely, the increased desire for technological features and safety features have increased weight and exterior size of cars more than anything. To compensate for this, automakers are making smaller and smaller models, slotting them below what has historically been the ‘small’ choice in an automakers range. Today’s Desktop Drives focuses on two such small sports sedans fighting the fight against bloated dimensions, the BMW 2-series, and the Audi A3, which, with those companies naming practices, are easy to place within the model range. Particularly, the middle-top tier ‘sporty’ versions will be profiled, namely the Audi S3 variant of the A3 and the BMW M240i xDrive model of the 2-series.

2017 Audi S3

MSRP w/ destination: From $42,900

Price as Built: $52,235

Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged

Horsepower: 306 hp @ 5,400 – 6,200 rpm

Torque: 296 lb-ft @ 1,900 – 5,300 rpm

MPG: 21 city / 28 highway

Curb weight: 3,462 lbs

Dimensions: 176″ L x 71″ W x 55″ H

2017 BMW M240i xDrive

MSRP w/destination: From $47,445

Price as Built: $53,670

Engine: 3.0L straight-six turbocharged

Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5500

Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1520–4500

MPG: 21 city/ 31 highway

Curb weight: 3662 lbs

Dimensions: 176” L X 70” W X 55.5” H


BMW M240i xDrive: Putting the Driving back in ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’

The new ‘2’-series is really the size of the old 3-series.

The BMW M240i xDrive looks to be more American than perhaps its Bavarian designers might like. While it’s sheet metal betrays nothing but its German origins, certain design choices reflect practices that any American hot rodder would be familiar with. The main technique employed here is the tried and true adage of ‘more is more’. BMW took a look at their corporate stash of engines still in use and production, looked at their body styles they produced, and did the best thing they could: They put the biggest engine that would fit in the smallest car that they make. The result is the 2-series—the two-door that newly sits below the previously smallest 3-series—with a 3.0L straight-6 engine with a variable vane turbocharger slung off the side.

The 3.0L turbo inline-6. The curse of the modern engine: Plastic.

The fruits of this engines labor is a blistering 335hp and 369lb-ft of torque—the same as big brother M2. To help put power to the ground, and keep the cars within sight of each other, I chose to equip the BMW with xDrive, which not only chooses which wheels to send the power to for the driver, it also makes the choice of gears for the driver, as xDrive necessitates the 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox BMW employs. This is by no means a detriment, as the car is capable of accelerating from 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds, perhaps even tickling 4.1-4.0 seconds if BMW is as conservative in their speed estimates as normal. The xDrive should enable fast, clean getaways, and while not as exciting as the burn-out capable rear-drive model, is certainly quick.

To help deliver power to the ground, the M240i xDrive has a few touches from the M-department at BMW, most notably a suspension tune and wheels and tires. The upgraded suspension—which includes neat-sounding “Twin-Tube gas pressure shock absorbers”—when paired with the 18” wheels shod in semi-performance rubber (unspecified by BMW) will enable the chassis to really handle the large gobs of power the engine throws its way. The single-most expensive option, even more expensive than xDrive, is the M-sport rear Limited-Slip Differential, which truly puts the M in the title of the car. While a capable performer without it, having an LSD paired with xDrive will make for a seriously stable platform, and potentially allow a bit more fun, despite xDrive attempting to reign things in.

While to some, having the M on a non-‘true’-M car is tantamount to blasphemy; however, those people are quite simply wrong. The M240i xDrive deserves the M, because a mildly optioned example will almost certainly drain the bank of over $50,000; a lot of money. For that heap of cash you get all of the performance tuning, power, and fun described above, but not much else. The only options are a leather interior at $1,450—a luxury standard on most cars at this price—red paint at $700, and then various niceties such as an audio system and heated seats totaling less than $2,000.

A fairly pedestrian interior. I do like white though.
The center console is stacked tall with inputs.

This adds up to a price of $53,670, which even subtracting the differential, still totals comfortably over $50,000. Considering options and gadgets such as navigation, back up cameras, and various auto-park features are not included at this price—which as shown below, competitors do—BMW must market it differently. As such, they have fallen back on the “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos of the brand, offering a true performer at competitive price to other German brands. This gives buyers the choice of getting a fast, luxurious car, or just a plain-silly fast car. The BMW M240i xDrive certainly falls into the just plain silly category. Oh, and the M2? Even sillier.

Without the ‘M’ badge, the rear is very understated. This is a good thing.

Audi S3: Small-Performance Car=Small-Luxury? Nope.

The Audi-range, presented here in it’s smallest size.

