Audi BMW Drive Thru Reviews

Drive Thru: BMW 135i Coupé v Audi S3 Coupé

BMW 135i CoupeMY09 Audi S3
If you’re looking for a new car at the premium end of the small-ish coupé segment, two of the stand out choices are the Audi S3 and the BMW 135i. The current generation S3 has been in Australia since 2007, while the 135i was launched here about 12 months ago. The MY09 S3 range brings with it a minor facelift which consists of mostly cosmetic changes, although the engineers have had tinker as well. There is also the addition of a new five door Sportback option for those wanting improved practicality.

In the time since the 135i was launched it has swept all before it, earning a raft of praise from the world’s motoring media. The S3, on the other hand, seems almost invisible by comparison. At least, it certainly hasn’t generated the hype the 135i has enjoyed.

So, which is best—the fancy pants Golf wearing Audi clothes, or the little Beemer that could? AUSmotive took both cars out on its preferred test route in a back to back comparo to find out.

BMW 135i Coupe

Let me start by saying that both cars are fantastic and owners of either car are likely to very satisfied customers. That said, the results of this comparison were both surprising and unexpected to this reviewer.

We’ll start with the rudimentary stuff, the money. For small cars these two are not cheap. Adorned with Audi and BMW badges I guess this comes as no surprise. The S3 Coupé opens the bidding at $66,403 (Sportback $68,310), while the 135i starts at $72,230. However, those familiar with German marques will know a few ticks in the options column will take both cars well beyond entry level pricing. Indeed, ending up with driveaway retail figures in the mid-high $80,000 range requires fewer ticks than you might think. That said, with some keen negotiation there can be some good savings made when you’re ready to hand over your hard earned. Be prepared to bargain as hard as these feisty cars are willing to be driven.

Taking a look inside, the interiors of both cars are pleasant places to be and well put together, as to be expected. They are not without fault though. The S3 is based on the same platform as the Golf V. When the Golf V was launched there were many who found the use of materials a step backwards from the Golf IV. Having owned both a Golf IV and Golf V I find such comments picky in the extreme. The point being, it comes as a surprise then that the Audi’s upper dash is a rather hard plastic feeling affair, and from what I can see, is a step down from the materials used its cheaper Golf GTI cousin. Elsewhere inside, however, the S3 doesn’t disappoint and the switch gear and feeling of quality is exemplary. The climate control layout may not be the most ergonomic result, but, crucially, the driving controls are all well placed and it is easy to settle into a comfortable seating position, ready to explore the car’s potential.

MY09 Audi S3
(Apologies for the LHD images.)

The 135i interior is a clinical, some might say, characterless affair. Although, if you’re like me, you will find its uncomplicated nature and generally well executed design a joy to use. The test car was fitted with the professional navigation system which uses a revised iDrive system and a pleasantly large screen. The nav used in earlier 135i models employed a foldaway screen, this new system, though, simply protrudes from the top of the dash permanently. For a cabin so well put together in most other aspects this is a bit of a let down. So too the seating position. At 5’7” I shouldn’t be posing too many problems in this regard, but I was not able to find the ideal position for pedals and steering wheel. This was not so bad that it was a major issue and certainly would not prevent me from buying the car, more an observation that the ability to find a comfortable position was a clear tick in favour of the S3.

BMW 1 Series Coupe

(Note: this is a 125i interior shot, but is the best I could find to illustrate the new nav layout.)

The steering wheel of the 135i is nicer to hold than the S3’s flat bottomed wheel which, while stunning to look at it, is simply too thin. That the Golf GTI steering wheel is nicer to hold and use than anything in the Audi range—yes, including the R8 et al—is a bit of a surprise.

I don’t think you could say the S3 Coupé is a pretty car to look at. It’s not an ugly duckling by any means, and in side profile view, at least, it does look quite sharp. Of course, looks are always a subjective thing. Overall, though, I prefer the look of the 135i Coupé. Its sweeping creases and curves blend together to form a result that suit its raison d’être almost perfectly. The 135i is tough, aggressive, svelte and pretty all at the same time. A somewhat odd combination of adjectives, I agree, but the 135i just works. It’s a great looking car, from any angle.

BMW 135i Coupe

MY09 Audi S3

Enough about the pretty pictures, what are these two like to drive? Plant your right foot in the 135i, pretty much anywhere in the rev range, and you’ll be greeted by the sweet and famous sound of a BMW 3-litre straight six. With a pair of turbos aiding progress you’ll also quickly get to where you’re going and find no reason at all to dispute the 225kW power claims. It takes even less time to appreciate just how accessible all that power is, courtesy of a very healthy 400Nm of torque at your beck and call from a measly 1300rpm. Put simply, this is a stunning engine. It possesses a delightfully smooth and linear power delivery that makes it easy to potter about at city speeds and a genuine joy to take towards its 7000rpm redline.

