S version of A3 gets a boot and makes for a highly convincing compact performance player.
The addition of a boot is just one factor that makes the new Audi S3 sedan a more powerfully persuasive proposition than the two S3 generations that have gone before it. It’s a great looker, good value and a forthcoming compact performance player that’s impossible to overlook.
With A3 and S3 four-doors imminent, the return of compact sedans led by Benz’s booted A-Class – the CLA – gathers momentum. As compact premium cars gained popularity, it followed that many buyers who’d come out of larger luxury sedans didn’t necessarily want to abandon the boot and opt for a hatch as part of the downsize.
We reckon the Audi S3 is the better looker of the new, premium compact sedans... what about you? Either way, the addition of a sedan variant to the S3 line-up brings newfound appeal. Volkswagen’s Golf R, and even its GTI, have always undermined the S3’s value equation to some degree. With the boot there’s now a clear point of difference, but there’s much more to the S3 sedan than the butt.
The S3 sedan measures 4469mm long (159mm longer than the S3 Sportback that arrives in December), 1796mm wide, and 1392mm tall, on a 2631mm wheelbase. The longer sedan’s boot, at 390L, is 10L more capacious than that of the Sportback, but once you fold the seats flat, which is possible in either car, the hatch offers 1220L, which the sedan can’t hope to match.
The S3 sedan’s body uses ultra-high-strength steel, and an aluminium bonnet to help keep kerb weight down – it weighs 1430kg.
Suspension is via struts at the front and multi-links at the rear, with the further use of aluminium in the front subframe and pivot bearings. The S3 sits 25mm lower than the A3 sedan over 18-inch alloys wrapped in 225/40 tyres (19s are an option, with magnetic ride control). Weight distribution of the MQB-based platform is 59 percent front, 41 percent rear, with help from the forward-located front axle and engine canted 12 degrees to the rear.
The maker’s drive select system is standard, and works with the accelerator, steering and S-tronic transmission (and magnetic ride control, if equipped) to offer comfort, auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual settings.
The S3 sedan’s standard progressive steering quickens as wheel lock increases, and its weighting builds as road speed rises. It’s not as sharp or alive as that of, say, a Renault Megane RS265, but feel filters through when it’s driven hard.
It takes a sharp steering input or a well-timed weight transfer via hard braking to provoke the tail, even on the bumpy, wet Col de Turini of our international launch drive. The steep climb was one of the Monte Carlo Rally roads that squiggled up into the Alps from the Monaco launch venue. When provoked, the S3 sedan’s rear end will slither sideways, but only by enough to subtly adjust its angle of attack.
Impressively, the front end proves equally resistant to losing grip. You’d have to seriously overdo your corner entry speed for the nose to wash wide.
At switchback exits, we wished for rear bias to allow earlier throttle and greater on-power attitude adjustment, but the slight power understeer never snowballed.
Unlike the system found in the likes of Audi’s RS5, the S3 can’t send big torque to the rear tyres. Its all-wheel-drive system uses a hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch to apportion torque between the front and rear axles. The clutch is located just ahead of the rear diff to help weight distribution, and ordinarily sends most of the torque to the front wheels. Only when it detects that traction at the front tyres has decreased does it send torque to the rear.
The S-tronic responds quickly to paddle upshifts and is a fine fit with the S3’s point-and-shoot personality, though it pays to wait for revs to drop or downshift requests can be denied. The oiled, mechanical manual shift feel via a cylindrical knurled aluminium knob makes the no-cost-option gearbox a bit more satisfying for old-schoolers.
Even the electronic stability control impressed. Despite small front and rear tyre slip angles, it rarely applied its effect, and occasionally proved to be a welcome safety net. The latest iteration of its ESC system is tuned to offer sporty, sensitive intervention, says Audi.
The 2.0-litre turbo engine Aussies will get, like the version in the S3 Sportback, comes 15kW down on the full-fat, 221kW Euro donk. The drop is the result of engine management changes, and is due to the fact Australia is a hot-weather market, which brings unique engine tuning challenges for high-boost performance engines.
Audi claims the small decrease to 206kW results in a 0.1sec-slower 0-100km/h time, from 4.9 to 5.0sec for the S-tronic variant (the Oz-spec manual should to 0-100km/h in 5.4sec).
The 221kW engine we sampled was a hard-hitting, great sounding motor with a broad torque spread, and little of that is likely to change in Aussie-spec cars. They’ll still offer 380Nm from 1800 to 5500rpm, and they’ll deliver the same, virtually lag-free bottom-end, forceful midrange and engaging exhaust note, but just won’t punch quite as powerfully above 5500rpm.
An electric wastegate allows far more tailored boost control, bringing sharpened low-rev throttle response and reduced part-throttle exhaust back-pressure. Incremental efficiency improvements such as this, a coasting mode and stop-start and thermal-management systems help balance the economy equation – official combined cycle consumption is 6.9L/100km.
In dynamic mode, with its exhaust flaps open, the S3’s note ripens from a throbby bottom-end into a bassy, growling four-pot crescendo. Full-throttle, max-rev shifts in S-tronic variants are announced by a deep pop from the exhaust, and the odd overrun crackle can be heard from the pipes once the exhaust system is hot.
The ride/handling blend of our magnetic ride-equipped car felt well judged in both Comfort and Dynamic modes. It’s tauter and quicker to respond to inputs in Dynamic, and noticeably cruisier and less tied down in comfort, but remains extremely capable, if not quite as sharp in auto. It’s difficult to see how the ride could be any less polished on Australian roads, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The S3’s manual pews are great at gripping bodies, and the all-black cabin classy, especially after dark, with its brushed aluminium inlays and red illumination. The instrument panel continues the cultured performance theme with white needles over charcoal dials, and the return (to high-performance turbo cars) of a boost gauge of sorts, which is integrated into the tacho.
The circa-$65K S3 sedan isn’t as powerful or quick – or as expensive – as Mercedes’ CLA45, so fills a worthy high-performance middle ground between the Benz and a Volkswagen hot hatch. Plus, S3’s aren’t everywhere, unlike GTIs, though we suspect the talented new sedan could quickly change that.
Meanwhile, a source who’d already laid his deposit down said he was promised delivery by the end of 2013; the official on-sale, however, is in February/March next year.