Car reviews - Audi - A3 - S3 sedan
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Audi-badged performance sedan for a little bit more than Golf R hatch money, tenacious AWD grip, character-filled engine, razor-sharp dual-clutch gearbox, cracking sound system, class-leading fit and finish
Room for improvement
No manual gearbox, auto’s low gearing not freeway friendly, expensive options list, road roar from optional low-profile 19-inch rubber
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14 Nov 2014
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
Audi has priced the all-new S3 sedan from $62,200, making the addition of a traditional boot a $2300 option over the already released S3 hatchback.
However, while you can opt for either a six-speed dual clutch auto or a six-speed manual transmission in the hatch, the sedan is auto-only.
That price stacks up pretty well against competitors. For $2730 more you can have the only M car in BMW’s line-up not to wear an M badge, the $64,930 M135i hatch, which we note doesn’t offer a boot, and the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Sport compact coupe, to stay faithful to the marketing, which is priced from $64,900 and does have one.
Lexus sells its booted IS350 four-door from $65,330. It is very well equipped for the money.
The “S” badge denotes Audi’s A3 sedan-based model has some performance bent, so under the bonnet is a 206kW/380Nm 2.0-litre engine. By comparison, the harsh-riding M135i shoehorns a more manic 235kW/450Nm out of its turbo 3.0-litre six, while the CLA produces a boring-by-comparison 155kW/350Nm from its turbo 2.0. In the Lexus you step up to a 3.5-litre 233kW/378Nm V6.
In contrast to some Audi fit-outs, the bare-bones equipment list is pretty rich. The car sits on 18-inch alloys with a more aggressive, aero-look body kit with a subtle boot lip spoiler, and inside there’s partially leather-trimmed front seats with Nappa inserts, heating function and electric lumbar adjust, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear parking sensors tied into the reversing camera, and satellite navigation.
As befitting a performance Audi, the wing mirrors are shelled in traditional silver.
The default audio system, complete with a Bluetooth phone connection that also streams music, is a 10-speaker set-up, but you need a specialist plug to be able to use a USB connection.
Our test car was a bit richer than the default model, featuring a $4990 S Performance package that lifts the speaker count to 14, including a subwoofer.
As a bonus, it adds lighting around the car at night, brilliant LED headlamps, lairy red brake calipers wrapped around the vented front and rear disks, better front and rear seats, and a stiffer suspension set-up.
Metallic paint is a reasonable-for-a-luxury-car $1150.
Audi has dressed up the interior of the S3 to remind you that it is something a little bit special.
Aluminium door sills and drilled pedal caps add to the sporty feel of the flat-bottomed steering wheel, while the front seats, with a diamond quilted pattern across the shoulders, add a sophisticated air as well as good all-round support.
Finding the right driving position is a hands-on affair, as aside from the electric lumbar adjustment, changing everything else including the steering wheel to suit is manual only. However, once settled in, the level of comfort and support is good.
The highs of the interior fit and finish in other Audi models we’ve reviewed have always been exceptional, and the S3 doesn’t disappoint, at least from the front seats. The chromed jet fighter exhaust air vents have a pop-out function that focuses the airflow, the dial to control the multimedia system has a handwriting recognition system, and just about everywhere the hand or elbow falls is either soft-touch material or exquisite plastics.
Storage space is a bit limited, but there’s enough room on the centre console to stash a purse or wallet, and a mobile phone. There’s small door bins, too, as well as a pair of small cupholders, and a smallish, shallow bin under the adjustable centre armrest.
Despite its sportscar focus, the S3 is still an audiophile’s delight, with a crisp, clear sound system thanks to the almost-$5000 packaging upgrade. The audio system features a couple of slots for an SD card – my laptop doesn’t even have one – and a 20GB hard disk that will allow owners to rip music from a storage device.
Things are a little more spartan in the rear seats, which although featuring the same quilt-patterned facings as the fronts, lack adequate head and legroom, particularly if there are a couple of long-legged people up front.
The rear bench will seat three passengers, but if only two seats are required, the S3 lacks a fold-down centre armrest. However, the rear bench will split-fold 60:40 to reveal a decent opening into the 425-litre boot that gives the S3 its more elegant proportions compared with the hatch version.
Engine and transmission
A sharp and responsive engine paired with a rapid-fire, paddle shift-equipped gearbox is always going to be a mountain of fun.
The turbo four-pot, borrowed from the all-paw Volkswagen Golf, produces the same 206kW of power and 380Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre displacement. Power arrives high in the rev band, but the full well of torque arrives from as little as 1800rpm.
Wind on some throttle, then, and the S3 leaps like a cat, with upshifts greeted with a small boom from the quad-tipped exhaust as the overrun fires through it.
