Published on February 16th, 2017 | by Richard Wiley0
Audi’s S3 compact sedan punches above its weight
Those that read my missives on a regular basis – if there are such beings – will know that I am a little ambivalent about the relentless move to SUVs and similar vehicles endowed with a high build. I am not suggesting that such machines are necessarily poor or indifferent – indeed some are very good – but I am suggesting that even the very best SUVs cannot match a top saloon in dynamic terms, that not all offer superior carrying capacity and that aerodynamics alone ensure that fuel consumption of an SUV just has to be inferior. Ironically, this increased ground clearance is probably the one feature that is put to least use by owners!
I also find that following these SUV-type vehicles in dense traffic is a darned irritation because you can’t see past them but I am getting more used to that as every Tom, Dick and Harry migrates in a serious effort to keep up with the Joneses ….. unless most of these buyers already have that surname!
I raise these rather peripheral issues because I have just enjoyed – nay, lappe
d up – a week behind the wheel of what I think is the most elegantly- wrought compact sports saloon in the business – the Audi S3 2.0 TFSI.
The A3 with lesser motive power is already a fine-looking device with its long cabin, short rear deck and sculpted flanks but the S3 extends the visual appeal further. Bigger alloy wheels, a bolder grille (the broader strakes of which annoyingly trap water) and lower air intakes, gloss black trim elements, sill extensions, a boot spoiler and quad oval tailpipes add muscle without in any way sullying the basic elegance.
Your neighbour might not actually know exactly what this stylish set of clothes is hiding be
cause the overall effect is subtle, but what’s under the fluted bonnet is a mechanical Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a turbocharged four that one minute wafts you along the boulevard or motorway in virtual silence and the next unleashes with a ferocity and a bark that belies its mere two litre displacement.
You see, the decision-makers in Audi’s Ingolstadt HQ have at last decided that this proven engine is strong enough to be offered in hot (and sometimes high) South Africa with all its 228kW made available instead of the ‘conservative’ 206kW tabled before.
There is another engine of this displacement from a rival manufacturer that pumps out even more ponies but I suspect the cam cover marked with four rings tells a more conservative story, on paper at least.
Call up dynamic mode on the easily accessible central screen, press the start button and the burble from those quad exhausts hints that there’s something special at play. My opposite neighbour was clearly impressed as I noted her presence behind lace curtains every time I blipped the throttle, but I must say I can’t blame her for her added interest, negative or otherwise!
The tone is to die for so don’t believe anyone who tells you the addition of a turbocharger castrates the reproduction of delectable exhaust notes. This exhaust offers a baritone bark under load and a series of pops and burbles on the overrun together with an intoxicating pop that accompanies every lightning quick upshift executed by the brilliant 7-speed dual clutch s tronic box. Needless to say, the paddle shifters tend to get used without good reason just to activate the orchestra down the back!
Quoted figures indicate a controlled top end of 250km/h and a 0-100 sprint of 4.6s but truth be told, it feels even quicker than this. The electronically-controlled quattro system provides limpet-like traction and ensures that torque steer is non-existent. It’s also so unobtrusive its presence is never obvious, unless a traffic circle is attacked with undue gusto and your grey matter questions just how such a high grip level can be maintained.
Secure, ultra-rapid progress is the order of the day when the mood takes you, but when your wife is aboard and youthful tendencies need to be suppressed, this S3 wafts along like a bateleur eagle riding a thermal. The smoothness and serenity are partly a function of the ultra-high gearing which sees a mere 1800 rpm being maintained for long periods in an urban environment and little more on the motorway at 120 clicks but what is so extraordinary, is that the engine has enough low-down muscle to tolerate such a lazy rate of rotation. Maybe the torque peak of 400 Nm which is maintained all the way from 2 000 to 5 400rpm tells you just why this motor always feels so willing and is almost devoid of turbo lag.
It’s truly a master of all trades and is capable of delivering around 7.5l/100km on the cruise and an overall 10.3l/100km in a more testing stop/start environment when liberal use of the throttle is hard to suppress.