The S3, too, has a great engine. But the window of greatness in the S3 offers a much narrower experience. It is the more eager of the two to be left hovering around redline and it is here the 188kW four pot is most willing. When higher in the rev range the S3 offers instant power and once spooled up the Audi gives a push in the back of the seat that is closer to the BMW than the stats would suggest.

So, the S3 is down on power and with a maximum torque figure of 330Nm, from a higher 2500rpm, the S3 also leaves a big gap between it and the 135i. If those numbers don’t mean a hell of a lot to you, what they are saying is the S3 possesses noticeable turbo lag compared to the BMW. In fact, such is the nature of power delivery in the 135i, if you didn’t know any better, you would swear it was a normally aspirated engine.

That said, the S3’s 2-litre TFSI is still very useable around town and when I refer to my notes from an earlier test of a pre-facelift S3 it appears as though some tweaking has been done to lessen that feeling of lag. Nothing is immediately available to confirm this in the press material available from Audi. However, the official fuel consumption figure has dropped from 9.2l/100km pre-facelift to an impressive 8.5l/100km in the MY09 release. Also, the facelifted S3 does have a revised Gen IV Haldex system behind the quattro badge, so despite little in the way of detailed information, Audi’s engineers have fiddled around a bit underneath the skin.

After experiencing the addictive joys of straight line performance in the 135i I was keen to see how it would handle tighter mountain roads. So far in this comparison, the 135i is ahead of the S3 in a points decision. Can the twisty roads deliver a knockout blow in favour of Munich’s master blaster?

After AUSmotive’s first taste of the 135i expectations were high. The ability to punch out of tighter corners is a strong point of the BMW, but, to my unexpected surprise the list of positive aspects on the chosen test route were not as numerous as the negatives.

Until now the suspension and ride quality of the 135i was fine. Even the much criticised run flat tyres were not posing too many concerns. But, as I pushed harder into tighter corners the more the Beemer lost its previously charming composure. String a series of tight flowing esses together and the 135i became floaty and less willing to change direction. Throw the 135i at a longer radius corner with a less than ideal road surface and the steering bordered on vague and the expected confidence from this much heralded quasi-M car just wasn’t there. This is not to say the 135i was poor, but I would be lying if I said it met my lofty expectations. To be fair, the more time I spent in the car the more comfortable I became.

MY09 Audi S3

In contrast, though, over the same route the S3 was lithe, exciting and left me full of confidence. According to the spec sheets the S3 is 30kg lighter than the 135i (1455kg to 1485kg), but the way it was able to change direction in comparison you would think it weighed much less. In isolation the BMW didn’t feel too heavy, in direct contrast, though, it felt cumbersome and less inspiring.

Push either car too hard into a corner and both will understeer. Although this aspect is not a major detractor for either. The driver aids, such as stability control (Audi calls it ESP, BMW calls it DSC), were pleasantly out of sight on the drive. Their respective lights certainly got a workout on the dash, but neither were intrusive to the driving experience.

Both cars have very capable brakes, with the BMW’s six-pot calipers up front providing the advantage here. The S3 has a shorter gear shift compared to its lesser models in the A3 range and changes are slick and precise. So too the 135i which has an even shorter throw six speed box. While changes in the Beemer are notchier, they are no less precise or easy to engage.

BMW 135i Coupe

MY09 Audi S3

Through the twisty stuff the seats in the 135i do a good job of holding the driver in position and are very comfortable in all other situations. The S3 tested had the $4500 optional Audi exclusive bucket seats, so its no surprise they did a better job of keeping the driver held tightly. While superb when pushing on a mountain pass, the racing style seats are surprisingly comfortable during daily commuting too. Although, with a higher back and clumsy controls they make access to the rear seat more awkward than should be the case. Side airbag protection is also lost with the bucket seats, so you’d have to really want them to pay the asking price.

In conclusion then, the 135i held some clear advantages over the S3. The BMW has a superior engine that never feels anything but refined and smooth. And the engine note is sublime. The straight six offers greater power, too, and useable power at that. As noted earlier, I also think the 135i Coupé is the better looking car. It can’t be denied that the 135i is a great car to drive. It is immensely capable and one can see why it has been labelled a future classic by so many. These comments are not revelations and nor do they come as a surprise.

