New Volkswagen Golf R vs Audi S3 vs BMW M135i: interiors

The Golf R has always been a fine all-rounder among the top echelon of hot hatches. Let’s see if the latest one can match the Audi S3 and BMW M135i for thrills and usability...

Volkswagen Golf R 2021 dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

As you’d expect, all three share their basic interiors with the regular family hatchbacks on which they’re based – but there are some differences. In the M135i and Golf, the biggest of these is the front seats, which are far more figure-hugging and have single-piece backrests with integrated head restraints. You might find the M135i’s a little narrow if you’re on the broad side, whereas few will have any complaints about the Golf’s.

The S3’s seats are essentially the same as those in a regular S line A3. That doesn’t mean they aren’t comfortable (although, as with the M135i, you need to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support), but it does mean you aren’t locked in place as well through corners as you are in the other two cars.

Audi S3 2021 dashboard

The Golf’s seats may be good, but its dashboard has some incredibly frustrating quirks. The entire infotainment system is one of them (see below), but the touchpads below the screen for operating the climate control are similarly infuriating. Then there are the touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel, which are harder to use than they might be when that’s your intention but also easy to brush by accident.

Most of the controls in the S3 and M135i are the conventional sort (in other words, proper buttons and switches), and usability is much better because of this. We prefer the M135i’s chunkier climate control and light switches, but then again anyone with smaller hands might find its steering wheel a little too chunky; the Golf and S3 have slimmer rims.

BMW M135i 2021 dashboard

The M135i is well ahead when it comes to quality; its dashboard feels the densest and most upmarket, while all the buttons and knobs feel solid and operate smoothly. The S3 isn’t far behind – although owners of the supremely classy previous-generation S3 might feel a bit short-changed. As you might expect, the Golf doesn’t feel as upmarket as its premium rivals. It’s far from cheap or nasty, but it doesn’t feel like an interior that belongs in a near-£40k car.


Infotainment system

Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen Golf R 2021 touchscreen

If there’s one thing about the latest Golf that will really frustrate you, it’s this. The operating system appears to have been designed to look good in a showroom rather than be easy to use while you’re driving, with some functions buried in hopelessly illogical places. We wouldn’t bother forking out for the £1600 Discover Pro system, which brings additional online services, but the Harman Kardon sound system upgrade is reasonably priced.


Audi S3

Audi S3 2021 touchscreen

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the previous-generation A3 (and S3) had a more user-friendly infotainment system than this latest model. But as touchscreen systems go, this one isn’t bad, because it responds fairly quickly to prods and the menus are logically ordered. You also get a three-year subscription to Audi’s online services. If you love listening to music on the go, consider stumping up for the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system (£760).


BMW M135i

BMW M135i 2021 touchscreen

This isn’t just the best system in our test; it’s the best system you’ll find in any hot hatch. The crisp, responsive 10.3in display can be used as a touchscreen, but there’s also a rotary controller between the front seats that you can twist and press to access features and input addresses. This method is much less distracting to use while you’re driving. Wireless phone charging is a reasonably priced option, as is an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system.