Originally published March 10, 2015
There is a revolution happening in the automotive kingdom, all thanks to fanatical environmentalists and apathetic Millennials conspiring to eliminate motoring for the sake of enjoyment. This era of increasingly stringent restrictions for fuel consumption, emissions and safety faced by the automakers threatens to squeeze the will to live from those who dare to enjoy driving.
Cars, for the most part, continue to bloat with bulk and mass as technology is introduced to protect us from ourselves and make life easier, if more boring. It’s rare to find a car that lets you shift your own gears, these days, and fearfully, it won’t be long before it’s tough to find a car that lets you do your own steering.
And yet, super cars are attaining performance numbers not fathomed by race drivers even a few decades ago. They’re doing it in spite of electric steering and with the assistance of hybrid battery packs. The automotive technological revolution is upon us and the tech is winning, but it ain’t all bad.
Through it all, there are still glimmers of hope for those who need to drive a car with compact dimensions and giant-slaying performance. The two cars we have here – Audi’s brand new S3 and BMW’s equally new M235i with xDrive – answer many prayers while still marching obediently toward robotic assimilation.
Neither of these machines is going to attract the attention of a school bus full of children. Nor will they score the special spaces reserved for the real image cars next to the valet station. These two are based on more plebian models that result in styling constraints keeping them in the world of reality.
On the up side, they’re dimensionally practical enough to fit in urban settings, easily parked thanks to their tidy widths and lengths, and yet tall enough to provide reasonable ingress, egress and headroom to occupants.
BMW’s 235i is a considerable improvement in styling over the funky little 1 Series bulldog that the 2 Series has replaced. Both front and rear styling have been made more aggressive, while the greenhouse profile is squatter, leaving a more sporting appearance.
The S3, based on Audi’s (North American market) entry-level car, the A3 sedan, actually looks a little better in photos than it does in the flesh. From certain angles, like the rear three-quarter view, the Audi appears almost like a caricature of an S4 as its stubby tail hunkers down over giant 19-inch wheels and tires.
The scooped and scowling visage of the Audi helps it take the tiara and bouquet from the BMW in this beauty contest, but it’s the lava-hot Misano Red Pearl paint that seals the win, always making the darker (but still lovely) Melbourne Red BMW appear as if it’s in the shadows by comparison.