Car reviews - Audi - S3
Effortless pace, intelligent transmission, all-paw grip, presentation and finish, balance of livability and performance, user-friendly tech
Room for improvement
Road noise, can-of-goo ‘spare’ wheel, price rise over previous generation
The most powerful S3 yet has landed in Oz – and we think it’s a ripper
21 Mar 2022
By MATT BROGAN
AUDI has introduced its fourth-generation S3 in Australia, almost two years after the model’s European debut. Priced from $69,900 plus on-road costs – an increase of $5700 – and offered in Sportback and sedan body styles, the S3 range features a revised EA888-series engine that develops 228kW and 400Nm.
The new S3 will crack triple digits from rest in 4.8 seconds, according to Audi, while combined fuel consumption is rated at 7.4 litres/100km for the Sportback and 7.3L/100km for the slipperier sedan… assuming you can restrain yourself.
All this performance comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine; it produces its peak torque from 2000 to 5450rpm, from where peak power kicks in and lasts until 6500rpm. The motor’s higher outputs compared with its predecessor (15kW and 20 Nm) were liberated by virtue of a reclassification of Australia’s climate by Audi’s Volkswagen Group parent company.
The snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission also aids acceleration, sending drive through an upgraded quattro all-wheel-drive system to each of the 19-inch alloy wheels (shod with 234/35 tyres).
Behind these rims – a five-spoke Y-arm design in matte titanium finish or five double spokes in anthracite black for $300 extra – are 340mm ventilated front brake rotors and 312mm rear discs with gloss red callipers.
The all-wheel drive S3 will continue to wage war against the 225kW/450Nm BMW M135i Pure (from $65,990) and 225kW/400Nm Mercedes-AMG A35 (from $71,576) and ups the equipment and styling game to offer serious value for money in the premium “warm hatch” segment.
A redesigned fascia houses a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment array powered by hardware packing ten times the computing power of the old unit and a 15-speaker premium Bang & Olufsen sound system through which audio can be sourced from digital radio, Bluetooth or USB streaming via the Audi smartphone interface, or wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connectivity.
Audi’s 12.3-inch customisable Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel is now standard and includes a unique S Performance display format, as well as special layouts when in Dynamic or Sport modes are engaged.
The extra computing horsepower provides 3D navigation mapping with natural speech recognition, free text search (with predictive destination suggestions) and pre-programming via the myAudi or Google Maps smartphone apps plus live traffic, hazard, parking, fuel pricing and weather information.
A long list of safety and driver assistance equipment includes adaptive Matrix LED headlights, pedestrian and cyclist detection for the forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure and lane-change warning, rear cross-traffic alert and assisted parking, adaptive cruise control with traffic-jam and emergency assist, exit warning and tyre-pressure monitoring.
Embedded online services enable remote car finding, remote lock/unlock, emergency calling and online roadside assist.
With a 15mm suspension drop compared to a regular A3 Sportback and sedan, the S3’s standard adaptive dampers and sports springs promise a broad range of adjustment between cruising comfort and fast-road precision between the five drive modes (Efficiency, Comfort, auto, Dynamic and Individual).
Regardless of drive mode, the donor A3’s slightly larger overall dimensions provide S3 occupants with a bit more elbow room front and rear, while a lower driver’s seat position adds to this variant’s sporty theme.
Other elements that mark the S3’s interior out as a member of the Audi Sport line-up include stainless steel pedals, S emblem on the seats and ‘wheel – the latter with paddle-shifters – as well as dark aluminium trim highlights, an anthracite colour scheme with contrast stitching and 30-colour ambient lighting.
The reshaped front sports seats are equipped with heating and four-way electric lumbar support adjustment and, in terms of practicality, the Sportback variant provides a 325-litre luggage capacity. When the 5-door’s 40:20:40 split-folding rear backrest is folded forward, that volume is claimed to increase to 1145 litres.
A pre-paid five-year servicing plan will cost S3 buyers $2580.
If any Australian roads can showcase the changes to a sporty new model, then Tasmania’s famed Targa stages are certainly among them. The challenging cambers, rapidly undulating terrain and combination of tightening and opening corners – in very quick succession – will highlight the improvements (or deficiencies) of a sporty model in a matter of minutes.
Indeed, Tasmania is not the place to try masking a new car’s weaknesses.
Pleasingly, the S3 has very few weaknesses. In fact, we struggled to broaden the “Room for Improvement” table at the top of this page – the fleet-footed Audi’s road/tyre noise is the only significant downside in what is otherwise an astonishingly competent and impressively capable package.
It’s also a rather reserved package in many ways and, despite looking decidedly more purposeful than the outgoing model, the new S3 isn’t as shouty or ostentatious as some offerings in this category. The exhaust note is characterful without being too boisterous and the suspension tune is entirely livable, despite the acres of all-paw grip available from the cleverly revised quattro all-wheel drive system.
The suspension and steering of the S3 are tweaked to provide easy-to-drive enjoyment that, while not truly engaging in the way the flagship RS3 is, will still provide an all-round feeling of confidence commensurate with the model’s position in the range.
And that’s not to say the S3 isn’t enjoyable or fast – it’s both. Flick the drive-mode switch to Dynamic and toggle the transmission to Sport and the rate at which the S3 gathers pace is deceptively brisk. There were more than a few occasions on our test drive when we found ourselves precariously close to the naughty side of triple digits; the Audi’s fast-acting dampers surreptitiously shuffled the drive (from front to rear) to disguise the curlier details of Tasmania’s taxing backroads and allow the speedo to soar with abandon.
Of course, speed is nothing without the ability to curtail it, and we’re pleased to say those bright red calipers aren’t just for show. The S3’s braking package is as communicative as it is commanding; it scrubs off speed with the kind of confidence-inspiring effortlessness and pedal feedback some in this segment have yet to master. We gave the stoppers a fair workout and found no evidence of fade whatsoever, just arresting repeatability that encourages later braking than would usually be deemed sensible.
And perhaps that’s the best thing about the S3. While it represents the mid-way point between the A3 and RS3, it’s also entirely practical. It’s the kind of car you can live with happily six days a week then enjoy on an energetic Sunday outing. In its less-bristling modes it’s economical, (dare we say) even boring, as if the S3 is just twiddling its thumbs and waiting for the nod to let loose – and that’s truly a compliment we can’t heap on all of the Audi’s rivals.
Forget the slick marketing campaigns, and (try to) forget the price tag. The S3 is a car best tested with the blinkers on and a bit of tape over the badge. It’s a car that speaks to driver enjoyment in a way few others do, and one that shares a connectedness between chassis and driver that’s better than it has ever been. It’s the perfect car for those who want to have their cake while stuffing it into their mouth with both hands.
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