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First Oz drive: S3 given a new heart

High-performance: An engine transplant has seen the S3 increase its power and top speed.

Audi gives the S3 a touch of TT to re-establish its performance credentials

Audi logo14 Mar 2002

AUDI Australia plans to create a sub-brand with its high performance "S" range, after each S model - the S3, S4, S6 and S8 - struggled to establish a presence in its own right in recent times.

An investment of $1 million is behind the push to re-market the S-car line-up, which includes the return of the S-Drive Experience racetrack drive days to get potential buyers behind the wheel and dipping into their wallets.

Previously, the S-Drive concept was a means of rewarding customers who had already purchased an S model.

Leading the S-brand charge is an updated version of the S3 hot hatch, which has now been fitted with an engine from one of its Audi brethren.

Out the door goes the S3-specific 154kW version of Audi's 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, replaced by the more powerful 165kW version lifted from the TT Quattro coupe and roadster models.

The 11kW power increase is accompanied by an additional 10Nm of torque, up from 270Nm between 2100 and 5000rpm to a peak of 280Nm now between 2200 and 5500rpm.

Claimed top speed has subsequently risen from 230km/h to 243km/h, while the time the S3 takes to accelerate from 0-100km/h has dropped by two tenths of a second to 6.6 seconds.

But the engine transplant is the extent of the update, as all other specifications remain unchanged from the previous model.

Pricing has increased a nominal 1.3 per cent (in relation to the 7 per cent power hike) to $67,850, which makes the S3 the cheapest available option for the 165kW engine as the TT Quattro coupe and roadster are priced at $83,850 and $92,850 respectively.

Supply of the S3 will be limited to just 60 cars in 2002, despite Audi moving almost 200 units over the past two years.

But there will be other S models arriving in the near future that are sure to whet the appetite of performance enthusiasts.

The storming RS6 is scheduled to land Down Under in the first quarter of 2003, to continue the ultra high performance RS tradition started by last year's RS4.

Only 25 examples will be available as part of the launch allocation and some of those have already been sold, but Audi Australia hopes to get some more cars further down the track and has engaged the Singapore Audi operation to help increase its factory allocation of S models.

The RS6 uses a twin turbo, 4.2-litre V8 engine that produces 331kW of power between 5700 and 6400rpm, with a peak torque output of 560Nm ranging from 1950 to 5600rpm.

Audi is claiming supercar-humbling acceleration in the order of 4.9 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, while pricing is expected to be around the $230,000 mark.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

THE Audi S3 is now a little bit quicker and therefore a little bit hotter, with respect to its hot hatch tag, than it used to be.

That's the long and the short of it after the car's minor mid-life update.

A more powerful version of the venerable 1.8T engine - which in different states of tune also finds a home beneath the bonnet of other A3 and A4 models, as well as the Volkswagen Golf and Passat - has been donated by the TT Quattro to give the S3 more performance without altering its character.

There remains no sign of turbo lag as the engine produces its power in a very linear way, pulling cleanly from low revs while retaining its smooth and unstressed nature as it approaches redline.

It does not need to be revved hard to extract maximum performance, given the wide torque powerband, but at the same time it is quite happy to spin all the way around the tacho.

The suspension is the typical Audi S compromise between handling control and ride refinement.

In essence, that means it is fine for the road in most cases, but way to soft for any racetrack excursions.

Sharp road hazards can also prove troublesome as the speed climbs, particularly things like the bitumen joins between the road and a bridge.

The low profile tyres coupled with a softly sprung front end means you quickly find the limits of the car's absorption and suspension travel characteristics, although with Audi's legendary build quality the S3 just as quickly shrugs off any punishment.

The S3 continues to be a unique offering in our market with its combination of performance and luxury.

Its competitors on performance, like the WRX, are not in the same ballpark in terms of equipment, luxury and refinement, whereas its luxury segment rivals simply cannot make the grade in the speed and handling stakes.

Add to the equation its two-door hot-hatch body and luxury car price, and Audi has a stand-alone car that could do with more support from the factory in Germany, in terms of availability of supply, if it is to truly create a presence for itself in Australia.

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