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Driven: Audi S3 Sportback sharpened on all fronts

Big boost: Audi's new S3 is a sharper tool than before, and more than $11k cheaper too.

Slashed to $60k, Audi’s S3 Sportback rolls into town with bigger expectations

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13 Dec 2013

AUDI projects one-in-five A3 buyers will plump for the range-topping and rorty S3 Sportback launched this month, reflecting Australians’ ravenous taste for hatches of the hot variety.

Priced from $59,900 plus on-road costs, the new-generation undercuts its less powerful and heavier predecessor by a whopping $11,300, while at the same time whomping it on performance and coming with a swathe of extra equipment.

On current projections, Audi’s local arm expects to deliver close to 400 S3 Sportbacks in 2014, making sales as a proportion of the overall A3 range twice as high as the previous model launched in 2008.

This projected sales ratio is reflective of the success rival brands such as BMW, Mercedes and Renault - as well as parent company Volkswagen - have seen in Australia with hot versions of their own respective hatchbacks.

Audi will not offer the European three-door model here in Australia - there’s no significant market for this less practical version - but will have a sedan version from April 2014 and a cabriolet version, likely around late 2014.

Highlights of the model you see here include its new and lighter ‘MQB’ modular platform, completely redesigned (though evolutionary) body and cabin, and a thoroughly worked-over 2.0-litre turbo engine sending power to all four wheels when called upon via Audi’s signature quattro system.

But while this new engine pumps out 18kW/50Nm more than its predecessor, it also shares the distinction of being detuned for our hot climate. European versions of the third-generation pocket rocket pack a 221kW/380Nm punch, in comparison.

Scorching summer days Down Under have been attributed the blame, with Audi reining the engine in a touch to improve longevity. This was also the case with the previous-generation Audi S3, as well as its VW Golf R sibling.

Fitted with a six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, the Aussie-spec S3 Sportback can accelerate from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.0 seconds. Audi says 95 per cent of buyers will buy the auto, though a same-priced but 0.4s slower six-speed manual is available too.

The new all-paw quattro S3 will sit atop Audi’s new A3 range until the even hotter RS3 version’s likely arrival next year - “fingers cross”, says Audi Australia - and as such will be tasked in the interim with flying the four-ringed flag against the rear-drive BMW M135i, less-premium rivals such as the Renault Sport Megane, plus the more hardcore Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.

Standard equipment includes Xenon headlights with LED daytime runners, satellite-navigation, park assist with front/rear sensors and a reversing camera and 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.

The cabin gets Nappa leather electric sports seats, an Audi Music Interface with toggle, Bluetooth streaming, dual-zone climate control with rear vents and a leather, flat-bottomed steering wheel.

You’ll also be able to shell out $4990 extra for the S performance package, which adds LED headlights, a Bang and Olufsen sound system, Audi’s ‘magnetic ride’ adjustable shocks, bigger-bolstered seats with a diamond stitch pattern, a different alloy wheel design and red brake calipers.

The new model is 70kg lighter than before, thanks to the Volkswagen Group's new modular transverse MQB platform – the regular A3 was the first car to use it – and extensive use of aluminium in the bodyshell.

The previous-generation S3 managed to find around 900 buyers in Australia. The new one is not only faster and lighter, but also more than 20 per cent more efficient with a claimed combined-cycle figure of 6.9 litres per 100km.

Audi sharpened the handling by shifting the front axle further forward – reducing the front overhang – and by chopping five kilograms from the engine’s weight and tilting the block.

Special sport suspension that lowers the body by 25mm, a 59:41 axle-load distribution front/rear and a speed-sensitive electro-mechanical power steering system also feature.

The understated design is differentiated from the regular A3 Sportback by its more aggressive grille, integrated front air inlets, faux side intakes, aluminium-look side mirror housings, a re-designed rear bumper with a platinum grey diffuser, quad tail-pipes, LED tail-lights and a roof spoiler.

“The new S3 Sportback sets a benchmark for compact premium performance – it is a sensational package,” said Audi Australia’s Managing Director Andrew Doyle.

“Not only does the new S3 Sportback deliver exceptional performance, but it is equipped with all the sophisticated features expected in a luxury vehicle.

“This car will change the way enthusiasts view the premium ‘hot hatch’ market.

Our positioning for this third-generation S3 Sportback makes progressive performance more accessible than ever before.”

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