Other driving modes include comfort, individual, efficiency and auto which tend to soften things up a bit or allow you to tailor different drive aspects to taste. Truth be known, the ride is quite stiff even in the softest setting and broken surfaces can be felt and heard – coarse tar roar is quite intrusive – but there is an underlying pliancy which ensures acceptable cushioning for the posterior even if this aspect takes second place to roll control.
Audis are sometimes accused of offering a leaden steering feel but I certainly don’t think that applies here. Sure, there is the typical electro-hydraulic isolation factor at play but in terms of effort, whatever mode is employed, the easy feel at low speeds soon stiffens up to offer a firmish and acceptably direct helm.
The brakes, as you have a right to expect these days, are beyond reproach offering immense retardation, a nicely-weighted pedal feel and the assurance of a multitude of back-up systems.
If this car is dynamically brilliant, its finishing detail is delightfully polished … excuse the deliberate pun. The paint positively glows, the panel gaps are wafer thin and the doors, complete with multiple layers of rubbers seals, shut with a lovely, muffled thud.
Inside, the S3 continues the simple, classy theme. The test unit to my delight offered mid-grey (optional) nappa leather of truly exquisite quality and nose which creates a striking contrast with the black upper surfaces and carpeting. Soft-touch, heavily grained surfaces abound, all the switchgear works with precision, the finishing detail in terms of chrome inlays and the like is the best in the business and the aforementioned manually multi-adjustable front seats are very comfortable but maybe lack as much lateral support as expected.
Down the back, the split, folding seat provides good posture but kneeroom for adults is no more than adequate and headroom (with a sunroof fitted) is marginal. It was also a surprise to find no central armrest (that’s extra) but hidden away in a little cubby in the front face of the seat, are two bright yellow safety jackets complemented by a first aid kit lurking within the driver’s seat. The beautifully-finished boot is acceptably commodious (390l) but a touch shallow as a result of the 4WD hardware lurking unseen underneath along with a biscuit spare wheel.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is mostly acceptable thanks to the generous cabin glazing but specific attention needs to be paid to lateral vision as the centre pillars are decidedly sturdy and unusually adjacent to the front occupants’ head positions. Rear parking sensors are standard but there’s no camera in–situ and no front parking sensors, curious omissions in a car of this class. You need to pay extra for an appropriate “pack.” Happily, LED headlamps with integral dynamic turn indicators are standard.
The party piece in this car was the (again) optional virtual instrument display pioneered in the latest TT. In direct line of sight for the driver, this complements and supplements the central display which incorporates Bluetooth and more and which slides into the dashboard when not in use. Take note, Stuttgart!
The main-cluster mapping display, with virtual speedo and rev counter in minimised mode, doesn’t have sole rights to this large area. The mere flick of a switch brings up a screen that incorporates every ounce of information about the car that you could ever want. Truth be known, it’s a bit of an information overload but I guess familiarity will make things easier to absorb. I did though like the bar graph showing boost pressure and was surprised how little boost is needed to maintain quite high velocities. If you like high tech, you’ll love this presentation – it’s the best.
As for the kit, there’s a full complement of active and passive safety aids on board and everything you’d expect to be powered is powered ….. except for the seats. Again, cough up for automation and lumbar adjustment and for rear parking aids and adaptive cruise control and more. I seriously suggest a visit to www.audi.co.za to get a full run-down as the range of options is huge as is the colour choice.
If the thought of a compact sports sedan appeals to you and you don’t want to shout from the rooftops about just how sporty it can be, it’s very hard to look past the S3. As with all Audis, it is superbly put together and presented in a subtle way that’s right up my street. Those extra kW under the bonnet turn it into a road burner of note yet pottering around also seems so normal thanks to the muscular bottom end torque of that brilliant engine.
Just be aware though that to configure the S3 with some extra niceties, a couple of which really ought to be standard, will quickly inflate the base price.
(Specifications applicable to models supplied to the Southern African market)