Apparently, I am told, that I am a lucky man in that I get to drive all sorts of cars around while normal people drive mostly mundane cars weekly. Now I am not going to try to convince you that what I do anywhere remotely resembles work but you can often take what you do for granted. This week I am driving the second of the Audi S3 twins, the S3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic.
What has reminded me of the privilege I have in driving these cars is that this week, completely unexpected, I have been stopped or acknowledged by no less than 7 people that have commented on the S3 Sedan. Comments ranging from ‘cool car’ to ‘that thing is awesome’ have been thrown at me along with many second glances and thumbs up from casual observers. There have been very few cars that have had that response. Many ‘exotic’ cars go by with barely a glance or the occasional ‘wanker’ comment.
What is unexpected is that I drove the bright yellow S3 Sportback a couple of weeks ago. This is a car that screams ‘look at me’ and yet while it did draw some admiring glances, had nowhere the effect that the more sedate sedan had. The sedan has a sort of cool laid back ‘I can do everything you can do but don’t need to tell you about it’ approach to driving. So Audi can appeal to the flashy or demure buyers.
Audi has done an excellent job with the S3 series. Here we have a vehicle that has awesome performance, ride and handling, yet can sip fuel economically. Cruising up and down the M3 out of Sydney I got the S3 down to 6.3 L/100 K sitting on cruise control but just ‘slightly’ above the posted 110kmh. Around town it varied depending on how heavy your right foot was but averaged out to 10.1 L/100K which is awesome. The S3 will accelerate from 0 – 100kmh in 4.8 seconds and top out at an electronically limited 250kmh. The key to the appeal of the S3 is that it will do all this and maintain normality. You don’t need a kidney belt to drive it like the WRX or the old Lancer Evolution. The S3 will happily plod around all day in all conditions perfectly comfortably, ready to explode when asked.
The other important feature to note is the linear nature of the performance and the inherent balance of the vehicle. Some vehicles tend more towards all or nothing going ballistic and hard to rein in. The S3 in both formats just does what it is asked without fuss or fanfare and all the time leaving the driver firmly in control.
Cruising on the freeway is a dawdle for the S3. In fact without cruise control you can easily lose your license. I am reasonably adept at feeling what speed I am doing, having driven thousands of kilometres on the freeway, yet the S3 had me double checking as it was so smooth. Often I would look down and be doing some 20 -30kmh more than I thought I was. Hence the reason why I drive on cruise control. The S3 will cruise on 115kmh at about 2000rpm and just eat the kilometres. I did discover though that the low profile tyres really don’t like the bump strips on the side f the road. Scared the daylights out of me!
Around town in normal city driving and in peak hour stop start the S3 just potters along without fuss. There are no histrionics because there aren’t enough revs and the linear nature of power delivery makes for smooth (there’s that word again) driving. It’s easy.
However, head for the open road and find some windy, hilly sweeping roads and you can almost hear either of the S3’s scream out ‘WOOHOO’ because this is what they were designed for. You have the choice of what suspension setting you want but even of you leave the car in auto, the ride and handling, the mid-range instant response, the balance all make for an exhilarating engaging drive. Set the controls to ‘dynamic’ in sport mode and the exhilaration goes up a level or two. It’s simply FUN!!!
The S3 is a performance car that is easy to live with every day. Apart from the outwardly visibly nature of the yellow Sportback, other colours are more demure, the S3 isn’t a car that you buy to flaunt your ego. It is for drivers who want an everyday car that can provide an engaging driving experience when requested. Forget memorising the statistics and 80-100kmh times etc. this is a car that cries out to be driven regularly, not idolised
The full S3 Sportback, S3 Sedan and the S3 Cabriolet range all profit from the extensive new features. The heart of the S3 versions are a sublime engine, revised suspension system and the fantastic Audi Quattro drive system.
The 2.0 TFSI now generates 213 kW @ 5,400rpm and with S tronic delivers 380 Nm in the wide range of 1,850 to 5,300 rpm. This engine almost makes me forsake my beloved diesel engines, such is its broad spread of torque and delivery. It achieves this by some very clever cutting edge technology such as – dual injection into the combustion chambers and into the intake manifold, integration of the exhaust manifold in the cylinder head, the Audi valvelift system and a rotary valve module for the thermal management system.
