The Audi S3 sedan was facelifted towards the end of 2016 and, among other upgrades, it received a more potent powerplant. Does it strike a good balance between an executive express and a rorty performance sedan?
We like: Build quality, powertrain refinement, performance, matured into a compact executive performer
We don't like: Lacks outright "driver involvement", can get expensive if you're liberal with the options list
- Rear Wheel Drive Fun: The BMW M240i makes a phenomenal case for itself as it combines svelte looks with a roaring turbocharged straight-6 powerplant. It's one for the enthusiasts and will satisfy those craving heightened driver involvement. It offers just as much tech as the Audi, but its 2-door layout is a drawback in terms of practicality.
- Let's Get Wild: The Ford Focus RS is a fraction more expensive than the Audi, but offers oodles of addictive (and always-entertaining) performance. We'd expect the Audi to be fractionally quicker in the sprint department thanks to its slick transmission, but the RS feels the more hands-on car to drive. However, at this price point, the Ford's interior lags in terms of cabin comfort and build quality.
- Also a German all-wheel drive sedan: We don't know much about the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Sport 4Matic, because we've not yet tested the car, but in terms of image and packaging, it offers something not too dissimilar to the S3 sedan. According to its quoted performance figures, however, it's considerably slower than the Audi.
Facts & Figures
- Price: R656 000 (March 2017)
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox
- Power: 228 kW
- Torque: 440 Nm
- Fuel Consumption: 5.4 L/100 km (claimed)
- Top speed: 250 kph
- 0-100 kph: 4.6 sec
Summary: Previously, the Audi S3 sedan was detuned due to our climate, but that's no longer the case and we get the full power/torque offering. The car is built really well and features a beautifully modern interior, but we feel the driving experience now leans more towards that of a buttoned-up sporty executive car.
Very understated looks mean the Audi S3 sedan is a veritable stealth jet. Quad exhausts and badges are the only giveaways
A potent powerplant
Let's start with that engine. Finally, we're getting the whole shebang (the whole package, performance-wise). Previously, the S3 engine was detuned due to the nature of our climate (a combination of high altitude/thinner air and lofty temperatures, especially upcountry), but now we get 228 kW and 440 Nm from the newcomer's 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder mill. It revs smoothly and cleanly, with no let up in surge until the rev needle hits the redline. Typically, 4-cylinder engines sound mechanical and lack soul, but Audi's engineers have worked a nice growl and pops from the exhaust ends with each gear shift. There are driving modes with which to adjust the engine's responsiveness and the car never feels out of its comfort zone.
Now equipped with 7 forward gears, the Audi S3 sedan's transmission adapts masterfully with variable driving conditions.
Unobtrusive, but dynamic transmission
Audi's dual-clutch transmission (called S-Tronic) is undoubtedly the star of the show. For this new model, the transmission has changed from a "wet clutch" to a "dry clutch" configuration and gained an extra ratio. Plus, if you thought the 'box in the previous S3 shifted almost imperceptibly when cruising and vigorously in Sport mode, the new unit is even more dynamic.
You can leave the gearbox in full auto when you're doing the commute, something we readily recommend as its just so smooth and efficient... in fact, you hardly notice the changes as the cogs swap from one ratio to the next. When you want to get a move on, however, you can engage Dynamic mode and take charge of shifts via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
The paddles are lifted straight from the VW Group parts bin, but they feel well-sized, are easily within the reach of your fingers and, crucially, they're affixed to the steering wheel instead of the -column, so you can change gear with ease... There's nothing more infuriating than turning the wheel and wanting to change gear, only to find the paddles hard to reach!
Excellent comfort and refinement
Given the S3 sedan's performance bent, the Audi's levels of ride comfort and refinement are impressive. Much of this sophistication can be attributed to the MQB platform, which underpins so many VW Group products, because despite its sporty pretensions, the S3 has matured into a refined executive vehicle from the hot hatch it was based upon. The cabin is awash with sporty adornments (including the front sports seats) and the fit-and-finish quality is excellent. The digital dashboard, known as Virtual Cockpit is the must-have option – it adds a smart technological edge to the car. Other than that, our evaluation unit was a little sparse on the optional extras, but we did not perceive it as under-specced in the least.
