2014 AUDI S3 REVIEW
What's hot: Exceptional interior quality, broad torque band.
What's not: Quattro AWD not as clever as other performance Audi drivetrains.
X-FACTOR: Fast and desirable, yet relatively affordable. Small money for a high-performance Audi.
Vehicle style: 5-door small sports hatch
Price: $59,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 206kW/380Nm 2.0 turbo petrol | 6spd man, 6spd auto
Fuel consumption listed: 7.0 l/100km (manual), 6.9 l/100km (auto)
Wait, a high-performance Audi for the same money as an all-paw Mitsu or Subie?
While the last-gen S3 was a $70k-plus proposition, its replacement lobs in at $59,990.
Though Audi doesn’t regard them as natural competitors (in fact, the company reckons there are no direct competitors for the S3), the pricing similarity between the S3 and the Evo/STI makes the comparison hard to ignore.
This new blaster, Audi's new S3, is in fact remarkably close in most key metrics to two of Japan’s most idolised rally-bred rockets.
All have power outputs in excess of 200kW, all will sprint to 100km/h in around five seconds and all are based on somewhat unassuming small cars.
But there are differences between the German newcomer and its Japanese rivals.
Some are obvious - like the wide gulf in refinement - while others only reveal themselves after a spirited drive.
The A3 range boasts a beautifully presented and very well-built interior. The S3 builds on that reputation with a number of performance-oriented enhancements.
Chief among these are the more heavily-bolstered front seats, black headliner and the thick-rimmed steering wheel.
The pedals are brushed stainless steel, there is a subtle red accent around the start button, and 'S3' script on the instrument cluster and steering wheel.
The contrast stitching on the door trims, centre console and seats offsets the chrome on the air-vent surrounds, centre stack and centre console; the net effect is premium feel to this cockpit.
The S3 does “sporty” and “special” very well indeed.
It’s comfortable as well. The standard seats are electrically adjustable and also feature an extendable squab for better under-thigh support, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great.
We also drove an S3 with the optional S performance package, which, among other things, brings manually-adjusted sports seats upholstered in diamond-quilted Nappa leather.
They look and feel great, and are the perfect place to sit while you enjoy the sound of the Bang & Olufsen audio system (also part of the S performance pack.
S3 key interior features:
- Sat nav, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel controls.
- Powered front seats, rear air vents
- MMI touch interface, Bluetooth audio and telephony, on-board music HDD storage.
ON THE ROAD
Firstly, yes, Australian S3s are detuned thanks to concerns over our hot climate and engine longevity. That means we get 206kW instead of the full 221kW enjoyed by European S3 Sportback drivers.
That puts the S3 behind the WRX STI and Lancer Evolution in the power stakes (the former has 221kW, the latter 217kW), but do we really miss those extra 15kW? No.
When equipped with the six-speed S tronic twin-clutch auto, the S3 rockets to 100km/h in five seconds flat - just 0.1 seconds slower than the Euro-spec S3.
And while both the Evolution and STI are a hair quicker to 100km/h, the S3 has better tractability across its rev range.
With 380Nm of torque spread from 1800rpm to 5100rpm, the S3’s powerplant is more flexible than the highly-strung and lag prone Japanese motors.
Translated into layman’s terms, that means you need fewer revs to go fast and there’s minimal turbo lag to deal with.
The manual is 0.4 seconds slower to 100km/h than the S tronic, but it’s more satisfying to row through your own gears at your own pace - especially with a shifter as light and as slick as the S3’s.
On the rain-soaked roads of the Tasmanian launch route, the S3’s quattro AWD came into its own.
Grip under acceleration is hard to beat. And while the S3’s balance in a corner is a touch front-heavy, it can still be easily provoked into oversteer with trail braking or an aggressive lift of the throttle.
But if you’re expecting the same physics-defying tricks of the Evo or STI, you won’t find them in the S3.
While the S3’s version of quattro (which is based on Haldex-sourced hardware) can take 100 percent of drive to the front or rear, there’s no torque vectoring between the left and right wheels to help turning performance.
Get on the throttle early in a corner and you can get a lot of power understeer. It feels as though not enough drive is being taken to the rear axle in these conditions.
On the plus side, the variable-ratio steering is wonderful. Accurate and with enough feel, the S3’s steering becomes sharper and more responsive the further you turn it.
Just resist the temptation to put the steering in Dynamic mode. It’s artificially heavy and does nothing for feel or feedback.
The suspension in its standard form is a little harder to love though. It’s firm and fussy over minor bumps, and although it’s fantastic for performance, it’s not quite as good for ride quality.
A better choice is the optional Audi magnetic ride suspension, available either on its own ($1650) or as part of the S performance package ($4990).
In comfort or auto mode it’s supple enough to deal with poor-quality asphalt, but still plenty sharp for a blat through a mountain pass.
Road noise however is an issue whichever suspension you choose though, particularly on coarse surfaces.
S3 key specifications:
- 2.0 litre petrol turbo inline four
- 206kW @ 5100-6500rpm | 380Nm @ 1800-5100rpm
- six-speed manual or twin-clutch auto transmission
- quattro AWD
- 0-100km/h - 5.0 seconds (auto), 5.4 seconds (manual)
- Independent McPherson strut front | Four-link multilink rear
- Variable ratio power-assisted rack and pinion steering
- Fuel consumption (listed): 6.9 l/100km (auto), 7.0 l/100km (manual
ANCAP RATING: 5-Stars
Safety Features: driver and passenger airbags, side airbags up front, head-level curtain airbag, driver's knee airbag, and electronic stability control with ABS, ASR and EDL.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT | OVERALL
Considering the performance and prestige on offer at its $59,990 price point, the 2014 S3 is exceptionally good buying.
In a way, Audi is right when it says the S3 has no peers.
It’s priced too low to be line-balled against the more powerful and expensive BMW M135i and Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG, and its not hardcore enough to be a true rival to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX STI.
And that’s a good thing for Audi. There is no other car below $60k that will give you the intoxicating blend of luxury and speed that the S3 Sportback offers.