The firmer S sport suspension lowers the vehicle body by 25 millimetres. While the ride is firm it is also compliant. It is also unshakable mid corner if you hit bumps etc. Large brakes operate behind the 18-inch wheels with their S-specific design; the brake callipers are painted black (or optionally red) and adorned by S logos.
The ESC stabilisation control acts with particular sensitivity. The electrically assisted progressive steering varies the steering gear ratio – it is somewhat more indirect in the centre position, but increasingly more direct when large turns of the steering wheel are made. I feel that the steering is perfectly weighted for my driving style. The Audi drive select dynamic handling system is standard, with Audi magnetic ride suspension available as an option.
5 spoke 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/40 series tyres are standard on the new Audi S3. Despite their dynamic qualities, the tyres contribute to efficiency because of their low rolling resistance. Alternatively, Audi will install 19-inch wheels on request. For particularly ambitious drivers, special 18-inch Performance tyres are available – with special tuning for even more dynamic handling. The down side of these tyres is that there isn’t much give in them to absorb small road imperfections.
The new seven-speed S tronic is perfectly matched to the engine. Lower gears feature short ratios, while the tall top gear has a long ratio for reducing fuel consumption. The driver of the new S3 controls the dual-clutch transmission with the selector lever or with the black gearshift shift paddles on the steering wheel. Again I will voice my aversion to paddle shift gears. The normal shift patterns in whatever mode you select are far more precise and precise than you could ever do manually. They are for boy racers.
Externally the S3 Sedan and Sportback design underscores the dynamism of the new S3 family. Apart from the garish bright yellow model, the S3 has subtle but distinct clues to its heritage. Being 25mm lower and the super low profile tyres along with four tailpipes are the main clues. The S-specific single frame grill bears horizontal chrome-plated double struts and the S logo; its inlay is painted in matt platinum grey. The lower air inlets have a distinctive grid design, and the exterior mirror housings are in aluminium look. The side view is accentuated by angular sill trims in the vehicle colour.
At the rear the specific roof edge spoiler (on the S3 Sportback) or the separation edge (on the S3 Sedan) adds another striking feature. The platinum grey diffuser frames the four elliptical tailpipes of the exhaust system. In the colour range, Navarra blue, metallic and panther black, crystal effect are reserved exclusively for the Audi S3.
Internally the S3 immediately gives you the impression of purpose and sporty elegance. The front seats are comfortable without going overboard with side bolsters etc. The driver’s seat is electronically adjustable to provide the perfect driving position for all drivers. In front of the driver is a beautiful small diameter, thick rimmed flat bottom sports steering wheel. It just feels great in the hands. There are the usual steering wheel controls and stalks all within easy reach.
I have to admit I am fast becoming a fan of Audi’s dynamic digital dash. The ability to choose from alternative displays is really functional, not to mention cool.
Clothed entirely in black, the interior of the new Audi S3 has a fascinating, sporty elegance. The pedal caps and footrests are stainless steel. The dials of the instruments are dark grey with white pointers; the scale of the tachometer integrates the boost pressure indicator for the turbocharger.
An S logo on the MMI monitor greets the driver when the ignition is switched on; the optional Audi virtual cockpit also contains S-specific items. Instead of the production sport seats, Audi will optionally install S sport seats with integrated head restraints and shoulder inserts in a diamond pattern.
S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic
Drivetrain: 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol with direct injection / 7-speed S tronic Power: 213kW at 5400-6500rpm Torque: 380Nm at 1850-5300rpm Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds Fuel consumption: 6.6 litres per 100km Exterior colour: Navarra blue Interior colour: Rotor grey
Options Metallic paint $1,050 S performance package: S sport seats with diamond pattern stitching, $3,490 18″ wheels in 5-twin spoke design, red brake calipers, magnetic ride and B&O audio system As tested $75,440 RDAP Prices include GST
Of course the S3 isn’t perfect. There are some things that are missing and some things that you wish were different. Noticeably the external wing mirrors are tiny and while stylish are limiting. I also wish they dipped when reversing to assist. In both the Sportback and Sedan there is bugger all rear seat leg room if the front seat passengers are at all taller that 180cm. For taller drivers the ‘B’ pillar becomes intrusive when getting in and out as the seat is right back. The centre console while providing a good arm rest is tiny as is the glove box.
As I mentioned earlier in the article. The S3 truly needs to driven to experience the engaging, fun, balanced experience it delivers. Surprisingly it also represents reasonably good value and while the options can be expensive, you don’t need to visit that page to procure the experience.