ROAD TEST: Audi S3 sedan quattro
Johannesburg - The Audi S3 sedan quattro is adrenaline served on a silver platter.
This is a dual personality car that feels meek and composed in normal driving, but goes berserk when you ask it to.
In normal driving it purrs along so smoothly that if you keep the revs low you’d barely guess at the rip-snorting monster hidden beneath. The ride’s quite comfortable too, even though you can feel the presence of the low-profile tyres on bumpy roads.
But boot the throttle like Lionel Messi kicking for goal, and purr turns into blur. Select the auto transmission’s sport setting and the car adopts an angrier demeanor as the engine’s allowed to rev higher before hooking the next gear, and the exhaust takes on a raspier tone, with “burps” between shifts just to add more bad-to-the-bone personality.
The S3 is the new performance flagship of the four-door A3 range launched here in January. Available only as a six-speed S tronic automatic with quattro all-wheel drive, the S3 sedan sells for R529 500 and comes with a five-year/100 000km Audi Freeway Plan.
The firepower’s supplied by an engine that’s become an instant legend in high-performance compact cars, courtesty of its muscular 206kW/380Nm outputs. It’s the same 2-litre turbo petrol that does duty in the VW Golf R, S3 hatch and S3 Sportback, and later this year it will also be slotted under the bonnet of the S3 cabriolet.
Top speed’s governed at 250km/h and Audi quotes a sea level 0-100km/h sprint of just five seconds for the S3 sedan, and the car we road-tested in high-altitude Gauteng was just a tenth slower. Helped by its all-wheel-drive traction, 5.1 seconds is a scorchingly fast figure, and so is the 13.4 second quarter-mile time.
If you’re looking for a cool stat to throw into the next around-the-braai discussion, tell your mates the S3 matches a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera in the 0-100 sprint.
This Lambo-esque performance comes with typical German efficiency. Reeling off those swift sprints is child’s play with a launch-control system that allows the engine revs to build up while you hold the brake with your left foot. Release the brake and the Golf GTIs and Subaru STIs of this world become fading dots in your rear-view mirrors.
There’s no manual transmission option, which may upset some purists, but the dual-clutch S tronic is a honey of a gearbox that brings out the best of the power unit with its swift changes.
And ah, what eager midrange torque it has, grandma, all the better to whisk past long trucks. Turbo lag doesn’t feature much in this Audi’s vocabulary.
When you’re not dicing with Lamborghinis the S3 also returns a very respectable economy figure – not quite the 6.9 litres per 100km claimed by Audi, but a still-decent 10 litres.
LIGHT AND CHUCKABLE
Meandering roads expose a well-sorted chassis with doggedly good grip, and in the corners this Audi finds its mojo. Although it’s not the brand’s most powerful car (not by a long shot) the all-wheel-drive S3 is possibly its most fun to drive because it’s so compact and light and chuckable. If it were a medieval weapon, think sword, not bludgeon.
It delivers all the right sensations when piloted in eyes-slitted, teeth-gritted mode: the steering (which is flattened on the bottom in the de rigeur racing style) loads up nicely, and the brakes bite like a rottweiler.
Traditionally in this car size category a hatchback carries more design flair, but Audi’s stylists have massaged a very appealing shape out of this sedan, with almost coupé-like curves. In standard trim the fastest version of the A3 sedan looks subtly sporty, and the S3 badge, quad exhausts and the slightly more aggressive bumpers/spoilers not making too flamboyant a styling statement; not that Audi ever really does. The optional 18” black mags fitted to our test car really brought out the car’s dark side, however.
As a daily ride the car’s easy to live with. Rear seating space is a little cramped for taller adults but it’s acceptable, and the boot gulps a respectable 390 litres of luggage.
The bottom-flattened steering wheel and shiny pedals add some racy flair to the interior. Sports seats (a R9 120 option) clad in a diamond pattern leather are a styling highlight, and are as supportive as a bear hug.
Along with a generous luxuries list, Audi’s typically rich-feeling textures are in evidence everywhere. The dash looks almost too bare with its minimalistic scattering of buttons, but having the functions rolled up into one controller is admittedly user-friendly.
A price tag of nearly 530 grand might make your buttocks clench, but when you consider the giant-killing performance on offer, the S3 sedan is a relative bargain.
There’s news of an even more potent RS3 coming next year, reportedly powered by a 2.5-litre turbo with around 270kW. -Star Motoring
Audi S3 sedan quattro
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Six-speed dual-clutch
Power: 206kW @ 5500-6200rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1800-5600rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 5.1 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Consumption (claimed): 6.9 litres per 100km
Price: R529 300
Warranty: One-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km
Subaru WRX (197kW/350Nm) - R449 000
Subaru WRX STI (221kW/407Nm) - R599 000
Volvo S60 T6 (225kW/400Nm) - R506 500