Vehicle Style: Small sports sedan
Price: $62,200 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 206kW/380Nm 2.0 turbo petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.8 l/100km | tested: 11.9 l/100km
For fans of performance small cars, things couldn’t be better. Every other month something fresh and fun arrives to spice-up the compact class.
Audi would like to introduce you to the S3 sedan. Like the generations of S3 hatches that precede it, this one melds an amped-up turbo engine with the surety of all-wheel-drive grip.
So what’s not to like? After spending a week at the wheel we discovered that the S3 sedan’s charm spreads deeper than we’d dared to imagine.
- 7.0 inch electrically deployable screen with navigation, DVD player, CD, AM/FM radio and 20GB internal hard drive.
- Leather-trimmed gearshift and multi-function flat-bottomed steering wheel.
- Electrically-adjustable, heated front seats (not in conjunction with S performance package), leather seat-trim and black headliner.
- S performance interior features include sports seats with diamond stitching and Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker audio with aluminium speaker covers and LED accent lighting.
If you’re expecting the level of interior detailing that adorns an Evo or STI, then guess again. The S3 interior is leaps and bounds ahead of those two sport sedans.
Based on the well-regarded A3 interior, the fit and finish is excellent, material quality is impressive and even little details like the ‘direct or diffuse’ air vents are impressive.
The super-thin multifunction screen in the centre of the dash adds a touch of class (none of this "iPad screwed to the dash" business).
Watching it glide out of the way with the key off boosts its appeal. Audi’s MMI user interface is simple to use, but the ‘backwards scrolling’ selector wheel seems a little odd.
Opt for the S performance package (as fitted to our tester) and the Nappa leather sports seats are impressively supportive and comfortable, but they also remove the standard powered and heated front seats.
S performance also adds a Bang & Olufsen audio system with brilliant audio reproduction that audiophiles will love.
There’s plenty of room up front, the tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel feels just right (although some may prefer a slimmer rim).
Jump in the rear, and, as expected, the smaller footprint means a little less space.
Kids won’t have any problems and adults will easily handle short trips, but its best to stick to two at a time (headspace can also be a little tight).
Head to the boot and there’s 425 litres of available space, plus a split-folding backrest that expands available storage to 880 litres.
In the cabin there’s a healthy glovebox, small centre console storage, a bottle holder in each door and dual front cupholders.
ON THE ROAD
- 2.0 litre petrol turbo inline four
- 206kW @ 5100-6500rpm | 380Nm @ 1800-5100rpm
- Twin-clutch auto transmission and quattro AWD
- 0-100km/h - 5.0 seconds
- Independent McPherson strut front, and four-link multilink rear suspension
- Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- S performance exterior features include magnetic ride dampers, 19-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, and LED headlights.
Thumb the starter button and you’ll be greeted with a growl, not a roar. A sensation that sets the tone for the S3 experience.
With 206kW of power available from 5100rpm and 380Nm of torque between 1800 to 5100rpm, the S3 allows you to rely on a wave of torque, right up to the powerband which takes over for uninterrupted acceleration all the way to the redline.
But instead of a snarling beast, the S3 is more of a silent assassin.
There’s urge aplenty, but also high levels of refinement and civility - which may, for those who like things a little more raw, make the whole thing feel a little anodyne.
The Quattro all-wheel-drive, with the ability to send 100 percent of torque to either the front or rear axle, gives the S3 astonishing grip.
In practice the system feels more front-biased, but gets the balance right in tight bends.
And there is nothing anodyne in the way it can get around a mountain road. The S3 sedan is a very quick car in any language, any situation.
Selectable driving modes allow a choice between Efficient, Comfort and Dynamic and govern control of the 'magnetorheological' dampers, transmission, steering and engine sound.
Each label is self-explanatory, but if you’d like to mix-and-match your own there's an 'Individual' option too.
Ride comfort on those magnetic dampers (again, part of the S performance package) is superb, particularly given the potential for a brittle ride on the S performance 19-inch alloys.
The more speed you add, the better the ride becomes.
There’s always a feeling of sporty tension (as you would hope in a sporty sedan), and the only debit we could find was a bit of rear axle pogoing over speed humps at walking pace.
Unfortunately, good old Aussie tarmac strikes again, and we were a little surprised by the road noise on poorer surfaces.
Coarse-chip surfaces stir up a real din, but otherwise wind and engine noise at cruising speeds are pleasantly low.
The S3’s over-eager hill-hold can also be a little annoying. While it is an essential feature in a dual-clutch transmission to prevent roll back, it often grabs too hard and lets go too late.
The result is jerky take-offs from standstill with no way to switch the system off.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - Euro NCAP scored the three-door A3 36.41 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, curtain and driver’s knee) stability and traction control with ABS brakes and Electronic Diff Lock.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Audi has positioned the S3 as something of a unique offering.
Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution offers similar power and torque with AWD and a dual-clutch transmission, but trails on refinement and quality.
Same goes for Subaru’s manual only WRX STI.
Mercedes-Benz’ CLA250 Sport is a touch more expensive, but a way off in performance terms, while BMW’s M135i offers stellar performance, but only as a five-door hatch.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With a 5.0 second sprint to 100km/h the S3 is quick, but that’s not its only party trick - straight out of the box, it has the corner-hugging performance of a tarmac rally car.
Then add a top-notch interior.
For quality and refinement the Audi S3 sedan comes dangerously close to the larger S4 - even aping that car’s silhouette in seven-eighths scale.
It’s fair to say the S3 sedan holds a unique market position by offering the giddy-up of an Evo or WRX with a build quality and class that those two sedans can only enviously admire.
And critically, if a hatchback isn’t your thing, the S3 adds an enticing alternative where previously the options were few - all the while delivering legendary European hot-hatch driveability.
The small $2,300 premium over an S3 Sportback is trivial, and for that you get unique body styling (the two variants don’t share exterior panels) plus a useful boot that will accommodate golf clubs or your luggage for a weekend of winding beach roads.
It’s hard to argue with that logic. Perhaps now is the time to state your case for the eminently likeable S3 sedan.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic and manual - $59,900
- S3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic - $62,200