Owner Review

2016 Audi S3 2.0 TFSI S Tronic Quattro review

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My S3 gets the balance right.

Friends told me the S3 is just a Golf R in a pretty dress. Not worth the extra outlay. Maybe, but my daily drive – VW’s Wolfsburg Edition Golf R – just didn’t feel like $61K worth (drive-away). Certainly a great car, but a lot of money for a Golf.

I must admit, I’d been tempted by the seductive shape of Audi’s S3 sedan for some time. It’s a beautifully proportioned vehicle with nicely resolved design details. So, I thought I’d take the plunge to see what S3 ownership might be like.

I took delivery of my MY17 S3 in December 2016. First impressions were promising. Sitting in the sculpted Nappa leather driver’s seat and scanning the cabin, the asking price seemed very reasonable. Beautifully styled dash with retro vents, retractable info screen, contrast stitching, TFT driver’s display. Even the switchgear (mostly) has a quality feel to its operation. Every conceivable convenience has been included. Boy, how you get used to radar cruise, lane-keep assist etc on the highway!

This is more like it. Certainly looks and feels like a $70K-plus vehicle.

Despite the high-tech screens, common functions are (thankfully) easily accessible via shortcut toggles. No need to access submenus to adjust fan speed. I’m actually alarmed at the prevalence of such functionality in new vehicles. Carmakers are rushing to bring us products with fewer (or no!) buttons and knobs, seemingly in the name of fashion. It might look sexy, but they’re forgetting about the poor sod that must take their eyes off the road to negotiate menus for the simplest of tasks.

The pendulum has swung too far people! Carmakers, please resist going down this road with your next new models. I honestly fear I’ll be afflicted with this backward step in functionality with my next new vehicle purchase. (Yes, boohoo, first-world problem). I digress...

With familiarity I can easily access sat-nav, radio, phone, media functions etc via conveniently located toggle switches while on the move, and without having to take my eyes off the road for more than a glance. Try doing that in a Tesla!

The seven-speed DSG from the VW group works a treat. While Comfort and normal modes are typically lazy and all too keen to chase higher gears for economy’s sake, Sport mode is now eminently useable around town and makes the car feel like it’s on its toes and ready to sprint.

Access to the DSG’s Sport mode is via a simple tug on the shift lever – again, no need to take your eyes off the road. This surely is one of the best features for enthusiasts and familiar to Golf R and GTI owners. Having to look down and fumble for a non-tactile drive mode button on my old AMG A45 was always annoying. Another ergonomic goal for the S3.

The steering wheel looks and feels great. The weight is okay in Sport mode, but still without much road feel. Just heavier. I can forgive that.

The 213kW and 380Nm is adequate for a car with sporty pretensions, and in combination with the slick-shifting DSG, I’m really enjoying driving this car. It could do with more exhaust character, though. (An aftermarket exhaust and APR Stage 1 tune should fix this, but that’s a story for another time).

My enthusiasm took a slight nosedive, though, when I first encountered some of Melbourne’s all too prevalent potholes. I was genuinely alarmed when greeted by an unrefined thump/crash through the cabin. The suspension is not overly firm, just thump, crash, noisy. Enough discomfort to pause a conversation while travelling over lumpy rail crossings. Hmm… Comfort/normal/Sport mode, it didn’t matter. All modes were crashy and noisy. Very disappointing and not what I expected from a luxury brand. My R’s suspension was taut (with the same wheel/tyre combo), but it was never crashy and noisy.

How can an S3’s suspension and ride be inferior to a Golf’s? This is the second S3 I’ve driven with magnetic ride suspension, so I can only conclude the inelegant and noisy ride might be attributable to this option.

Unrefined suspension/ride aside, I’m mostly happy with my purchase. Having owned a variety of sporty vehicles, from turbo Subies, GTis to AMG product, I find the Audi S3 is the least compromised.

Here’s the thing: my S3 is fast, but it’s also a pleasure to be in when I’m sitting at the lights adjusting the air-con settings. The precise clicking of the knobs, the frameless rear-view mirror, there’s lots to drink in and admire. My Wolfsburg R felt a little boring and uninspiring unless you were driving hard.

I may be getting old, but I like the idea of a vehicle that you can enjoy at low speeds as well as when you’re pushing on. Heck, I even enjoy looking at this thing parked in my driveway! This all-round attraction is probably the S3’s best party trick. It’s been 20 months now and I’m still enjoying it.

There’s no denying an A45, Renault RS, Focus RS and their ilk might be more enjoyable at nine- or ten-tenths, but of course I’m rarely pushing that hard. I also know my Wolfsburg R was a better performer/track weapon. But as a luxury daily driver that still provides 4.8-second 0–100km/h times, my MY17 S3’s balance of luxury, quality, performance and design flair is hard to beat.

So, the S3 is not just a pretty face. For me, it gets the car ownership balance just right. Style with substance and worth the additional outlay over a top-spec Golf R in my view.

Just drive around the bigger bumps.