Seeing that it's a performance offering from the Audi stable, the S3 purports to be a supreme handling machine. Suffice to say, the test unit delivered with aplomb. There is so much grip and, therefore, traction availed by the all-wheel-drive setup that you'd have to be trying to bend the laws of physics to elicit squeals from the tyres. The S3 grips tenaciously; it refuses to get unstuck and only when you're really making a fool of yourself does the S3 exhibit some mild understeer. With Dynamic mode engaged, the ride firms up a bit and the car feels markedly edgier.
Meanwhile, body roll is almost none existent and the steering is quick and sharp. Therefore, the car responds quickly to changes in direction and with so much grip available, you can easily pitch the S3 into the tightest of turns with confidence, even when the Audi is carrying a fair deal of momentum. However, there's a downside to the driving experience, which you'll read about below.
Virtual Cockpit greatly increases the user experience from behind the wheel. Tick this option.
Sometimes-anodyne driving experience
While there's no denying that the Audi S3 sedan is a blisteringly quick vehicle, we feel that it is missing a bit of a fun factor: something subtle that makes the car feel as if it's spoiling for a dice even when you're pottering along. Given its positioning between the 2.0T FSI or TDI derivatives and the upcoming RS3 performance flagship, the S3 needs to tread the fine line between a rational derivative and an all-out sportscar and although this is subjective, perhaps the sedan errs slightly on the part of conservatism. Let us put it this way: if you compare the Volkswagen Golf Clubsport with its Golf R and Audi S3 brother and cousin, it offers a bit less performance, but still feel hands-on and involving despite its more businesslike packaging.
A nice touch to the customisable Virtual Cockpit display... the S3 quattro-specific readout.
While the overall package is quite difficult to fault, we'd have to nitpick and give Audi a light slap on the wrist for the price of the optional extras. The car's price starts at a not-too-silly R656 000, which is on par for vehicles in this segment. However, add in some nice-to-haves such as Virtual Cockpit (which has to be taken with satnav) as well as an uprated audio system, and you're well into the territory of a R700 000-plus premium compact sedan... which is dear, even for a very desirable Audi product with loads of snob value. In its defence, however, the S3's standard spec is generous in comparison with that of standard A3 sedans. Essentially, you're paying R650k, but you're getting a car with a healthy dose of kit included.
Pricing and after sales
The Audi S3 sedan retails for R656 000 and comes with a 5 year/100 000km Audi Freeway Plan.
The aerodynamic bodykit fitted to the S3 is subtle, but the large alloys are certainly eye-catching!
The Audi S3 sedan is a deeply impressive and accomplished product. It's fast alright, but it's also really pliant/comfortable on the commute/when you're not in the mood to drive quickly. This test unit perfectly illustrated how the S3 has matured from its original 165 kW hot hatch boy racer to a fast premium compact sedan. There's no denying that it offers excellent straight-line performance and the levels of grip are nothing short of confidence-inspiring. However, its real strength is how it can go from mountain pass performer to executive commuter almost seamlessly.
Ironically, some may find the fact that the car can wear both hats with ease a negative trait. Yes, it may seem slightly more of an executive's source of everyday transport than a sportscar (that seems its default setting), but few will argue against the fact that the S3 has become one of the finest all-rounders on the road. Sure, the options can get pricey, but at this price point, there's very little to touch the S3 sedan in terms of desirability, performance and refinement. You and your (admittedly young) rear passengers will be comfortable on longer journeys, with the highly-strung racer engine barely breaking a sweat. The S3 sedan has matured nicely; it's unlikely the fiery upcoming RS3 sedan will be nearly as well balanced.
Compare the Audi S3 sedan to its rivals here
Read a review of the older Audi S3 sedan
Want more power than the Audi S3? Meet its hardcore brother, the Audi RS3
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