The Audi S3 sedan brings a whole new meaning to the breed of performance sedan. It doesn’t try to present itself as a track vehicle, but you can definitely have fun driving to the track
It’s a whole new market out there especially in the field of entry-level premium sedans. Now that’s a oxymoron if there was one that could really describe the breed. The point is that in the search for higher volumes and getting a new breed of customer into the brand, marques like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have been expending a considerable amount of energy in redefining the entry level. A few years ago, anything smaller than a C-segment car would have only warranted a hatchback variant that was specifically targeted at Western Europe’s affluent yuppie customers who were ready to pay a premium price for a small car. Try projecting that into markets like the GCC and indeed anywhere else in the developing world, or even the USA and you are destined to have limited appeal from customers who are ready to pay for a larger, more useable car without the premium badge.
This has lead to an entire new generation of B and often A-segment options that are masquerading as full-fledged premium cars now, redefining the entry level. Take the case of the BMW 1-series sedan, the Mercedes CLA and the Audi A3 sedan all fall into this category. It shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise from Audi anyway should have been expected to do that especially with its connection with the Volkswagen brand – small, nicely handling sedans anyone?
So we weren’t surprised when the A3 came out as a new generation with multiple body styles, with a decided focus on the sedan itself. And over the past years the car has gone on to draw in new customers – with an entry point south of RO 10,000 initially with the 1.4-litre turbo engine and then a better specced version that is offered with the 1.8-litre turbo engine, the A3 still sits very competitive against the other contestants in the category. Then the S3 landed up with the 2.0-litre turbo charged engine and some really mean manners. Somehow, we managed to miss the test drive in that car, catching it on the refresh with the early 2017 version.
The upgrade has been a little underwhelming with an engine that gets ten horsepower and 20Nm of torque more, along with a lowered and firmer S sports suspension (lowered by 25mm) the car doesn’t even look substantially changed. But considering that we are driving the S3 for the first time, allow us to project the model generation as a whole. The reasoning for the S3 follows the methodology that Audi has for most of its model lines – the S indicates a factory tune up that adds sportiness and appeal while allowing the brand to charge a premium over their stock entries.
Visually, the car differs with some dedicated body panels and grille. The fascia is made quite aggressive with a large opening provided along the lower airdam. The profile similarly benefits from a pronounced lower skirt and a further bit around the tail with an integral lip spoiler and the prominent LED taillight arrangement.
In some ways, getting the Audi S3 in white was the best deal of all – the colour or lack of it brings out the fine detailing of the profile and the effect of the sipes and characterlines as they rise to the rear deck. The car isn’t classically proportioned – in fact its wheelbase seems a little less than you would want on the 4,466mm length. At only 2,631mm there is at least a 100mm in extra wheelbase that we can derive in future – in the meantime the front overhang is rather visible with the rear of engine positioning of the front axle being very evident.
The interiors of the car are a definite upgrade over the regular A3. The black seat leather, with its red trim borders and herringbone stitches adds mass to the visual identity, while providing seats that are every bit as sporty as they look. The car also varies in terms of the dashboard and driver environment – it begins with the cutaway steering wheel of the S and the inclusion of the virtual cockpit in place of the instrument panel. The high definition display consolidates almost all the functions of the car and allows the driver to switch layouts. Some patterns are obvious and come with selection of drive modes.
Dynamic mode anyone? You will get the tachometer centric display that is now standard on sportscars. Or would you rather have the map hogging the bulk of the display leaving smaller zones for the speedometer and tach? It’s your choice.
The popup central display seems to be a bit of a let down when you factor in the virtual cockpit. Yes, you do need something to partner with the MMI unit, but for all the brilliance of the virtual cockpit, this display lets you down in sheer scale and detailing. We think there is enough opportunity to integrate the MMI into the virtual cockpit and it makes a lot more sense to either do away with the central panel or replace it with a more impressive one.
In typical Audi fashion the dashboard and centre console are rather underplayed – you get the full visual presence of the round air-conditioning louvers (designed to mimic jet engine nacelles indeed) and then zones of interest in the drive control buttons with the air-conditioning unit below that. Then it’s on to the gearshift lever and the MMI behind that – you can see a lot of bland plastic area in between.