BMW 135i Coupe

For me, though, the S3 was just more fun to drive. When a series of flowing corners presented themselves, the S3 ate them up and spat them out leaving me with a massive grin on my face. As good as the 135i was, it just couldn’t match that feeling.

If ever there was an example of a car being greater than the sum of its parts then the S3 is it. On paper there is barely an area where the Audi hits a clear winner against the 135i. Once behind the wheel and pushing towards their limits it was the S3 that stood up and demanded my attention.

Earlier in this review I declared the 135i ahead on points. In the end, the S3 has managed to turn the tables. It may not have done so by delivering a knock out blow, but by technical knock out, the S3 is the car I would take home if offered the choice.

That this is the conclusion I have come to is not a huge surprise, although I did expect the 135i to come up trumps. However, it is the ease with which I have been able to come to this conclusion that has left me genuinely surprised.

MY09 Audi S3

Thank you to Rolfe Classic BMW and Audi Centre Canberra for their assistance.

73 replies on “Drive Thru: BMW 135i Coupé v Audi S3 Coupé”

Good article Lima, and no surprises there. I have driven the old S3 hard and I know how it compares to a 135i.

My recommendation to anyone who have bought 135i’s and they like driving fast on the mountain roads (especially ones that aren’t smooth) or the track is to change 2 things. Suspension and the RFT. Unfortunately the use of RFT by BMW means that the suspension was tuned accordingly as well without resorting to the harsh ride of earlier RFT equipped BMWs. This also meant a floaty car and one that rolls more than it’s competitors. I noticed this the first time I took a 135i home from the dealership and gave it a canning on my favourite mountain road. One of the first thing I ordered was a KW Clubsports coilover for my car.

The S3 on the other hand, feels much more complete stock when pushed. Stock for stock, I believe both these cars achieve similar numbers on the track (not a power track obviously but something like Winton for instance), and considering how much more power the BMW has, it shows you how good the S3 is. One really needs to change the suspension, tyres and put a LSD in the 135i before it can be considered a decent performance car.

Good review. It pretty much accords with my experience. The 135’s handling ‘out of the box’ is disappointing, which is unusual for BMW. Maybe it is the positioning of the car.

Unlike WAY — and unless a car is a cheap platform (like a Polo GTI 😉 ) — a performance car needs to handle pretty well stock. I’m ok on improving suspension for handling as long as the changes are basically incremental, but a major rebuild is out of the question for me.

On the other hand, one criticism of the S3 in some reviews is that it is “unengaging” and clinical. I’m not sure what that means, but I guess it is saying “if you want to hang the tail out with ease, don’t go here”.

Excellent review Liam. I too agree with your criticisms of the 135i handling. It’s perfectly capable up to a point, then with a choppy surface mid corner, things can get very floaty. Combine that with huge stonk and eye-watering brakes, and you can very quickly find yourself in a brown-moment! It’s a car you have to drive with great respect on public roads. So why isn’t it better? Why didn’t BMW eject the RFTs and soft suspension in stock 135i? I cynically feel that such a car COULD eventuate in the range but it won’t be the 135i. That would put too much pressure on the M3. For me, the compromise is worth it, because the 135i is a thrilling blast on backroads while being exceptionally relaxed chugging along at 60km/hr in SIXTH gear! And to cap it off, the S3 is … well … a bit too conservative for my tastes. I never even test drove one.

I will have my car at Winton on Tuesday and Sandown on Sat so hopefully it will be dry and I can see how fast the 135i is with semi slicks and LSD. I haven’t ran on LSD and semi slicks in the dry yet! But Timbo can tell you how fast it is in the wet compared to the S3!

Are there any differences between the Australian and European models? We know that US and EU models, are very different in some aspects, and I was wondering is that the case with Aussie models.

Nice comparo – Your conclusions are similar to those in the September 08 issue of Top Gear (Australia) where these two came out ahead of the EVO and STI.

Both very nice but I too prefered the S3, partly because it is so understated, but also because it felt more agile than the 135i. …and I love that R8 steering wheel!

@Njave, that’s a good question, and one I can’t answer. Hopefully one of the 135i owners can.

I know our Mk5 Golf GTIs have European spec suspension, but whether this has any relevance with what BMW decides is obviously difficult to tell.

It would be my guess that the reason why the S3 feels better through the corners is because corner speed was most likely to be less than the 135…

That’s a reasonable enough suggestion, but while I cannot quantify as much, I’m not so sure that this would actually be the case. And, if it was the case, I doubt the differential would be great enough to excuse the feedback experienced from the 135i.

@Todd!, Autobild (German car magazine) compared the 135i and S3 around the new Nuerburgring track and found the lap time of the S3 to be slightly faster despite the power deficit – admittedly it was Euro spec with slightly more power and torque than the one sold here.

