Is the Audi RS 3 a bit of a stretch for your budget? Is the Volkswagen Golf R a little boy racer-ish for your taste? And does the sight of anything with a three-pointed star or a propeller badge make you lose interest? If your answer was a resounding yes to all three questions, then the Audi S3 Sedan could be for you.
Based on the A3 range, the S3 is the high-performance variant of the line-up, sitting in between the cooking models and the brutal RS 3 flagship. It’s not as much of a beast as a full-blown RS, but potent enough to arouse your senses on a spirited Sunday drive and comfortable enough to take on the daily grind. In other words, it’s ‘base camp’ for potential RS ownership, much like rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz are doing with their M240i and CLA 250 Sport 4Matic respectively.
The current generation S3 has been around since 2014, and 2017 sees the range – consisting of hatch, sedan and convertible – receiving an update, and it’s this sharper looking, quicker and better equipped version we’ve road tested here.
Prices in Australia range from $62,900 for the hatch (Sportback in Audi speak) 6-speed manual to $72,000 for the convertible 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. All stickers are before on-road costs.
Design and Comfort
Can you tell the new S3 apart from the old one? Of course you can’t, unless you’re an Audi fanatic. Evolutionary styling is something that has been synonymous with this brand and the new S3 follows the same approach. The update is subtle but a closer look will reveal the more angular headlamps with new intricate lens design and restyled taillight clusters with progressively illuminating indicators, along with a wider trapezoidal grille, redesigned front bumper lower intakes and new-look rear diffuser.
The exterior changes lend a sharper and slightly more aggressive look to what is already a handsome looking small car. The design is still unquestionably Audi, understated and elegant but the S badge’s tell-tale signs are all there – quad exhaust tips, beefy side skirts and 19-inch wheels (optional).
Highlight of the interior is the addition of the excellent Audi virtual cockpit digital instrumentation display, which, apart from adding to the cabin’s premium ambiance, is certainly one cool gadget to have that is not available in other rivals.
The simplistic dashboard looks neat but I’m not quite sure on those rounded air-con vents. Like most Audi interiors though, the S3’s cabin is impeccably presented, with high quality polished aluminium trim and switch gear nestled within soft-touch surfaces and sumptuous leather. Our test car also comes optioned up with the S Performance Package which, among other things, brings a pair of gorgeous S Sport seats with diamond patterned stitching for the driver and front passenger.
While space in the front is good, the back row is limited, even by small car standard. Taller passengers (6-footers and above) seated at the back will not appreciate the tight leg and headroom. Five seats, yes, but the rear bench is really more suited to small children, or adults coming along for a short trip.
The sedan’s boot space of 425 litres triumph the Sportback’s 340 litres, but the boot opening isn’t big so for those with a young family, larger prams may not fit in.
Performance and Handling
The S3 Sedan gets its power from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder TFSI engine, the same donk as before though output has crept a modest 3kW to 213kW, with torque remaining at 380Nm. Those are good figures but for those who had wished for Audi to lift its ‘hot climate’ classification for Australia in this latest update, it’s bad news again as the European version that makes 228kW and 400Nm still isn’t allowed Down Under.
You won’t notice the 3kW hike in power but you might be able to feel the stronger acceleration, as 0 to 100km/h now takes 4.8 seconds (claimed), 0.2s quicker than before. And it’s largely thanks to the new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that replaces the previous six-speed DSG.
It’s a brilliant engine-transmission combo, with the revs dropping right into the thick of the powerband at every up shift. The revised ratios and one extra gear mean there’s noticeably more urgency than before at wide open throttle and the lightning fast shifts make shuffling through the engine’s strong mid-range torque such an easy effort.
The perky acceleration is accompanied by the delightful exhaust sound that crackles and burbles, though the Volkswagen Golf R, with which the S3 shares its powertrain, is still more theatrically satisfying.
The dual-injected engine (multi-point injection at low loads and direct-injection at high load) pushes power through a Haldex all-wheel drive system that endows the S3 Sedan with exceptional point-to-point performance. Its grip and composure through the corners are simply remarkable, resulting in a drive that feels sharp, agile and very, very fast.
Pressing on, the S3 Sedan will start to exhibit understeer, but it’s gradual and never nervous. The steering is weighty and precise but feedback isn’t as genuine as we’d hoped. Still, the S3 Sedan has great pedal feel and is such an easy and effortless car to drive fast, be it on a track or a stretch of twisty back roads.
You can use the Drive Select function to adjust steering feel, throttle response and damper firmness to suit road condition and driving style. Handling is sharpened by dialing in Dynamic mode which stiffens the optional Audi Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension (fitted to the test car), sharpens the throttle response and keeps revs higher for longer.
In Comfort Mode, the S3’s ride remains firmer than its more sedate siblings but never harsh, with only the nastiest potholes crashing through the chassis. Around town, the car lives up to its premium badge with most road noise well suppressed.
Audi consistently excels in this area and the new S3 Sedan continues to impress with excellent perceived quality. Its interior is has a real upmarket feel to it with premium materials and trim used throughout the cabin, complemented with lavish leather upholstery and neat contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, doors, gear knob and seats.
Typical of Audi, fit and finish is top notch. Most surfaces are soft to the touch and panels have almost perfect alignment.
With the new 7-speed gearbox, Audi claims the new S3 Sedan consumes as low as 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle, an improvement of 0.4L compared to the model before with a six-speeder.
At the end of my week long test the trip computer returned a reading of 10.2L/100km, which admittedly involved some really heavy-footed driving. Driven normally, it should see around 8L/100km.
Cruising at legal freeway speeds, I observed the S3 Sedan’s fuel use hovered at around 6.0L/100km, which is pretty thrifty for a performance car.
Equipment and Features
Standard equipment on the S3 Sedan includes 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and dynamic rear indicators. On the inside, there’s satellite navigation with 7.0-inch screen, six map updates, Audi Smartphone interface (Apple Carplay and Android Auto), dual-zone climate control, steering paddle shifters and leather upholstery. Also standard are CD and DVD player, DAB+ digital radio, 10-speaker sound system and Audi virtual cockpit.
While front and rear parking sensors as well as reverse view camera are standard, it’s disappointing to see essential safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and collision warning remain optional items that need to be bought.
Design and Comfort: 8.5/10
Performance and Handling: 8.5/10
Equipment and Features: 8.0/10
Since its introduction in 2014, the Audi S3 Sedan has been one of the best high performance premium cars under $80k. The 2017 update reinforces that with subtle but effective changes, most notably the new super-quick 7-speed DSG and Audi’s brilliant virtual cockpit digital instrumentation.
While the BMW M240i may offer a more engaging drive and the Mercedes CLA 250 Sport is more exciting to look at, the Audi S3 Sedan is certainly the most all-rounded and complete of the lot. And to some, that’s just what they’re looking for.
2017 Audi S3 Sedan Pricing and Specification
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||$64,500 / As tested: $69,450|
|Warranty:||3 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Service Interval:||15,000km or 12 months|
|Engine:||2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder TFSI petrol: 213kW @ 6,500rpm, 380Nm @ 1,800-5,100rpm, all-wheel drive|
|Transmission:||7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic|
|0-100km/h (seconds):||Claimed: 4.8 / Tested: 5.1|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 6.5 / Tested: 10.2|
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||4,469/1,796/1,392/2,631|
|Tare Mass (kg):||1,505|