Fast and friendly, the S3 is a satisfying double act that mixes business with pleasure nicely.
Of the recently updated Audi A3 range, the S3 will be of interest to those who like small packages brimming with power. It’s not quite as mental as the RS 3, but with 228kW and a stout 400Nm, this all-wheel drive hatch’s performance will disappoint few.
Like the rest of the range, the S3 picks up a few styling changes for its mid-life makeover; most notably the sharper peepers up front, which incorporate LED technology, a reshaped grille and reworked bumpers. On the rear are LED taillamps with the cool indicator action like that of the R8.
Owners of the old S3 will notice it’s picked up a few extra herbs, the kilowatt count up seven and there are 20 extra torque units from the dual injection 2.0-litre turbo. A new uprated seven-speed twin-clutch transmission makes better use of those figures, while bringing about a reduction in claimed fuel use to 6.5L/100km. However, real world figures may vary. After a run to exercise the horses, fuel use spiked into the high teens, but somewhere around the 10L/100km seems a more realistic overall average, and fairly reasonable for something that can crack 100 in under five seconds.
The S3 retains its on-demand AWD set-up, power sent rearward when needed and it’s now tuned to direct more of the torque south when hammering through bends which, along with targeted brake application to help keep your cornering line tight, makes for one quick crosscountry rocket. Evidently the control system for all the dynamic hardware is now ruled over by the ESC brain, which makes all these gubbins function more seamlessly. It can also make the driver seem particularly handy as one doesn’t need to be overly savvy at the wheel for this thing to cut quick capers.
Just temper your enthusiasm on the way into the bends and you should be right. Despite a typically ugly front-to-rear weight split, this hatch turns deftly, aided by the variable ratio steering. The helm might not be a beacon of clarity but it gets the job done in a no-fuss manner. Left foot braking can foul with the ESP, causing it to cut the power if there’s any overlap in getting off the brakes and on to the gas again, but the brakes themselves are up for a prolonged workout.
The test car was fitted with magnetic ride suspension, the amount of cushioning adjustable via the Drive Select button. While not quite pillowy in Comfort it’s luxurious enough given the S3’s potential (and the overtly sporty 19-inch rubber). When ramped to attack mode, it’s ratcheted down tight, the control worth suffering a few bumps along the way.
The 2.0-litre turbopetrol lugs with intent from 2000rpm where there’s a noticeable surge in oomph, the long stroke engine hauling well as revs climb past 3500rpm though it starts to wilt at about 6000rpm. The twin-clutch gearbox has a multitude of operating modes from flat out fast with the rapid changes accompanied by the barping exhaust note through to an easy-as-she-goes eco mode with a coasting function to help realise that 6.5L/100km average.
It’s mostly polished at slow speeds too, shifting smoothly in D while a quickening of the action is just a gearlever pull away to activate the S mode. The variable steering is quick in turns but also a boon in car parks with just two turns lock-to-lock. It’s this split personality that is admirable, the S3 rabidly quick when it needs to be and then quickly reverting back to the persona of a mild-mannered five-door hatch for day-to-day running.
Inside, the S3 gains subtle interior changes, the main difference being the upgraded infotainment system. The cabin looks and feels good in typical Audi fashion. It even smells pleasant too, I kid you not. The minimalist approach for the dash means you need to access the infotainment system for most minor functions. Its start button is not in the best spot over on the left of the console and we wish the Drive Select button was on the steering wheel for easier access. It’s not the roomiest of hatches in the rear, leg room at a definite premium, and the boot is shallow with a space saver spare housed under the floor.
The S3 is well outfitted, lacking for nothing important. Expect Nappa leather trimmed sports seats with electric adjustment and heaters. It gets everything available for the A3 in terms of driver assistance systems with an autonomous city braking function, front and rear sensors, reversing camera, blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise.
While there are some strangely expensive options like $1200 for privacy glass, Audi has cunningly bundled together some of the choicest extras for the S3 into a Sports Package, buyers able to add 19s (normally $2600 on their own), magnetic ride ($2800) and the virtual cockpit dials ($1300) and red calipers, for $4500, which every prospective S3 buyer should take up.
The S3 is pricey of course but also now $2000 cheaper with more standard specification. And at $79,900, it’ll make people think twice before buying the $74,890 Golf R, which still has a few months to run before it too is upgraded.
|Engine||1984cc, IL4, T/DI, 228kW/400Nm||Drivetrain||7-speed twin-clutch, on-demand AWD|
|Fuel Use||6.6L/100km||C02 Output||152g/km|