Hey Liam,

Great artical. Good to see you doing some road tests. Have never driven either model but its a shame to hear so many people saying similar things about the Beemer. I had so much hope for this car as its the first time in a long time that a company has made a small practical RWD car with a big engine.
I still think I would be prepared to put up with its short comings.

Thanks for the info, it’s obvious that not all cars are exported with the same specs so I was just wondering was it that way in this case also. I always admired your country, endless open roads, big V8 cars … sorry for the digression here 🙂

To get back on the subject here, it’s BMW who has made a great job with the 135i in my opinion, but they just didn’t add all the necessery ingredients to make this a true racing machine. As you’ve said earlier, the suspension needs some after market tuning there, and we can all agree that after that, it would be a great car, both on and off the track if we can say so.

Njave and everyone, I can confirm that our 135i is the same spec as the Euro 135i. Fact remains, suspension is shit. Also lack of LSD is just stupid. But with a set of KW clubsports and Drexler LSD, plus a shorter final ratio and 250kw at the wheel with a few bits and pieces of mods, the car will do 1:37.23 at Winton in the hands of an amatuer! (yup, did that today).

I test drove both the s3 and 135i, Having owned 3 impreza turbo’s (Tuned) I opted for a different power delivery. The s3 turbo runs out of puff at the top end, great for short acceleration, the Beemer kept on going through to the red line. I have just had a re-map pushing power to 361 bhp and with the M sport suspension, now is absurdley quick, teh tuning potential is with the BMW, they can take over 400 BHP with no inner strengthening where as the Audi’s 2 liter plant would require strengthening to gain decent power increases.
Great Article though.

Im quite dissapointed by this review, which seems to really highlight the journalists lack of knowledge or driving acumen.
Firstly lest talk about powerplants, the journalist managed to pick up on the fact that the 8Ps TFSI plant is laggy as all hell in this higher boost application, but he did not comment on the level harshness of the engine note and uninspiring demenour. Its just utter rubbish and a notable step back from the Golf GTI.
The fact that journalist found more enterntainment in the Audi, begs me to ask how empty his bag of talent is?
The Haldex driven Audi S3 maybe more intuitive in its 4th generation, but its still very nose biased, and fundamentally a reactive system ( as opposed to a proactive differential driven one like those found in an evo for example) and has a serious tendancy to understeer ( as its a primarily a fwd) .
As an enthusiast I found the S3 particularly uninspiring when I felt the front wheels spinning initially through a tight corner before noticing THE CLUTCH ( not the diff, as haldexs do not utilise such things) trying to shuffle power back and forth in an archaeic way.
Sure it makes you feel idiot proof and secure, but it encourage moronic driving styles ( if anything it makes you a worse driver) and it really only works without severe understeer if you take the slow in fast out route.
The steering is way to overassisted and devoid of feeling and the clutch is either on or off… more corolla than performance car… but thats really an Audi trait.

This car is also true to Audi form in the sense that its engine sits way upfront beyond the front axel and accentuates the already ever-present levels of understeer.

The 135i on the otherhand has a syrupy smooth powertrain, with linear delivery that is more akin with a smallish V8 than a turbo motor.
Sure the cars runflats jiggle over B-roads but the S3 is even more unrulely and is really alot more uncomposed through high speed flowing corners.

The 135i will take notably more entry corner speed than the Audi S3, which approaches corners in fwd mode and hences exhibits more snap lift-off oversteer on entry ( which can be fun in a well sorted car like a clio sport, but not in a faux wheel drive like this) , which converts into understeer and haldex wobble in the mid-corner and exit… hardly the traits of a drivers car.

The 135i has highly tenacious grip and will slip into a low angle powerslide if aggresively provoked… either way it behaves like a real drivers car.

As for the tuning potential, just bang in a vishnu V3 procede chip, an AFE intake and a supersprint downpipe, and youll be looking at well over 400bhp, and a real mini M3.

There is a reason why Clarkson rated this car as the best bmw currently made… and gave it 5 stars for that matter.

Brett, we’re all free to hold our own opinons, the fact remains that during my test drive of the cars over the same roads the BMW felt unsecure where the S3 felt planted. The S3 just sits flatter through corners, simple as that.

The 135i has a superb engine, clearly better than the S3, but that doesn’t make it a better overall package.

As I said in the review, though, “both cars are fantastic and owners of either car are likely to very satisfied customers.”

I’ve no problems with people preferring the 135i over the S3, it’s easy see reasons why this would be the case. For me, the advantages the 135i has over the S3 weren’t as compelling as the advantages the S3 has. We’re all individuals, so we judge things differently.

