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First drive: Audi S3 makes a welcome return

Pocket rocket: Turbo engine still provides class-leading performance.

Audi’s hot hatch is detuned for Australia, but still packs a knock-out punch

9 May 2007

THE Audi S3 hot hatch returns to Australia next month after a two-year absence, priced almost $2000 lower than before at $65,500 for the single-specification model, but detuned for our market.

The all-wheel drive 2.0-litre turbocharged pocket rocket comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, with the subtle exterior styling that marked the previous model as a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

With 188kW of power and 330Nm of torque, the S3 will race from 0-100km/h in just 5.9 seconds – but seems to have lost a bit of sting in the two months since it was previewed at the Melbourne International Motor Show.

At that time, the data rated the four-cylinder engine at the Euro-spec 195kW/350Nm and gave a sprint time of 5.7 seconds, so it has clearly required some detuning for Australian petrol.

Nevertheless, the latest generation S3 is 23kW more powerful and has 50Nm more torque than the previous 1.8-litre model (without direct-injection) that was discontinued in June 2005 and is more than a second faster to 100km/h – as well as being a couple of grand cheaper than it was two years ago.

The S3’s direct-injection 2.0 TSFI engine is based on the 147kW/280Nm turbo unit used in various VWs and Audis, but was developed in-house by Audi with a bigger turbocharger that generates a high 1.2 bar of pressure.

Also critical to the output of the engine is the modified intercooler, which significantly lowers the temperature of the compressed air to increase the air mass going into the combustion chambers.

Combined with high-pressure injectors with an enlarged cross-section that squirt fuel straight into the chambers, you simply get a bigger bang. Despite the high power output and performance, fuel consumption (for the higher-output European model) is rated at just 9.1L/100km.

7 center imageTo cope with the increased boost and performance, the engine also features stronger piston pins, strengthened connecting rods, new main bearings and a reinforced cylinder block.

The twin-camshaft cylinder head is made from a new heat-resistant alloy and the exhaust camshaft timing has been altered.

As before, the full-time quattro AWD system uses a multi-plate clutch to electronically direct power to where it is most needed, driving through a six-speed manual transmission with low gearing that takes the car to an electronically-limited maximum speed of 250km/h.

The three-door S3 grips the road with larger, S-design 18-inch wheels wearing 225/40-section tyres.

Sitting 25mm lower than regular A3s, the S3 uses stiffer mounts as well as aluminium pivot bearings and wishbones at the front to reduce unsprung weight.

Containing the S3’s substantial performance are 17-inch brakes with sports pads and black callipers bearing S3 emblems that additionally provide desired street-cred.

Of course, the S3 now also wears Audi’s full-frame grille, flanked by large air intakes. The side sills have been restyled and a contrasting platinum grey diffuser is built into the rear skirt, which is punctuated by twin oval tailpipes.

Aluminium-look painted rear-view mirrors and a colour-coded roof spoiler also distinguish the S3.

Inside, there are grabby, side-bolstered sports seats in silk nappa leather upholstery and S3-specific instruments.

Floor pedals, shift knob and dash air vents are Audi-style aluminium-look and there are red and silver S3 logos on the (leather rimmed) steering wheel, instrument cluster, gear knob and side sills.

Standard features include automatic climate control, Xenon Plus headlights, electric lumbar support for the driver, Bluetooth phone preparation, anti-theft alarm, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, and a Bose sound system.

Audi has projected annual sales of 100-plus for Australia.

Drive impressions:

SPEARING down an Autostrada in Italy is hardly a true test for any car, but even that brief taste of the new S3 was enough to confirm its pedigree.

Audi’s latest pocket rocket felt every bit as lively as the raw numbers suggest, but added to the mix a sense of refinement and good manners that are hopefully just as evident around town.

The detuned Australian-spec engine should ensure it is even more tractable, but the performance should still be electric. Draw up a list of rivals and you will quickly discover that the S3 will see off every other hot hatch in Australia from 0-100km/h.

In its price class, it only has six-cylinder rivals in the BMW 130i Sport and the Alfa GTA Selespeed and beats both by a few tenths in the sprint. It loses out slightly on fuel consumption to the BMW but thrashes the thirsty Alfa.

The S3 even comfortably accounts for the ferocious Mazda3 MPS – beating it in the sprint by some seven-tenths of a second, despite giving away 2kW and a massive 50Nm – as well as the less powerful Ford Focus XR5.

This is still, therefore, a serious weapon and it certainly sounds the part with a metallic howl that actually sounds better from inside than out and accentuates the punchy, responsive nature of the high-revving engine.

Inside our eye-catching black test car, it was all tasteful boy-racer with red and black leather upholstery with red stitching, complemented by lots of nice brushed-aluminium-look trim. We especially liked the dimpled chrome controls surrounding the air vents.

Though quite austere, the interior worked well and the sports seats gripped well. Even the rear seats had a nice shape to them.

There was a bit of road noise, especially on coarse surfaces, but you could happily drown it out by dropping back a cog or two.

It will be interesting to finally get an Australian-spec S3 on our own roads to see how it really stacks up and whether it is worth almost $30,000 more than an XR5.

We suspect that those who can afford to appreciate fine engineering and more subtle styling will have little trouble joining the elite group lucky enough to snare one.

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