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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - S3 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Strong and linear turbo engine, spot-on ride and handling, quality cabin
Room for improvement
Tyre roar on 19s, more expensive than S3 hatch, no manual option

20 May 2014

We we impressed by Audi’s latest S3 hatch when we drove it for the first time last December, finding it much improved over its predecessor in terms of driver engagement and price.

Naturally, sticking a boot on the back, changing the other body panels but keeping all the mechanicals the same is hardly going to affect the driving experience for good or bad.

In short, as with the hatch, the 2.0-litre turbo engine is a muscular delight bereft of lag and offering a mid-range as wide as the Aussie outback, the quattro underpinnings and MQB platform offer grip and agility in one and the cabin reminds one of a proper upmarket luxury car in design and detail.

The real question is, what’s your poison? Do you crave the practicality of the hatch, or does the idea of a three-box sedan with classic subdued Audi styling – and, for our money, the better proportions – grab you by the collar?Audi expects the split to be 50:50, and no doubt some will be dissuaded from the sedan by its baffling $2300 price premium.

Either way you go, the S3 does precious little wrong beyond excessive tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces.

The winding roads near Victoria’s Phillip Island have plenty of level changes and corrugations, making it a ideal playground to play with the adjustable dampers on our test car (part of a $4990 options pack called S performance).

Audi has achieved a good balance here, with the firmest Sport mode retaining enough compliancy to be comfortable and the softest Comfort mode recovering fast and limiting roll and bounce.

We are quite familiar with the EA888 1984cc turbo-petrol engine, which thanks to its electric wastegate that only opens at high boost, exhibits next to no lag. Furthermore, its meaty mid-range gives it strong and smooth acceleration all through its six gear ratios.

Pop it into Sport mode and each gear change causes the exhausts to bark out a lovely little blip, too.

The S tronic dual-clutch transmission is like lightning in either Sport or Drive, and engaging under manual control. As is usual with the meatier engines in VW’s family, there seems to be little in the way of jerkiness or hesitation at lower speeds either.

That said, a manual gearbox even as a same-cost option – as with the hatchback – would be nice for those more traditional drivers.

The aforementioned driving modes also add or subtract weight from the electro-mechanical steering, though it already loads up at greater speeds. It lacks a little in the way of feel-and-feedback but is linear and accurate enough as a result.

Better is the combination of the lightweight MQB architecture with MacPherson struts up front and four-link suspension at the back and the quattro underpinnings, which combine balance and grip in a way that does not skimp on playfulness.

Spending time on the track makes it clear that this is a car you can steer with your bum and pedals, in other words, it is fond of stepping out if you lift-off the loud pedal, just like a sporty little number like this should be.

The ventilated front and rear discs with hydraulic assist rein in the 1450kg sedan in no time flat on a track, and exhibited zero fade.

Members of Audi’s driver training team – all professional racers themselves – say they have taken a fleet of various four-ringed cars around Australia’s tracks for various events and haven’t changed a single set of pads.

The major negative is the road roar coming from the 19-inch optional wheels on our vehicle over coarse chip roads, which was deafening. We didn’t get a chance to sample the regular 18s, but experience from the hatch tells us it is scarcely better.

It kills much of the ambience and cheapens the experience. Which is a shame, because noise aside, the cabin is exquisite.

High-end touches abound, from the solid metallic quattro badges to the pop-up screen that rises from the dash like a Phoenix to the cushy leather buckets (clad in lovely diamond-stitched leather with the S performance pack).

Thanks to the conventional styling, rear headroom is better than the CLA, which your 194cm writer could fit behind the wheel with a bulky racing helmet on. The same cannot be said for, say, a Chrysler 300 with a sunroof.

The features list is also strong for the price, though the VW Golf R undercuts it by well over $10,000 and is very similar underneath and has a similar list of features. The cheaper, Subaru WRX is on a performance par and around $20,000 cheaper if badge cred is less important.

But as a comfortable, luxurious and exciting small-car proposition that is easy to love with day-to-day and a madcap maniac on a racetrack, the S3 sedan is a peach. We’d have one, no question.

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