Thanks for your feedback, too.

Brett, I am a 135i owner and have driven the S3 extensively. Out of the box on B-roads (where this test was conducted), I have to agree with the journalist that the S3 is both superior and faster. But with a few mods (but not the power ones like you mentioned), this car is briliant! Btw, why pay for Supersprint DP when something like Riss Racing is so much cheaper?


I am also a 135i owner, aswell as an e92 m3 owner…
I have driven for Car and Driver, Road and track amongst other magazines, I have driven both these cars back to back in extensively challenging conditions, and when driven properly, the 135i will outperform the S3 on pretty much any DRY road.
I have personally lapped a stock 135i at Wakefield Park in a 1:09.2 ( quicker than other testers, and quicker than that acheived for the C63 and M3 sedan), an Audi TTS I dont think manages to crack a 1:10 , and we all know that it is a quicker car than an S3. Ive also run the 135i around Oran Parks GP circuit in a 1:21 stock… I also bore witness to the car doing a sub 8:10 at the Nurburgring… which is somewhat unpublished.

Its funny that you think the S3 sits flat through corners? when it has been harshly criticised for relying too heavily on its tyres as it has notably more body roll than its brother from anothe mother (the R32… not that I like anything about the R32 bar its wonderful engine note)… I do however agree that the BMW 135i does have notable amounts of body roll aswell particularly compared to the M3..

You do realise that as soon as you put a pair of CSC3s or PS2s on the 135i, the cars compliance and composure transforms.

Perhaps what you should have done is a time trial… as seat of the pants feeling is never accurate… for the one, the S3 does not insulate the sensation of speed aswell as the bmw, and you actually feel as though you are going faster than you are…

You cannot tell me that if your driving the car properly a Faux wheel drive ( my venacular for haldex driven cars) will carry as much corner speed as a rwd… its not possible, sure it can punch out of slow corners harder if you enter at the same speed… but entry speed shouldnt be the same in these two cars.
One other thing whilst on the topic of Faux wheel drives… can you honestly tell me you enjoy the feeling of this kind of drivetrain?… its good for Honda CRVs and silly entry level cross overs… but not a hyper hatch.

Why pay for the supersprint you ask? because they desgined the Hartge M3 quad muffler that I chose to put on my car… and I wanted the complete set , but you are right, nothing wrong with Riss Racing. As for the Chips, the Vishnu V3 or Juice box 3 or even the Dinan Stage 2 chip will far outperform anything from ActiveAutowerks or other german companys… for the 135i, the americans are making better products for the most part. These chips alone make the car good for atleast 340-350 rear wheel horsepower.
Vishnus 135i ran an 11.8 @118mph on drag radials… with just a V3,intake,and downpipes… You should also check out Gustavs ( from newer runs between a V3 335i and E55s, Gallardos, m5s etc… it more than holds its own)


Brett, good to see that you are a good steerer and not just talking shit as you often get on the net (although we don’t really know as we don’t know who you are!). I am no stranger to fast cars and different configurations of driving wheels and engine placements. Having currently or previously owned a C63, V8 Vantage, 997, 996, Boxster S, GTI, Cooper S, TT Quattro, highly modded A4 Turbo Quattro etc etc, I am familiar with them all. I agree with you that AWD promotes undeciplined driving. I agree that Haldex is no replacement for torsen quattro system (although the facelifted S3 Haldex has been tuned to be much more aggresive). I also agree that the 135i is probably the faster car than the S3 on the track stock. But do us all a favour, take both of them out to your local b-roads, I am talking windy mountain roads with bumps everywhere. You will see that the 135i skips around everywhere, rolls more than the S3, and doesn’t change direction as well. Perhaps you are right that the 135i may still have been faster (but I doubt it), but the S3 will feel like the better car to drive. That was the point of the journalist in the first place. Of course this will change when you start changing tyres (and forget padestrian tyres like PS2 and especially CSC3, get something stickier like Dunlop Star Spec if you want serious tyres for your 135i that isn’t semis!). Also, comparing the CRV’s AWD system to S3 is just pointless. Sure they are both similar in concept, but the execution is completely different. With views like yours, Audi would never have won Le mans with an agriculture tractor engine. Oh, and Audi is going to make you eat your words when the TT-RS is released as that is also Haldex based.

