2020 BMW 3 Series Sedan vs. 2019 Audi S3 Sedan

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

The 3 Series Sedan has standard Active Head Restraints, which use a specially designed headrest to protect the driver and front passenger from whiplash. During a rear-end collision, the Active Head Restraints system moves the headrests forward to prevent neck and spine injuries. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a whiplash protection system.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests front crash prevention systems. With a score of 6 points, IIHS rates the City Collision Mitigation in the 3 Series Sedan as “Superior.” The S3 Sedan scores only 3 points and is rated only “Advanced.”

The 3 Series Sedan offers an optional Surround View to allow the driver to see objects all around the vehicle on a screen. The S3 Sedan only offers a rear monitor and front and rear parking sensors that beep or flash a light. That doesn’t help with obstacles to the sides.

The 3 Series Sedan has standard BMW Assist, which uses a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver and a cellular system to remotely unlock your doors if you lock your keys in, help track down your vehicle if it’s stolen or send emergency personnel to the scene if any airbags deploy. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a GPS response system, only a navigation computer with no live response for emergencies, so if you’re involved in an accident and you’re incapacitated help may not come as quickly.

Both the 3 Series Sedan and the S3 Sedan have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, plastic fuel tanks, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, crash mitigating brakes, daytime running lights, rearview cameras, available all wheel drive, blind spot warning systems and rear cross-path warning.

For its top level performance in IIHS driver and passenger-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, roof strength and head restraint tests, its standard front crash prevention system, and its headlight’s “Good” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the 3 Series Sedan its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2019, a rating granted to only 46 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The S3 Sedan has not been fully tested, yet.

Warranty

BMW pays for scheduled maintenance on the 3 Series Sedan for 3 years and 36,000 miles. BMW will pay for oil changes, lubrication and any other required maintenance. Audi only pays for the first scheduled maintenance visit on the S3 Sedan.

There are over 13 percent more BMW dealers than there are Audi dealers, which makes it easier should you ever need service under the 3 Series Sedan’s warranty.

Reliability

The battery on the 3 Series Sedan is in the trunk, which protects it from hot underhood temperatures that can degrade battery life. By keeping the 3 Series Sedan’s battery 20 to 30 degrees cooler, its life is increased by years. The S3 Sedan’s battery is in the hot engine compartment.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that BMW vehicles are better in initial quality than Audi vehicles. J.D. Power ranks BMW 20th in initial quality. With 4 more problems per 100 vehicles, Audi is ranked 22nd.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that BMW vehicles are more reliable than Audi vehicles. J.D. Power ranks BMW 7th in reliability, above the industry average. With 2 more problems per 100 vehicles, Audi is ranked 8th.

Engine

The 330i’s standard 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. produces 15 lbs.-ft. more torque (295 vs. 280) than the S3 Sedan’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl. The M340i’s standard 3.0 turbo 6-cyl. produces 94 more horsepower (382 vs. 288) and 89 lbs.-ft. more torque (369 vs. 280) than the S3 Sedan’s 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the 3 Series Sedan gets better fuel mileage than the S3 Sedan:

MPG

3 Series Sedan

RWD

330i 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

26 city/36 hwy

M340i 3.0 turbo 6-cyl.

22 city/30 hwy

AWD

330i 2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

25 city/34 hwy

M340i 3.0 turbo 6-cyl.

22 city/30 hwy

S3 Sedan

AWD

2.0 turbo 4-cyl.

22 city/29 hwy

Regenerative brakes improve the 3 Series Sedan’s fuel efficiency by converting inertia back into energy instead of wasting it. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a regenerative braking system.

In heavy traffic or at stoplights the 3 Series Sedan’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. The engine is automatically restarted when the driver gets ready to move again. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer an automatic engine start/stop system.

The 3 Series Sedan has 1.1 gallons more fuel capacity than the S3 Sedan (15.6 vs. 14.5 gallons), for longer range between fill-ups.

Transmission

An eight-speed automatic is standard on the BMW 3 Series Sedan, for better acceleration and lower engine speed on the highway. Only a seven-speed automatic is available for the S3 Sedan.

