New BMW M240i vs Audi RS3
Thrills meet daily usability in these upmarket four-wheel-drive rocketships. But should we be listening to the gospel according to Audi or BMW?...
New BMW M240i Coupé xDrive
List price £45,795
Target price £44,585
Range-topping version of the latest 2 Series Coupé packs almost as much power as the RS3 and yet costs thousands less to buy
Audi RS3 Sportback Carbon Black
List price £58,400
Target price £57,775
One of our favourite hot hatches, because it combines fun with everyday liveability better than almost anything else on the road
Yes, we know: one’s a hatchback and the other’s a coupé. But aside from their different body styles, the Audi RS3 Sportback and BMW M240i (the current pinnacle of the BMW 2 Series Coupé line-up) have an awful lot in common.
Both hail from Germany. Both have four-wheel drive. Both have almost 400bhp. Yet unlike more hardcore alternatives with this much firepower, including the Mercedes-AMG A45, both promise more than a small dose of civility.
On the face of it, the M240i would seem to be a relative performance car bargain. True, £46,000 is an awful lot of money, but it’s some £8000 less than the starting price of the RS3. And if you go for the latter car in our preferred Carbon Black form, that gap grows to more than £12,000.
Brochure prices only count for so much, though. Is the M240i such great value in the long run and for the many buyers who plan to take out a finance agreement? And even if it is, does the RS3 justify its price premium?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
You might argue that the RS3’s higher price and extra power (394bhp versus 368bhp) make it a closer fit for the upcoming BMW M2. Well, for starters, you can’t buy an M2 at the moment. And even if you could, it’s rumoured to be rear-wheel drive and have a lot more power, so it isn’t likely to be the perfect fit, either.
Besides, the M240i is ludicrously quick, sprinting from 0-60mph in 3.9sec and covering the standing quarter mile (an age-old performance car benchmark) in 12.3sec. The RS3 is only fractionally ahead, posting times of 3.7sec and 12.2sec respectively. Those margins are so small that you simply wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without our sophisticated timing gear.
There’s a big difference in the way these cars sound, though. Very unusually, the RS3’s 2.5-litre petrol engine has five cylinders, and they help to give it a particularly distinctive voice. In fact, the offbeat warble sounds like nothing else on the road (aside from other five-cylinder Audis, of course).
Does it please the ears more than the M240i? There’s no objective answer to that question. The 3.0-litre straight six doesn’t have the same unique tone as the RS3’s engine, but it still sounds great; the bassy woofle at low revs becomes a soulful howl as you let the revs build towards 7000rpm.
Just before you get there in either car, you’ll need the next gear. This will be selected for you automatically if you leave either gearbox in its default setting, but switch to ‘manual’ mode and you can take control using paddles behind the steering wheel. Do this and the RS3’s ’box responds quicker to commands and each gearshift is actioned in a punchier and more aggressive manner. Oh, and it has the more tactile alloy shift paddles.
Our only complaint is that, when it’s left in auto mode, there’s often a lengthy delay between you flooring the accelerator and the engine and gearbox communicating with one another to deliver serious forward thrust. This is less of an issue in the M240i, which responds to kickdown requests promptly.
In purely objective terms, the RS3 is the better-handling car; that is to say, it can go around corners at higher speeds. And fortunately, the experience isn’t at all anodyne. Select Dynamic mode and you can feel more power being sent to the rear wheels, meaning you can use the accelerator to help rotate the car on the way out of corners. This is thanks to something called ‘torque splitter’ technology. Essentially, two clutches on the rear axle allow drive to be sent separately to each rear wheel. When you’re cornering hard, more power is sent to the outside wheel, helping the car to turn.
This doesn’t happen in an over-the-top, intimidating fashion like it does in some powerful rear-wheel-drive cars; it just adds another dimension to the RS3’s repertoire. And while the steering isn’t brimming with feedback like a Porsche 718 Cayman’s, positive and predictable weighting combine with superb accuracy to give you lots of confidence.
The M240i’s steering is heavier and quicker as you wind on the first few centimetres of lock. You might think those are positive attributes in a sporty car, but you don’t get quite the same sense of connection with the front wheels as you do in the RS3 – especially when you’re trying to hold the car on a set trajectory through a corner.
The M240i isn’t quite as good on the brakes, either. There’s a small ‘dead’ zone at the top of the pedal travel, before the pads grab the discs quite sharply as you push your foot closer to the floor. Things are more linear and predictable in the RS3 and, as a bonus, it can stop slightly quicker from 70mph.
It’s the duality of purpose that gives these cars such a broad appeal, though. While neither offers quite the hedonistic thrills of an A45 when you’re really in the mood, the payback is a remarkably easygoing nature the rest of the time. With one caveat: we’ve only tried these cars equipped with adaptive suspension – a £960 option on the RS3 and £500 extra on the M240i.
It’s quite possible (probable, even) that neither car is as cosseting on its standard suspension. However, with their upgrades, both isolate you from bumps very well indeed. We’d go so far as to say that the RS3 is more comfortable than a regular Audi A3 S line on big wheels, and it proves particularly calm and agreeable on the motorway.
The M240i reacts more to minor imperfections, fidgeting as you roll down the road. On the plus side, it’s slightly better than the RS3 at dealing with sharper-edged obstacles, including potholes.
And unlike in some performance cars, you won’t need ear defenders for long motorway journeys. Again, our duo are barely any less agreeable than the regular cars on which they’re based in terms of refinement – assuming you’ve switched their sports exhausts to their quietest settings, that is. Less suspension and wind noise in the M240i make it the more peaceful option, although the margins are small.
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