The A3 has always been a good-looking car. Chiselled, sophisticated and classy, it’s well-proportioned and brings everything Audi does so well to the hatchback and saloon class.
The S3 is most like the top S line A3 trim – it is, as the S suggests, sportier than the A3 to look at. But the S3 has its own platinum single-frame grille, diamond cut alloys, bigger wheels, lower suspension, S-styled brake callipers and ‘S’ badging.
The difference is not so big that it’s make or break, it just depends on if you like your car to look a bit more aggressive.
What are they like to drive?
Now, this is where the A3 and the S3 become distant sisters – they drive very differently. They share the same 2-litre engine, but that’s where the similarity ends.
The A3 comes with the choice of many petrol and diesel engines plus automatic and manual gearboxes and all-wheel drive. If you want the best mpg, then pick the S line 35 TDI S Tronic diesel engine that’s a born motorway machine. It’s a very comfortable drive, but the A3 isn’t a performance model like the S3 is.
The S3 is the A3’s 2-litre engine but on steroids. It’s turbocharged and is available with just one powerhouse petrol engine. It comes with four-wheel drive and a top speed of 150mph. And it’s not just the acceleration –the S3 has sports suspension and multiple drive modes. For the driving enthusiast and the inner racer, the S3 is a family car that puts a huge grin on your face.
The A3 has the advantage in that there’s the plug-in hybrid TFSI e model, however, which is ideal for anyone who wants to combine all-electric city driving with petrol-fuelled longer trips.
Interior and technology
The A3 and S3 are very alike inside – expect premium materials and understated luxury.
The A3 and S3 models up to 2020 share a leather interior with heated seats, a panoramic roof and retracting infotainment system.
The A3 comes with a 7-inch MMI infotainment screen, while the S3 comes with a smaller 5.8-inch infotainment screen. The 12.3-inch virtual cockpit is an optional extra that lifts the cabin, improving the driving experience.
The S3 has extra details like sport bolsters and contrast stitching, with a cut-off flat-bottomed steering wheel and the ‘S’ badge embossed on the seats and wheel.
The fifth-generation 2022 A3 and S3 interiors have taken it even further, with a more standout look. Still almost identical but now with nods to the Lamborghini Urus, a wraparound cockpit and overhauled infotainment. The retractable screen is now a 10.1-inch touchscreen that’s very slick-looking yet intuitive. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are, of course, a given.
The S3 has the sportier edge, with racing-style seats, quilted leather and more standard features than in the A3, including a panoramic roof, illuminated door kickplates, and three-zone climate control.
Both interiors are impressive places to sit, the S3 is just that bit sexier.
Bootspace and practicality
If practicality is one of your deciding factors, then the A3 or S3 model you get makes a difference.
The latest A3 and S3 have more headroom and legroom than before as they are slightly bigger cars, and it’s now much easier to fit four adults. Both cars are good for family driving or weekends away with friends.
The A3 hatchback – or Sportback – comes with 380 litres of boot space, while the S3 comes with 325 litres.
The A3 Saloon and S3 saloon have slightly smaller boot openings due to the snubbed rear shape, but you can still fit about five suitcases in, which is more than enough for most family packing scenarios.
They also both provide good cubbyhole space, big door pockets, and extra storage areas. You should find both the A3 and S3 very practical family and work cars.
The exact boot size depends on the engine you get and whether the model is four-wheel drive (Quattro) or all-wheel drive, so bear that in mind when choosing your A3 or S3.
For the most affordable practicality, then the A3 will make your money stretch more to get you the extra inches.
Read our in-depth car reviews:
Safety and reliability
Audi knows what it’s doing when it comes to manufacturing safe cars, and both the A3 and S3 scored a full five stars in their most recent Euro NCAP crash tests.
Both the A3 and S3 come packed with safety assists, especially the S3, and this makes them great family cars as well as daily drivers.
Newer cars are covered by a three-year warranty, or 60,000 miles.
Audi A3 Sportback
Boot space: 380 litres
Audi S3 Sportback
Boot space: 325 litres
Verdict: Audi A1 vs. Audi A3: which should you buy?
While it’s likely you’ve come to a conclusion reading our side-by-side comparison of these two cars, you might still need a little nudge – our quick verdict should help seal the deal.
For the German-engineering-loving, and premium badge-focused buyer, the A3 is a stylish hatchback or saloon that translates from school gates to office door.
It’s ideal if you want a great driving experience but performance isn’t your top priority.
The S3, however, is the A3 but for the driver who wants a bit more street-style and thrill behind the wheel.
It can be the everyday family car, but it comes into its own if you want to revel in the thrill of a sporty drive.