Ridiculous performance meets refinement.
(Thanks to the feedback that has helped me improve this review)
It's difficult to pinpoint when I became a 'hot hatch' guy. Was I swept up in the global push towards smaller, more energy efficient vehicles? Or was it the realisation that, as a late 20s bloke, the adolescent M3 and 911 dreams were perhaps not as attainable as my teenaged brain imagined? Whatever the reason, with maturity came a belief that my needs would be best served by a vehicle combining five door practicality with enough zing to bring a smile to each drive. It helps that I'm located in Tasmania, a state seemingly composed of mostly B-roads.
Enter the Audi S3. On paper, it delivers everything that I desire: Five doors, all-wheel drive, 206kW power, 380Nm torque and the option of a 6 speed manual. The last point is all important: I remain a traditionalist despite all the advantages that technology has brought. The starting price of $59,990 has ramped up the value for money, especially when comparing it with the previous model. The extra cost over a Golf R is justifiable considering the added kit and the allure of the four silver rings.
This car is styled conservatively. The S3 is a trainspotter's delight, even more so in comparison with the Mercedes A45 AMG and mismatched BMW M135i. Only the quad exhausts really hint at something special. At night the (optional) LED headlights draw the eye with their piercing glow.
Sink into the heated seats and the subtle virtues of Audi ownership start to push forward. The cabin is composed of top-notch materials with palpable quality and intuitive controls. The screen rises smoothly out of the centre console, its high resolution display providing easy access to all systems. The aluminium start button beckons: it's time to drive.
Heading out of Hobart, two things rapidly become apparent. The first is that, despite Audi's spec sheet claiming 380Nm from 1800-5100rpm, there is still an element of lag to the delivery. The second, after judiciously welding your foot to the floor, is that it doesn't matter at all. This is a peach of an engine; creamy smooth, as sonorous as four turbocharged cylinders can be and keen to make for the horizon, regardless of gear. Go above 4000rpm and it will hurl you to towards your target with an unnerving zest. A claimed 0 to 100km/h dash of 5.4 seconds feels easily achievable. The claimed 7L/100km fuel consumption is not so easy to match. That number will quickly sneak into double digits once you take a bite out of the available performance.
The latest Quattro-branded all-wheel drive system from Haldex proves competent at maximising grip. Slingshot out of a tight corner and the G-forces generated will do their best to rearrange the position of your eyeballs. The most surprising thing about the S3 is that it feels playful. Even with the grip available a bit of oversteer is always tolerated before the switchable stability control unobtrusively regains order. The tiller will never rank highly for on-centre feel but the variable ratio rack provides a clean and kickback free experience. The optional magnetic dampers break new ground for Audi with their mix of controlled plushness and deft firmness that won't shake loose any fillings. Once the inner child is satisfied, a quick change to the most comfortable settings switches the S3 back to being a refined rocketship.
You could point one of these at any corner of our island state and reach your destination with a relaxed smile on your face. What's more, the well-angled rear seats mean passenger satisfaction is also likely. Your kids won't be complaining much but taller occupants might still find the class-leading legroom limiting. The virtues of ownership continue to impress with affordable servicing and not a single squeak or rattle from the interior in the 10,000km travelled thus far.
It's here that you'll find the key appeal of the S3. No, it's not the most dynamic hot hatch out there - the Renaultsport Megane can rest easily. No, it's not the fastest hot hatch either - the Mercedes A45 AMG will win every time, if only by a nose. What an S3 grants you is the best premium hatch to own as a daily driver. It can swap from the commute to a Targa stage with ease, no matter what the weather. I may be growing a little more mature in my tastes but cars like this remind me that it's not a bad thing.