It’s not visceral, but it is quick, and feels about right for its claimed 5.0-second 0-100km/h time.
Slow down, and the S3 becomes as tactile as a kitten, although if you’re stuck in low-speed, stop-start traffic the gearbox’s greatest quality becomes its biggest hinderance, providing choppy, sudden changes that slam through the drivetrain.
The low gearing, too, means the engine is constantly sitting well north of 2000rpm at freeway speeds, curbing fuel economy on the urban commute or long-distance transport leg. Fuel use is officially a combined 6.9L/100km, but after our week exploring its versatility, that figure reached into double digits.
Annoyingly – and this is the only thing about the S3 that irked me – there’s no always-on temperature gauge, with a set of LED lights on the left side of the dash showing the amount of boost from the snail, and the right showing the amount of fuel left in the tank.
Instead, you have to dive in through the trip computer showing in between the “S3” adorned analogue tacho gauge and speedo to keep a weathered eye on the engine’s stress levels.
You can dial up how tetchy the throttle and gearbox become via on-the-fly settings that sharpen up throttle response and hold gears longer on windier stretches of road.
Ride and handling
Despite sitting on larger 19-inch alloys clad in low-profile rubber as part of the options pack, the S3 provides a good on-road compromise. Neither as sharply sprung as the M135i or as soft as the IS, the Audi provides a decent, comfortable medium.
Around town, yes, it can feel a bit jiggly, but the only bumps that transfer through to the driver come from the more corrupted patches of bitumen, with minor hits soaked up very well.
At low speeds, the steering ranges from city car light to decently weighted as you cycle through the engine and gearbox settings, providing adequate feedback to the driver, even as speeds and corner commitment rise. There are better electrically power-assisted steering systems out there, but there is enough communication from the front wheels to give a sense of confidence.
Grip is prodigious from the all-wheel-drive system, but over-commit and the S3 will behave a bit nose-heavy as the front of the car pushes wide mid-corner despite the tricky differential that can push more torque to the outside wheels, and a braking system that drags the car into turning in. The S3’s electronic guardian angel will keep an eye on proceedings, allowing a little bit of play before stepping in to pull the car back on course.
It’s all good fun, but way too much road roar from the suspension and tyres is a constant companion. It makes commuting a bit of a drag, and somewhat negates the high-end audio system.
Surprisingly for a driver’s car, the S3 comes with a self-parking system that will automatically steer into a parking spot while the driver controls the brake, throttle and gear selector. I’m not ashamed to say I used it.
Safety and servicing
An above-average airbag count – the S3 has seven, including one for the driver’s knees – and a strong crash test performance have yielded Audi’s A3 sedan range with a top five-star Euro NCAP ranking.
However, while the S3 Sportback has access to an optional city safety package that includes a low-speed crash mitigation function with automated braking, it is not offered on the booted version. You can, however, tick the box for driver assists such as adaptive cruise control that keeps the S3 a set distance from the car in front, and a lane diversion warning system that helps to stop it straying off the road.
All Audi-badged vehicles come with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with free roadside assistance thrown in for good measure. You can extend the warranty by up to four years and to 160,000km for an extra cost, which will also get you access to rental cars should something go wrong, and roadside assistance.
You can even lock in the price of servicing for the first three years or 45,000km, which for the S3 will amount to $1680 a pop.
The Audi S3 sedan is a good compromise, being neither as harsh as a BMW equivalent nor as detached as a Lexus rival.
It’s only about $10,000 more, too, than the similarly engined, hatchback-only Volkswagen Golf R, so provides a luxury-car badge for not too much more outlay.
Would you have it over a $59,990 S3 hatch, though? It’s a matter of discerning taste, which for me tips in favour of the booted version, purely on aesthetics alone. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
BMW M135i (From $65,400 before on-roads)
A track-day specialist thinly disguised as a road car, this is a vehicle that needs to be driven well to reward and will probably prove too harsh to live with day to day. Best kept in the garage for those special days.
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Sport (From $64,990 before on-roads)
Sharp looking thing from certain angles, but on-paper performance pales by comparison to everything else here, so uses the “Sport” badge more as a marketing tool than a genuine claim to the title.
Lexus IS350 (From $65,330 before on-roads)
A step up in build quality and ride and handling compared with the old model, but on old-school atmo V6 in a world of forced-induction fours and sixes. A move into the more athletic $73,330 F Sport version is too big price-wise.
MAKE/MODEL: Audi S3 sedan
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl
LAYOUT: Front-engined, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-sp dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 5.0 secs
TOP SPEED: 250km/h
EMISSIONS: 159g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/Multilink (r)
STEERING: Electric assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/ventilated disc (r)
PRICE: From $62,200 before on-roads
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