The Audi S3 has confused me to no end. I didn't want to like what I view to be a rather angry-looking little German hatch which is essentially a Volkswagen Golf. But after a week in an electric blue, three-door example, I’m absolutely enamoured with the breadth of its abilities, and particularly the incredible interior.
Audi S3 interior and featuresLet’s begin with the area you will spend most of your time looking at and interacting with, the leather cocoon that is the cabin of the S3. The newly-designed bucket seats dominate the cockpit, are cross stitched and gorgeous to look at, as well as comfortable and supportive. Audi has nailed it with these.
There is decent rear space, but those taller than six foot won’t be comfortable. However the rear is well appointed and relatively easy to clamber out of, as the front seats slide fully forward when flicked over. Each rear seat has a cupholder, too.
But the star of the show here is the dashboard and human interface systems. Sounds fancy, but in reality the design and integration of the controls is just about the best I've ever experienced in any car in any price range. Audi has won awards for this interior; it’s simple, functional and beautiful.
There is some wonderful screen gymnastics as the screen pops out of a slot on start up. I like that. You can hide it at the press of a button too.
The volume knob is situated in the perfect place. Lying horizontally next to your knee, it is exactly where your hand rests. You can also flick it sideways to skip tracks.
And then the jog wheel. With a touch pad integrated into the jog wheel, you simply draw letters to tell the SatNav where you’d like to go. Audi, if I’m not mistaken, were first with this, but the integration with the jog wheel is a fantastic evolution of the concept seen in other cars. Top marks here.
The engine of the Audi S3Flinging you at the horizon is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-banger with 206 kW and 380 Nm of torquey things. Curiously, that’s exactly the power figure offered by an Opel Astra OPC, although that is only available in front-wheel drive. And it is a handful to say the least.
With what feels like infinite traction offered by quattro, all of that torque is available at 1 800 rpm and delivered to the tarmac with no drama – just neck-bending acceleration.
0 – 100km/h is claimed at five seconds flat. Five seconds! That’s outgoing BMW M3 territory. That’s Porsche territory. That is quick. But the way it happens is remarkable.
You know that feeling when you pull back on an elastic band just before you flick it at someone in the office? That’s how it feels putting your foot down in the S3. All of sudden the car is being sucked towards the horizon and the exhaust is burping and barking and the engine note is just on the right side of loud.
It is wonderful. And addictive. And I may have emptied the tank because of it.
Handling and drive – Audi S3Corners are a particular treat in the S3, because there may as well not be any. With such a short wheel base, a stiff monocoque with only two doors to ruin the rigidity, the S3 sticks through the bends like Marmite on your lounge carpet. I can’t imagine what entry speeds you’d have to try to unsettle this car. A little bit of understeer is the first sign that you’re being an idiot but even so, it still feels planted.
And applying boot on the exit tucks the backend in rather than push the nose wide, so you can get on the throttle with confidence. On that note, the confidence afforded here compared to a powerful rear wheel drive car is astounding. On a wet road, this car would surely outrun some of the fastest rear-wheel drive sports cars available.
While you can have a manual, the seven-gear S-tronic is better than you in every way. Look, it’s not going to steal your girlfriend, but when it comes to making the best use of the power at the best time, most of us amateurs could do worse than let the ‘box do its thing. In normal drive mode, it holds a higher gear for better fuel consumption, but kicks down quickly.
In Sport mode, the S3 is a different animal. The ‘box blips the throttle on downshifts which not only sounds fantastic but makes you feel like a pro. On upshifts, it will hold on right up to the redline depending on how aggressive you are with your right foot. In flappy paddle mode, pulling a paddle will result in the next gear arriving in 0.2 seconds with no discernible disruption in power flow. However, I generally left it in Sports auto. The logic has evolved and is now so smart that it feels like the car is thinking for you, so you can get on with the business of having immense fun behind the wheel.
Tough German choicesTo be honest if you’re interested in a small, all-wheel drive German hatch, Volkswagen has not made this easy for you. Or actually, maybe it has.
At R493 000, the S3 is R10 000 more expensive than the recently launched Volkswagen Golf R. The two cars are identical under the skin. A 2.0-litre turbocharged heart with 206 kW and 380 Nm (sadly detuned from the European spec with 221 kW, because it’s too damn hot here) powers all four wheels. You can’t have a two-door Golf R but you can have a four-door Sportback S3, so they are as close as anything to being true rivals.
For me, the interior of the Audi A3 is unparalleled, and would swing my choice over to the brand with the Four Rings.
However, that said, both of these cars are R100 000 more expensive than a base model Volkswagen Golf GTi, which is an exceptionally good car. Sure, there’s a lot less power on tap, with 162 kW, but torque is close at 350 Nm.
So you won’t be able to go around corners as fast as you would in the S3/Golf R. And you’d get to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds instead of five seconds flat. But, you’d save at least 1.4 litres of fuel for every 100 km travelled (based on VW and Audi’s figures) and in this day and age, that can’t be sniffed at. Also, did I mention you’d save R100 000?
By all means, park an S3 on your driveway if you have the money. It’s about as sharp as hot hatches have ever been. But if you’re trying to buy into this segment, you will be well served by the Golf GTi. Maybe just don’t test drive the S3 or Golf R first. Definitely don’t do that.
Audi S3 price in South AfricaR476 000 for the the base S3 Quattro, R493 000 for the S Tronic model tested here.
Audi S3 Quick Specs
|Engine||2.0 litre turbocharged inline-four petrol|
|Power||206 kW @ 5 500 rpm|
|Torque||380 Nm @ 1 800 rpm|
|Transmission||7-speed S-tronic sequential gearbox|
|0-100km/h (Claimed)||5 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel economy||6.9l/100km (claimed on the combined cycle) 12.3l/100km (tested mainly in urban conditions)|
We dislike: . Price . Golf GTI and Golf R look enticing (GTI with an aftermarket software remap looks even more tempting - Ed)