The new tuning of the 2.0-litre TFSI engine on the S3 results in 310hp of power available along with 400Nm of torque. In typical turbocharged fashion, the torque delivery is spread through the 2,000 to 5,400rpm bracket, though the extra bandwidth is obviously a result of new technological advances including better control over ignition characteristics. The engine displays the ability to mix its injection pattern between dosing the cylinders and the manifold, while the exhaust manifold is integrated into the cylinder head, boosting the turbochargers efficiency.
You cannot buy an Audi nowadays without the obligatory auto start/stop feature of the fuel-efficient engine, but thankfully you can switch the feature off. If you don’t the chances are that you will be caught out even in dynamic mode at a traffic signal. But the engine kicks in immediately and you get the benefit of a edgy 7-speed S tronic transmission that actually lets you play with the third and fourth gears as some sort of king of all gears positions.
The beauty of having a small sedan as the base for an S car is that it resembles the feel of a sportscar like the TT. You get the practicality of four doors and a boot but other than that the car is just sheer fun. We went for the dynamic mode as our option and thankfully it keeps the setting through engine shut downs as well. The car’s suspension has been tweaked – it gets an S sport suspension with a default setting that keeps the car 25mm lower. This also causes the larger 18” wheels to fill up the wheelbays nicely. The front suspension is a MacPherson strut arrangement with the rear getting the more compact multi-link architecture. Damping is through the magnetic ride control that varies the viscosity of the damper fluid by aligning the magnetic elements in it. Because of the electric activation, the system can kick in and out many times a second, giving instantaneous response to road conditions.
We had the car over a weekend and took it on most of the great driving roads around Muscat. Yes, the mode was almost always in Dynamic, we wanted the extra firmness it gave as well as the way in which the gears hold longer. The ratios on the lower four gears are quite close, while the 5th, 6th and 7th then try to compensate for the efficiency bit – but the engine revs hard and fast, so even the fourth gear is just fine. The car holds gears well into the 5,000rpm band when really pushed you can comfortably redline the car. The tuned for S quattro is good in moving power to the rear wheels, especially when a combination of a quick exit and sharp turn push the weight back on to the rear axle. You can feel the quattro follow the weight shift and also come into play in typical understeer positions, evening out the tracking.
Steering feel goes from firm to very firm in Dynamic mode, although you can feel corrective action come in at close to lock conditions. We liked the linearity of feel as the wheel unwinds in either direction.
And then there’s the engine. It is almost race grade if you want to race on the roads. It takes the family feel of the VW group hot hatches and plants itself firmly in the S3 as a winner. It is rev-happy and delivers a punch through the entire lower and mid-range. Somehow, the tuning is at a level where turbo-lag is almost completely avoided. There were a couple of occasions when we felt a bit of plateauing off just before the real grunt hit, but then we were in Normal drive mode at the time.
If the dealers can keep the price south of RO 20,000 the S3 will be a sure hit. The catch is that whether they like it or not the car will be compared to the Golf GTi and the R as well as to the competition from the likes of the M2 and A45 AMG. We aren’t actually trying to explore the merits of the Audi S3 against any of these cars. The S3 sits like a GTi does in a comfortable zone where there is a balance of instant performance and blatant practicality. And a good price tag to warrant the S tag. That’s going to be the draw of the S3. It will keep the competition for the top end open to the new RS3.
2017 Audi S3 Sedan
|Length Width Height (mm)||4466 x 1796 x 1392|
|Engine||2.0-litre TFSI Turbocharged|
|Power HP@RPM||310 @ 5500-6500|
|Torque Nm@RPM||400 @ 2000-5400|
|Gearbox||7-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission with quattro AWD|
|Fr Suspension||McPherson struts with lower wishbones, aluminum subframe|
|Rr Suspension||Four-link rear suspension with separate spring/shock absorber arrangement, subframe|
|Brakes||Disc brakes ventilated at front and rear; electromechanical parking brake|
|Wheels||8J x 18 cast aluminum flow forming wheels|
|Tyres||225/40 R18 tyres|