Brakes and Stopping

For better stopping power the M340i’s brake rotors are larger than those on the S3 Sedan:

M340i

S3 Sedan

Front Rotors

13.7 inches

13.4 inches

Rear Rotors

13.6 inches

12.2 inches

Tires and Wheels

The 3 Series Sedan’s optional 255/30R20 rear tires provide better handling because they have a lower 30 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the S3 Sedan’s optional 35 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the 3 Series Sedan offers optional 20-inch wheels. The S3 Sedan’s largest wheels are only 19-inches.

Changing a flat tire near traffic can be dangerous and inconvenient. The run-flat tires standard on the 3 Series Sedan can be driven up to 50 miles without any air pressure, allowing you to drive to a service station for a repair. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer run-flat tires.

Suspension and Handling

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the 3 Series Sedan’s wheelbase is 8.6 inches longer than on the S3 Sedan (112.2 inches vs. 103.6 inches).

For better handling and stability, the track (width between the wheels) on the 3 Series Sedan is 1.2 inches wider in the front and 2.8 inches wider in the rear than on the S3 Sedan.

Chassis

The design of the BMW 3 Series Sedan amounts to more than styling. The 3 Series Sedan has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .26 Cd. That is significantly lower than the S3 Sedan (.31) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the 3 Series Sedan get better fuel mileage.

The front grille of the 3 Series Sedan uses electronically controlled shutters to close off airflow and reduce drag when less engine cooling is needed. This helps improve highway fuel economy. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer active grille shutters.

Passenger Space

The 3 Series Sedan has 2.2 inches more front headroom, .8 inches more front legroom, 1.2 inches more front shoulder room, 1.5 inches more rear headroom, .1 inches more rear legroom and 1.6 inches more rear shoulder room than the S3 Sedan.

Cargo Capacity

The 3 Series Sedan has a much larger trunk than the S3 Sedan (13 vs. 10 cubic feet).

With its sedan body style, valet key, locking rear seatbacks and remote trunk release lockout, the 3 Series offers cargo security. The S3 Sedan’s non-lockable folding seat and non-lockable remote release defeat cargo security.

To make loading and unloading groceries and cargo easier, especially for short adults, the 3 Series Sedan offers an optional power trunk, which opens and closes automatically by pressing a button, or optionally by just kicking your foot under the back bumper, completely leaving your hands free. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a power trunk.

Servicing Ease

The engine in the 3 Series Sedan is mounted longitudinally (North-South), instead of sideways, as in the S3 Sedan. This makes it easier to service and maintain, because the accessory belts are in front.

Ergonomics

The 3 Series Sedan offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

When two different drivers share the 3 Series Sedan, the memory system makes it convenient for both. Each setting activates different, customized memories for the driver’s seat position, outside mirror angle, climate settings and radio stations. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a memory system.

The 3 Series Sedan offers an optional heads-up display that projects speed and other key instrumentation readouts in front of the driver’s line of sight, allowing drivers to view information without diverting their eyes from the road. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a heads-up display.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts detailed tests on headlights for their range both straight ahead and in curves and to be certain they don’t exceed acceptable amounts of glare to oncoming drivers. The 3 Series Sedan’s available headlights were rated “Good” by the IIHS, while the S3 Sedan’s headlights are rated “Acceptable.”

To help drivers see further while navigating curves, the 3 Series Sedan offers optional adaptive headlights to illuminate around corners automatically by reading vehicle speed and steering wheel angle. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer cornering lights.

When the 3 Series Sedan is put in reverse, the passenger rearview mirror tilts from its original position. This gives the driver a better view of the curb during parallel parking maneuvers. Shifting out of reverse puts the mirror into its original position. The S3 Sedan’s mirror doesn’t automatically adjust for backing.

On extremely cold winter days, the 3 Series Sedan’s optional heated steering wheel provides comfort, allowing the driver to steer safely and comfortably before the car heater warms up. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel.

The 3 Series Sedan’s optional Parking Assistant Plus can parallel park or back into a parking spot by itself, starting, stopping and changing direction automatically. The S3 Sedan Prestige’s automatic parking system requires operating the brakes and transmission to safely park.

Model Availability

The BMW 3 Series comes in sedan, four door hatchback and station wagon bodystyles; the Audi S3 isn’t available as a four door hatchback or station wagon.

The 3 Series Sedan is available in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. The S3 Sedan doesn’t offer a two-wheel drive configuration.

Recommendations

The BMW 3 Series outsold the Audi A3/S3 by over two to one during 2018.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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