My 135i was bought as a track car, so I have spent a lot of time with it on the track (about 4000km track time on this car) and have spent a lot of money on mods to make it track worthy. Track focussed coilovers, clutch based LSD, DP, tune, forged wheels, semi-slicks, AP Racing brakes etc…you name it, and I have done it. But I chose Active Autowerks chip over V3, JB3 or Dinan’s flash. Why? Because it runs much lower boost and on an engine that already runs 145 degrees celcius oil temp and 115 degrees water temp, it’s suisidal to run higher boost. Guys who race or track their cars regularly like me have experienced issues with limp mode on those high boost tune (which is why Dinan has that MASSIVE oil cooler). Even with my 3 psi lower boosting chip, I have occasional issues so I now am putting in custom (larger core) radiator and larger oil cooler. I am not after a sub 12 sprint time (why buy a 135i if you want straight line performance?), I need it to last me a whole track day or race event without going into limp mode. If you want to run 15 psi plus on a track car, that’s your perogative. I am not game to risk it.

I was going to buy a 135, but the previous owner modified it so much that it is now worthless…

We all know “that AWD promotes undeciplined driving”, but who’d have guessed the spelling would be that undisciplined too?

Way maybe Brett could do a sponsorship deal through his many contacts at all those car magazines.

A very wise man I know once had this to say about comparing cars to the road and track “Put two differently put together cars with the price, ride & drive trains on the road and the better track car will not also make the better road car.”

Why would I ask for my money back haha, I have a 400+bhp R8 killer for $85k… if I had bought an S3 id definitely do that, as its 30 grand more than a golf GTI, and less enjoyable to drive… dont flaunt your ignorance buddy.

Way, I am due to drive the TT-RS in a couple of months and will happily let you know my thoughts… I still would not buy a $150k car with a front biased Haldex system… not when you can buy a GTR for similar dosh.
You are right about the N54 running hot, that they do, my previous 335i had fuel pump failure within the first 3 months… luckily bmw have rectified that recurring issue with post mid 07 built cars.
Sounds like you have a nicely speced 135i, I spoke with John Boston about 3 weeks ago and he said there was an Alpine White 135i doing low 1:20s at Oran Park, was that your car mate?


Brett, I’m pretty sure that comment was a joke. Perhaps, don’t take yourself so seriously. 😉

You must drive different cars to me as well. In my experience the S3 is a hell of a lot more fun than a GTI. It has better steering, a better feeling gear change, better suspension, a better engine (overall) and inspires more confidence.

I’m sure you will tell me, again, that I’ve got it all wrong, but I’m not going to change my opinion simply because you disagree with my thoughts.

Haha Liam,
Mate im not out to get you, I will just say that I agree to disagree haha.

My point was that the GTI is 90% as good a car for alot less money. Arguably the steering in the S3 is less connected and overly assisted, the engine is much more harsh at high rpm and laggy with the larger turbo, but it is more confidence inspiring due to the obvious faux wheel drive advantage.

Brett, I believe the journalist is also an owner of a GTI and he knows how good that is.

The alpine white that laps around Oran Park in low 1:20s belongs to Jeff. His 135i has KW clubsport and a set lighter wheels with semis, but that’s all. Jeff won his class in this car at Dutton last year. I am in Melb and have not taken the 135i outside of any Victorian track thus far.

Btw, how are you dialing out your understeer on the 135i? Are you interested in a front end widebody kit that will completely eliminate your understeer? Let me know if you are. It will cost about US$2500 for CF, and US$3500 for dry carbon. This is the front fenders, bumper and side skirt. It will look like the stock car, just wider.

I say after reading the article and comments that there is something that needs to be mentioned about audience when breaking apart another drivers synopsis of a car.

Joe public are not track car drivers. All they want is a car to feel a certain way from the showroom. That may be powerful, or it could be grippy. However asking them how that is achieved will be beyond them. If it is tyres, suspension, drive train or engine – they are only evaluating the result that the car is delivering to them.

These cars are different and will have characteristics that are unique in both. However as individual drivers, people are looking for a car that suits their style, and of course expectations.

That being said – good to see some comments on the site!

I asked my wife and budget officer if I could upgrade from a GTI to a 135.

She took one look at the picture and asked me why BMW would produce such a pig ugly car.

I guess it isn’t all about track times.

To Tank Engine – me “personally” thinks the s3 looks :thumbdown: in comparison to the 135… the looks of the 135 grows better over time..

