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

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...

Audi S3 vs BMW M135i vs Volkswagen Golf R noses

Our verdict

The 1 Series is a very fine car in its lesser forms, with a great interior and a fabulous infotainment system. The range-topping M135i throws some serious performance into the mix, and there’s enough about the way it drives to keep you entertained at reasonable speeds.

The best hot hatches stand up to harder driving, though – and both the S3 and Golf do just that. They not only have higher handling limits but are also more composed when driven close to them.

True, neither offers the raw driving thrills of the very best of the breed, but then they will cosset you more on a commute – particularly the Golf when equipped with its optional adaptive suspension.

That’s partly why the Golf edges out the S3 for honours here, but the main reason is its more playful handling balance. Indeed, if it had a smarter interior and a less frustrating dashboard layout and infotainment system, it might well have scored our full five-star rating.

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1st – Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen Golf R 2021 rear

For Most adjustable handling; quickest; comfy ride on optional adaptive suspension
Against Woeful infotainment; interior doesn’t befit price; most expensive PCP payments
Recommended options DCC (£785), rear-view camera (£300), Winter Pack (£270)

What Car? rating 4 stars out of 5

Read our full Volkswagen Golf R review >>

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2nd – Audi S3

Audi S3 2021 rear

For Grippy, precise handling; best resale values; lots of options available
Against Handling could be more playful; lacks aggressive shift mode for gearbox; firm ride
Recommended options Adjustable lumbar support (£260), Comfort and Sound Pack (£995)

What Car? rating 4 stars out of 5

Read our full Audi S3 review >>

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3rd – BMW M135i

BMW M135i 2021 rear

For Best interior; top infotainment; cheapest monthly PCP payments
Against Lowest handling limits; could be more fun; fairly tight for rear head room
Recommended options Adaptive suspension (£500), adjustable lumbar support (£150), 40/20/40 split rear seats (£150)

What Car? rating 4 stars out of 5

Read our full BMW M135i review >>

Find BMW M135i deals >>

Specifications: Volkswagen Golf R 2.0 TSI 320 4Motion DSG

Volkswagen Golf R 2021 badge

Engine 4cyl, 1984cc, turbo, petrol
Peak power 316bhp @ 5200-6600rpm
Peak torque 310lb ft @ 2100-5300rpm
Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
0-60mph 4.3sec
30-70mph 3.8sec
Top speed 155mph
30-0mph 8.2m
70-0mph 44.7m
Noise @ 30mph 63.9dB
Noise @ 70mph 69.7dB
Kerb weight 1551kg
Tyres (standard) 225/40 R18
Fuel tank 50 litres
Official economy 36.2mpg
Test economy 32.9mpg
CO2 emissions 177g/km

Specifications: Audi S3 TFSI quattro S tronic

Audi S3 2021 badge

Engine 4cyl, 1984cc, turbo, petrol
Peak power 306bhp @ 5450-6500rpm
Peak torque 295lb ft @ 2000-5450rpm
Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
0-60mph 4.4sec
30-70mph 4.0sec
Top speed 155mph
30-0mph 8.2m
70-0mph 45.0m
Noise @ 30mph 63.8dB
Noise @ 70mph 69.9dB
Kerb weight 1500kg
Tyres (standard) 225/40 R18
Fuel tank 55 litres
Official economy 34.9mpg
Test economy 31.3mpg
CO2 emissions 183g/km

Specifications: BMW M135i xDrive auto

BMW M135i 2021 badge

Engine 4cyl, 1998cc, turbo, petrol
Peak power 301bhp @ 5000-6250rpm
Peak torque 332lb ft @ 1800-4500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
0-60mph 4.6sec
30-70mph 4.1sec
Top speed 143mph
30-0mph 8.9m
70-0mph 46.6m
Noise @ 30mph 63.6dB
Noise @ 70mph 70.1dB
Kerb weight 1525kg
Tyres (standard) 225/40 R18
Fuel tank 50 litres
Official economy 38.7mpg
Test economy 31.0mpg
CO2 emissions 167g/km

Car pictured

Volkswagen Golf R 2.0 TSI 320 4Motion DSG with Lapiz Blue metallic paint (£755), Dynamic Chassis Control (£785), head-up display (£625), Winter Pack (£470), rear-view camera (£300) and digital key (£215)

Audi S3 TFSI quattro S tronic with Python Yellow metallic paint (£575), 19in five-arm alloy wheels (£770), Bang & Olufsen sound system (£760) and red brake calipers (£290)

BMW M135i xDrive auto with Black Sapphire metallic paint (£560), panoramic glass roof (£1000), Harman Kardon sound system (£750), adaptive suspension (£500) and through-loading system (£150)

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