Yes, the Audi S3 shares a platform with the Volkswagen Golf, as the internet loves to point out. Let’s just get this out of the way first and foremost. It even shares an engine with a Golf, with the 2.0L-on-steroids also being available in the Golf R. This is usually said with the tone of it being a detriment, however this is again a case of the internet being wrong. Everyone—and I do mean everyone—talks of the Golf family, and particularly the hot GTI and its sibling the R as being sweet handling, nimble cars, and in the case of the fast ones, well, fast.

So why does the Internet not appreciate Audi borrowing such a platform for its smallest car in America? The largest reason is that the ‘base’—hard to say since it comes with navigation and tickles $40,000—Golf R costs more than $12,000 less than the Audi S3 built today. For $40,195 with destination charges, you can get into a Golf R, and as a further perceived nail in the coffin of the S3; you can get the R with a stick-shift option. While fun, and fast, and maybe even more engaging then the S3, that does not really matter, because that is the focus of the car Audi has built. Not even close.

Audi has managed to take a car that is very fast for its type, the Golf R, and turn it into a still-fast, extra comfortable small car. While this does not sound like a huge difference, let me explain further. The Golf R is a very fast car, and its low-ish price makes it an accessible option for moderately successful young people. For those people, and the internet, this is great! But what if you want the speed, and AWD-ness of the Golf R, but want to ‘elevate’ your car selection a bit, also prioritizing comfort, luxury, and looks? For those people, Audi has taken the Golf R, given it a trunk, and slammed as much of their A8 goodies into the remaining space.

The result is a car that is just as capable as it’s Golf R cousin—read: very good—with a true luxury feeling, and a more premium visual appearance. Even something as simple as looking at the interior of the 2017 S3 shows that it is a special car. New for 2017, Audi is bringing it’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ to the S3, which brings a massive, fully customizable screen as the dial-face. Not only does this mean a fully customizable interface is achievable, it allows for a smooth, uncluttered dash, further de-cluttered by featuring a deployable second-screen.

This only scratches the surface of what the Virtual Cockpit is. This alone is almost worth $12,000 more than a Golf R.

When the eye leaves the dash, the rest of the car delivers as well. The seats, either stock or the optional Sport seats shown below, look comfortable, and premium, with leather being the only option. Not only designed to hold you in place during sporty driving—that S is there for a reason after all—the seats look to be made with luxury feelings, and luxury looks in mind.

Such good looking seats.
The cockpit, wide angle edition.

While not the most colorful of interiors, the S3 is simplistic, useful, and luxurious—not through the normal route to luxury, space, but rather through materials and convenience. While the BMW is all about the performance, with luxury on the side, the S3 is the opposite formula. Not only does it feature the leather and nifty toys mentioned above, it comes equipped with a full suite of auto-drive and safety features. Not only does this make the equipment list seem longer, all those gadgets and toys add up to a more comfortable, useful, car than the BMW.

Plastic covers are the bane of good looking engines!

While the BMW is certainly the more sporty car if not the most luxurious, the Audi S3 is not a slouch on the road by any measurement. For 2017 the 2.0L turbocharged engine from the Golf R benefits from a slight power boost, going from 296hp to 306hp, with torque going up slightly as well. While not the rocket ship that the 3.0L straight-six is, the 2.0L turbo is paired to Audi’s great dual-clutch gear box, making the 0-60 times comparable between the two cars. After the initial sprint, however, the BMW begins to stretch its legs, and would put more and more distance between the two cars.

That performance gap is the conclusion to this week’s Desktop Drives. The BMW is undoubtedly a fast, special car. For the enthusiast, there really isn’t a comparison here: the straight-six in the BMW makes it the car to have, as does its non-Golf based architecture. The Audi is fast, but it really is for going quickly, occasionally, and leaving most people behind between stop lights. Any enthusiast, like myself, would gravitate to the BMW M240i xDrive.

That is why the Audi is the winner. The enthusiast, like myself, aren’t really the main car-shopper. Most people who buy cars want leather, fun toys, more safety, and general comfort. While the BMW is certainly not an ox-cart, it simply can’t compete with the leather, fun toys, safety, or general comfort of the Audi S3. The average buyer will buy the Audi, and this average buyer—frankly, any buyer—will be satisfied, and very happy with this choice. They will get a shrunk-lux-barge, featuring a proven, powerful powerplant and a high-tech gearbox. Even though the BMW may charge past on its way to triple digits, for almost all performance measures, the S3 is just as much motor, with a whole lot more car.

Four exhaust pipes are a bit much. Audi is equipping the confirmed-for-2018 with two big poo-shoots.

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Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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