The GTI,135i and the S3 are not track cars out of the box especially the soft GTI!
I have to say that probably the Japanese tend to have more track ready cars than the Germans eg the Type Rs,EVOs,STi and the GTRs.
But even those cars need some mods to equip them for track work.
Cars like the so called “HOT” hatch GTI need a great deal of mods because they are “all rounders”.They are good for every day use and rather minimally ok for fun track work.
Cars like the JDM Civic Type R are far more focused for the track.They may not have the outright power of a 135i or Audi S3 but they get the job done very well “out of the box”

As an owner of a MK5 GTI, I have little interest in upgrading to the S3 sometime soon-ish: same engine with some upgrades and also a 4 cylinder, albeing AWD. I want something different and for me it seems the 135i will be that car. Yeah, it looks a little funny but with the performance figures I really couldn’t care too much. Nearly every review of the 135i has criticised its soft suspension setup, so the first thing would be to sort that out with coil-overs etc… maybe even springs might do the trick. Stock it needs that work. If this had been carried out on your test vehicle, I’m sure situations would be quite different: a stiff, firm ride would have kept the beemer ahead. Let’s face it, the 2.0 litre turbo is in so many cars nowadays (including the Scirocco, Tiguan, Passat and Audi models) that it’s really not all that special nowadays. I want something different, and a 3.0l V6 RWD twin-turbo is just that! Nice article BTW. Happy motoring all!

‘Cars like the so called “HOT” hatch GTI need a great deal of mods because they are “all rounders”.’ Ummm… try a coil-over kit. Hardly ‘a lot’. Everything else is right there already.

This type of comment does make my chuckle, can’t help myself – justifying why an S3 is better than a GTI: ‘You must drive different cars to me as well. In my experience the S3 is a hell of a lot more fun than a GTI. It has better steering, a better feeling gear change, better suspension, a better engine (overall) and inspires more confidence.’

The GTI in South Africa is 300k with seat heating, electronic lumbar support, dual zone climate control etc, the S3 is 400k (33% more) with everything as an option. When spending so much more, surely it’s *obvious* it’s a better car? Hell, it had better be for that massive price difference! Fact is, many of us simply couldn’t afford an S3 and thank goodness the GTI was an option at the time.

I agree with you Andrew. If the S3 wasn’t a better car than the GTI, there would be an issue.

I thought it was obvious it was a better car too, but it seems I just had to point out a few of its advantages for the benefit of other readers, that’s all.

You guys can’t be serious when you say the 135 looks better than the S3?

I thought the 135 might grow on me, and it has … like genital warts.

i dunno about Your Mother – but the s3 to “me” looks like a minature sized station wagon with a front end looking like something that came out of a cartoon series, astro-boy/giagantor/prince planet/marine boy… just don’t look like the “sporty” hatch i’d personally like to own…

Re what David said about the S3 engine not being able to handle power upgrades. The S3 engine isn’t just an up-tuned version of the GTI engine, it’s been completely reworked to handle more power. It’s able to handle a *lot* more power if you want to mod it. The APR state I upgrade puts the S3 engine at 239kw and 430nm. APR stage 3 (turbo upgrade + fuel pump + chip) will get you 325kw and 470nm.

Also, the S3 looks much better in the LE trim with the black grill, graphite wheels and privacy glass. Not to mention the sprint blue… that’s a damn nice colour!

Liam, thanks for the review. I stumbled across your article as I am trying to get the facts on which version of Haldex the 8P 2009 S3 runs as there are conflicting stories out on the web.

How a car feels on the road can certainly be subjective, while track times tend to be objective. Having owned a WRX, E36 M3, Boxster S and all-too-briefly a Sprint Blue RS4 (before it was carjacked), I found the 2009 S3 sportback I now own met a number of other criteria which the standing quarter mile, lap times and ‘purity’ of a RWD chassis don’t consider: looks (BMW has been lost in the wilderness since the E36 in my opinion), grip on Australia’s crap roads and in varying conditions, practicality for a young family (5 doors and 5 seats), interior quality fit & finish and (so as not to be totally boring) tune-ability of chassis and engine.

Bearing in mind the long list of cars I’ve thrown down a wide range of roads and tracks, I’ve found the S3 to be deceptively quick and entertaining. If the road is wet, the confidence inspired compared with a ‘pure’ RWD is much higher, especially on not-so-familiar roads. Point to point over varying terrain I doubt the S3 would give much away to the 135i, which is a fair achievement given its humble roots.

It does come down to expectations too. If you realise the S3 is basically a front-driver with traction enhancements and drive it accordingly, you can have plenty of fun. If you expected it to do lairy, opposite lock power slides, look elsewhere.

If you don’t have to compromise on practicality and don’t mind something older, don’t bother with the latest generation of BMWs, instead go for an E36 or E46 M3 (even a CSL if you can) and you’ll be in another world of performance, grip and handling altogether.

I’d like to know more info on your car jacking… sounds shocking! I hope you were alright. That kinda stuff gives me nightmares!


