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OWNER RATING 9 /10
  • Interior quality, fit & finish, B&O sound system, Smooth, constant power delivery, Amazing grip, LED headlights - when they work
  • Fuzzy bluetooth audio streaming, Park assist system doesn't work, Detuned from EU spec, Why?!, Even when the LED headlights do work, xenons are still brighter, No DAB (digital radio), or AUX input
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ANCAP RATING N/A

by James Gouras

After browsing the market for quite some time, I had decided on my next car – a bright red, Mercedes CLA 45 AMG. When the salesman turned the key and I heard the baby-racer spring into life, it was love. I had put down my deposit just before Christmas 2013, which meant an October 2014 delivery. Which got pushed back to January 2015, and then May 2015.
I cancelled my order immediately after receiving my free iPad mini – which I received to thank me for my patience.

A few friends of mine had told me to look at an Audi S3 instead, but I was never interested in the subtle, understated styling and detuned engine we received in Australia. The only thing about the S3 that I actually preferred over the CLA 45 was the interior. The demonstrator CLA 45 had 2 noticeable rattles in the cabin, which would have caused me to drive it into a tree from frustration. All of the plastics felt cheap – as a $97,000 car should.

After seeing the S3 in the metal, I found it much more appealing than the photos, so I decided a test drive would be in order. Just one block from the dealer, and I was all teeth – the acceleration, gear change and exhaust pop had me laughing uncontrollably. Before jumping in the driver’s seat, I didn’t think such a quietly styled car could have such a loud, fun personality. I know the S3 isn’t exactly the fastest or craziest car in the world, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea with its safe Quattro all-wheel-drive system or double clutch gearbox, but it’s perfect for me.

My previous car was an SLK 350 R171, and this thing couldn’t feel more different to drive. I’m also not used to having 5 people in my car (legally), although 1 of my friends has already complained about rear seat legroom – I offered a seat in the boot, but she declined. Some people just can’t be pleased. I personally can’t see any issue with the back seat, however I am only 5’8” so I obviously can’t speak for the majority. At the end of the day, I don’t really care how comfortable my passengers are. I sit up front, behind that gorgeous flat-bottomed steering wheel and I couldn’t be happier. The quality of the interior is unbelievable – fit and finish is flawless and I can safely say, no rattles! The S3 has been built like a bank vault. The materials feel expensive, the B&O sound system is faultless, heated seats are more comfortable than my bed, and the screen rising out of the dash is just style upon style.

The amazing 2L turbo engine, even with its detuned 206kw, is a great unit. There is torque everywhere in the powerband whenever you need it, and with the double clutch gearbox, overtaking is a breeze. I must admit, I am not the biggest fan of double clutch gearboxes after owning a MKV GTi Golf – when you’re in traffic they’re slow to react, too jerky and just a pain in the back side. I would honestly rather the ZF box from a BMW M135i. However, in this car, the whole system feels extremely refined. Gear changes are smoother and the timing is more logical, moving off the line doesn’t feel like the gearbox just fell out, and there’s no more annoying idle shake. A much better job has been done this time around and I need to give VW/Audi some praise.

Putting the power down through all four wheels in the S3 is just effortless. I have had the car for 8 weeks and have had some fun through the twisties, but I’ve never once seen the traction control light flash. The grip is just ferocious, and you can really feel it when you’re pushing the car at lower speeds. For example, turning into a round-about quickly feels like the car is just pivoting on a spot, like it’s going faster sideways than it is forward.

In some reviews on other sites, there have been words about slight understeer and more of a front-biased AWD system. I have owned front drive cars but with the S3, I have not felt anything that can even remotely support those statements. I feel sometimes journalists review these cars as if it’s a life or death decision, focusing more on speed and outright pace… how bad the car is because it didn’t make that turn flawlessly at 260km/h. I don’t understand the logic – when you’re thrashing your car down a local back street, there is no clock, there is no competiton. The only thing that should matter is whether or not you’ve got a smile on your dial. The S3 feels bloody quick on the road, and if it was 3 seconds slower than the AMG around some track that I’ll never visit in the middle of nowhere, I won’t shed a tear. Especially considering the near 30k I saved by not buying the AMG.

Of course, what would a review be without some of the negative stuff.

First, I’ll fill you in with the manufacturing faults. I optioned the full LED headlights, and the left one points straight to the ground. On the plus side, it’s great if I want to see the animal i’m hitting, as I’m hitting it. Audi have ordered a new headlight and its only taken them 3 weeks to get it in from Germany.

The auto park assist system works almost every time. But when you’re betting a $2000 rim, I would personally rather it worked 100% of the time – maybe that’s just me. So the car did actually drive into a kerb for me, which apparently was my fault. Audi informed me that the screen says ‘Check your surroundings’ when the car is reversing, to which I replied ‘Make a car in clear acrylic and I will watch the kerb’. As far as I am aware, the system is called park assist, not smash assist. Let’s just say I don’t use it any more, and one of my rims is damaged. Now Audi is developing a system where you get out of the car and it drives off to park itself. You then call it back when you’re ready, and it will return to you with 3 wheels, a missing bumper and a hedge stuck in a wheel arch.

One small thing I have also noticed, the bluetooth phone system features audio streaming. It works brilliantly – as soon as I get in the car, my music picks up where it left off and I can control the playlist without taking my phone out of my pocket. However, as with Skodas and Volkswagens, it doesn’t matter what device is connected, your music will be fuzzy. This fault isn’t just my car either, I have tried other A3s at the dealer and other phones – still fuzzy.

Overall, I love this car. I love what it does and how it does it. Yes there are tiny faults, but I still love the looks, the driving feel, the quality, the fit and finish – all amazing. Some of you may disagree with some things I have said, but everything is subjective, and in my eyes there is nothing better for the same money.



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