Sedan or Sportback? It’s a brand new question for buyers considering the Audi S3, and only $2300 separates the decision.
The first-ever Audi S3 sedan comes in slightly more expensive, at $62,200, and compared with the Sportback, it buys a 145mm increase in overall body length, placed entirely beyond rear wheels that maintain the same distance to the fronts. It largely permits an 85-litre-larger boot, now 425L, though width is also up by an inconsequential 11mm, and roof height drops 12mm.
Yet despite their similar appearance, the Audi S3 sedan shares not a single body panel with the Sportback. For those who find it difficult to accept a stretched hatchback could cost around $60,000, the handsome and well-proportioned sedan is there to catch those buyers.
Audi claims the sales split will be 50:50 between the body styles. With S3 sales of 258 units between its December 2013 launch to April 2014 exceeding the previous S3’s best full year sales tally, the sedan looks to push the increase further than the stretch of its body.
The sedan will do so without a manual transmission, though, at least initially. Audi says manual S3 Sportback sales peaked at 10 per cent, though have now settled at its original three to four per cent forecast. It reckons S3 sedan buyers will prefer an automatic at an even higher rate, though the door is open to the manual if there’s enough buyer interest.
For around the same price as a V8-engined Holden Calais V sedan from a few years ago, buyers can now buy a loaded Audi S3 sedan with demonstrably superior cabin quality (if not size) and straight-line performance.
Put in a closer context among its German rivals, the S3 sedan saves buyers almost $3K over a BMW M135i hatchback that claims identical performance, $18K over the style-conscious M235i coupe, and $25K over the faster but similarly sized Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.
The S3 sedan has few rivals – in an all-wheel-drive context, the Subaru WRX STI comes close, though conversely it is manual-only and now around $7K cheaper.
The S3 sedan utilises the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Sportback. Although it needs to shift a 15kg-heavier, 1460kg body, performance remains identical. With 206kW of power (between 5100-6500rpm) and 380Nm of torque (over an astonishingly broad 1800-5100rpm), the S3 sedan claims a 5.0-second 0-100km/h sprint.
It never feels quite that fast, probably because its speed is delivered with buttery smoothness rather than a hard edge. The engine is creamy, but could be louder for a sports sedan, the exhaust blurt on each super-quick upshift from the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox a subtle signal of its intent.
The engine sound builds on the personality cues from the restrained, chromed-up exterior styling – the Audi S3 sedan is no brash performer, but rather delivers its speed with dinner-suit class. The interior is the same stunning design as that found in any A3, a model of simplicity and elegance changed little – there’s contrast-stitched leather door trims and lower console trim, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and gloss black highlights.
Sharing its equipment inventory with the S3 Sportback, the S3 sedan is no stripper model. Standard are 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights with LED daytime lights, semi-automatic parking with front and rear sensors and a reverse-view camera, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, electrically adjustable and heated front seats with full Nappa leather throughout, and a 7.0-inch colour screen with Audi MMI satellite navigation and 20Gb hard drive.
The latter infotainment system is a cinch to operate, though it lacks the 4G internet connectivity available in A3/S3 models overseas, as the software isn’t yet compatible for Australia. The MMI system itself is superb – there’s a high-resolution slimline screen, knurled silver switchgear that is easy to rotate, and easy to access Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity options, though a dedicated Audi iPhone cable is required as there is no USB input.
The optional ($4990) S performance package (taken up by a good many S3 Sportback buyers according to Audi) adds even more gear, including 19s (with two choices of design), full LED headlights, diamond-patterned sports buckets (though with electric adjustability deleted), and most crucially, Audi magnetic ride and a 705-watt Bang and Olufsen audio system.
The latter stereo option may be needed, because the S3 sedan suffers from road roar, particularly on coarse-chip surfaces. At the local launch on the roads around Phillip Island raceway, the S3 sedan was loud enough to become tiring, though all cars tested were on optional 19s.
Previous experience with an S3 Sportback on its jiggly, overly firm suspension indicates the selection of three-way adjustable magnetic dampers are a wise move. In the S3 sedan, the magnetic dampers proved even more impressive than memory serves; so much so that leaving the system in its softest Comfort mode when cornering is as fine as the hardest Dynamic mode is for driving around town.
The S3 sedan has quick, incisive steering that is also a delight in either driving situation, though its lighter Comfort and Auto settings are preferable to the needlessly weighty Dynamic.
Driving briskly on rough, twisty roads is no problem for the S3 sedan, which delivers a near-perfect balance between comfort and control at all times. The handling is terrific, too, more like a powerful front-wheel-drive car with a bit of extra traction than a tough all-wheel-drive car you can slide on the throttle (which isn’t keeping with the S3’s nature anyway).
The S3 sedan is not inert and uninvolving, though. It loves playing between its axles, always feeling beautifully balanced, and lapping up a mid-corner throttle lift that shifts its bum to help the nose point.
Four flying laps of Phillip Island raceway also highlight the depth of the S3’s dynamics. Set the magnetic dampers to their hardest mode, and the way the body keeps level at big speed through turn one is remarkable. Through double-apex turn two, the S3 keeps its nose in check, feeling light and frisky in the same corner many high-performance cars are left exposed. Deliberately getting back on the throttle early and adding steering lock towards the second apex, then lifting the throttle as it starts to wander wide, shows just how grippy and planted yet balanced and fun the S3 sedan can be as it transitions into a slide.
Get back on the throttle to hold the slight slide and having 40 per cent of drive going to the rear wheels at all times proves its worth. The S3 sedan doesn’t, however, get an optional crown centre differential as the S4 does, which allows you to really steer it on the throttle as it throws a lot more drive rearward.
The S3 sedan eats up the rest of what is a very challenging (and brilliant) track, never feeling exposed, a stunning achievement given its on-road talent. It perfectly sums up the diverse range of ability of this fast, premium compact sports sedan. Its only real vice is not being ultra loud and hard, or ultra honed and exciting, so if you’re looking for those things, check the more expensive CLA45 AMG and M235i respectively. The Audi S3 sedan, though, is the all-rounder and arguably the nicest one to own.