I agree with you that a S3 sportback is more practical than a 135i and its easier to control in the wet or on less than average roads… but thats really as far as Id go. Just chuck a new pair of tyres on the 135i and it makes a marked difference to its compliance.
In terms of tunablity, vishnu already have 450bhp+ examples with minimal mods and factory turbos. The bmw has so much more potential.
Comparing looks is utterly subjective, so no point going there.
I am a big fan of Audis build quality, but I cant say that the S3 has a better interior to that of the 135i ( my youngest brother has a white 8p S3 ).

Getting off the S3/135i subject, I find it funny that you think the e36/e46 m3s were better performing cars?

Being an ex E46 m3 , RS4 B5 (bi turbo) and B7, and E92 m3 owner ( I also own an E30 M3) I partially disagree with your comment. Sure, the older variants were more raw and malevolent, but they definitely were not superior performers. The Steering in the E46 was so overly assisted and light compared to the E92s ( in servotronic mode sport), the gearbox was too rubbery, the exhaust note was awful, and it didnt have the mid corner grip of the e92 either. Its engine was not a patch on the V8s, from both an aural and performance based perspective. The E92 also has in my opinion one of the most compliant and composed suspension set up ive come across, quick direction changes are its forte, this is where the 135i could take a feather out of its bigger brothers cap, as it has nowhere near the composure.

The RS4 B7 is probably one of the best cars ever made… Im sorry for your loss mate.

I am a S3 SB owner. I know that the 135 is a better drivers car in a track. I also know the engine is much much better. If it wasn’t for the local stupid import taxes (based on displacement) I would consider the 135 seriously over the S3. HOWEVER, according to my personal taste, the 135 coupe looks like a complete joke. A 3 series wannabe. I just plainly dislike the looks of it.

P.S. Brett, track rules do not apply in backroads. I can accept that a RWD 135 is much better in the track, but it is NEVER better in the back roads. Never.

I’ve test driven both and also an EVO X recently. Brett is spot on the money. Throwing the S3 through roundabouts and some tight corners it understeers a hell of a lot. On a wide track, on your own I’m sure the electronics would eventually correct things and pull it back in, but on the road with gutters etc the electronics are way too slow for a performance hatch like this (it’s an S3 after all). So you really need to adjust your driving style. I just hate understeer.

The S3 is a FWD car that sends power to the rear when needed, not a true AWD like an EVO X in my opinion.

On the positive side it is a well refined car with a great interior and smoothness. But for “real drivers” it just won’t excite. I prefer the power slide style of a RWD car. If you have ability the RWD like the 135i will reward you. If you don’t and are pretty average a FWD or fake AWD like the S3 will always be quicker in your hands.

Anthony summed it up perfectly when he said “If you realise the S3 is basically a front-driver with traction enhancements and drive it accordingly, you can have plenty of fun. If you expected it to do lairy, opposite lock power slides, look elsewhere.” Like a 135i.

Youtube 135i skid pan and see how much fun they can be, even on a nice slalom attack with some hand break turns, try that in an S3 and it just looks wrong and probably feel as bad as it looks.

S3 is good but the 135i is better!

You poor guys have to pay way too much for your cars, but I guess you have other compensations. My M3 2009 was $60,000US out the door. Made it easy to pass over the 135i (S3 not an option stateside.)

yeah I recall seeing a 4 door M3 in a New York showroom with a sticker price of well under $60k USD. At the time the exchange rate with the AUD was almost at partiy with the USD. It made me want to cry 🙁

Here in chewing gum free land, an M3 comes in at just over USD$250k. Awesome.

I asked my wife to choose between the two .She said the S3 looked like a Japanese hatchback and did not think it looked like it was worth the money but the interior was nice .The 135i to her looked more sporty being a coupe and liked the back and sides and could live with the cross eyed front and much preferred the ride.As an everyday car she preferred the 135i.The brilliant 135i engine was the clincher for me.

So much misinformation from “Brett” and “Jess” on the Haldex in the S3. Haldex 4 uses an electric pump to keep the system preloaded to a factory setting. Audi S and RS cars are about 80/20 when being driven in a relaxed manner in a straight line with no axle slip and nothing but constant throttle (no hard accel.).
But, anytime you are driving hard in a corner or accelerating hard, the bias changes and Haldex can send up to 100 percent of the power to the rear if there is enough slip at the front. If all 4 wheels have good grip, power can be split up to 50/50. If the front axle slips, as in heavy cornering, acceleration, etc. the car will almost always become rear biased (as anyone who has properly pushed a Haldex car will know). That is the beauty of the system.

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