Audi’s entry-level performance four-door saloon is back, and it’s more than ready to tear up the competition (and tarmac). We find out just how capable the brand new S3 sedan is.
The S3 has always been the little brother of the Audi S range, both literally and figuratively. It has neither a fire-breathing monster of an engine that its bigger brethren are blessed with, nor does it possess an expansive lounge-like cabin to fully relax in whenever you’re not tossing the car around corners like a madman.
But that’s not to say that the S3 is a pseudo-S. Far from it, in fact. It’s still packed with Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system and powered by a punchy turbocharged four-pot engine; all sitting on an excellent proven chassis.
And with relatively compact dimensions, the S3 is quickly starting to sound like a viable proposition for those seeking a race kart-esque car.
Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove
At first glance, the S3 saloon comes across as rather unassuming, especially in Daytona Gray on our press car here. Restraint is the name of the game here, and you get only the subtlest of hints towards the Audi’s performance pedigree.
The compact saloon features enlarged front grille and vents (with some solid panels that I’m not too fond of), and a triple-vent element just below the bonnet – a homage to the legendary Sport Quattro rally car from the 1980s.
Slightly flared wheel arches are also present to accommodate a set of 235/55/R19 Bridgestone Potenza S005 tyres, made complete with the Audi Sport five-spoke matte titanium grey alloy wheels. Over at the rear, Audi has given the S3 a diffuser, flanked by a quartet of chrome-tipped tailpipes.
Contrasting nicely against the muscular sheet metal are the matte-finish aluminium “blade” elements found on the lower sections of the car. The same aluminium finish can be found on the side mirror housings. They’re tastefully done up, avoiding the “bling-bling” excessive chrome looks that some premium carmakers have adopted.
Things are similarly understated once you step inside. The black Nappa leather upholstery feels decidedly upmarket and plush, although the dark interior does get a tad claustrophobic at times. Red-and-white piping adorn not only the S3’s seats, but also its door cards, steering wheel, and dashboard, which breaks the monotony well.
Embossed S logos are present on the front sports seats, a gentle reminder that you are driving something special. Speaking of which, they are electrically-adjustable with four-way lumbar support.
In typical Audi fashion, all the buttons and switches feel reassuringly tactile and premium, without any components feeling out of place or flexing. The driver’s seat provides a good 360-degree view of everything around you, and there are very minimal blindspots to speak of. While I'm not a fan of the toggle-like gear selector, it is undoubtedly well-engineered and easy to operate.
The S3 features the carmaker's MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system with MMI touch function, and also the Virtual Cockpit Plus. Both are high resolution displays and provide easy-to-read information at a quick glance.
If there’s one complaint to make, it would be ingress and egress. Due to the extended door sills and thick door cards, getting in and out of the car while in parking spaces can prove to be a challenge, even for slim occupants.
Driving on Rails
Like many other performance-oriented cars belonging to the Volkswagen Group (VAG) such as the Cupra Formentor which we recently tested, the S3 sedan is powered by the famed EA888 unit. This inline-four turbocharged 1984cc engine produces 310hp and 400Nm of torque, and has gotten the seal of approval from practically all the journalists here at Motorist.
And with good reason. Nought to 100km/h takes just 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 250km/h. Power delivery is linear and the accompanying rumbling exhaust note brings pleasure to your senses. There is a hint of turbo lag when taking off from a standstill or in slow-moving traffic, but once on wide open roads, it's fun times for everyone. The seven-speed S Tronic transmission is lightning quick, going through the cogs seamlessly without any of the jerking at low speeds.
Steering feedback is extremely precise thanks to the progressive steering technologies, and you feel completely in control regardless of road conditions. The grippy flat-bottomed leather steering wheel did wonders for me behind the wheel, ensuring that I remained in control even as I was facing some Gs. The S3 is also capable of thundering down the corners with ease, thanks to the complex Quattro all-wheel-drive system and sports-tuned suspension.
One of the main contributing factors behind the S3's surefootedness even when driven to its limits is its platform, the VAG MQB Evo. Found in its equally capable cousins like the iconic VW Golf GTI, Cupra Leon, and Skoda Octavia RS, the platform has proven itself to be an all-star performer with versatility and sheer capability in various conditions.
And if the situation calls for hard and fast braking, the S3's ventilated brakes on all four corners can deliver the needed stopping power effectively.
Track day-like shenanigans aside, the car is extremely practical too. The rear cabin, though best suited for two full-grown adults, are quite comfortable. A pair of ISOFIX points are available should you need to mount child seats behind. And if you ever need to store long items from your local hardware store, the split rear seats flip down easily, immediately connecting the cabin to the boot space behind.
Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels are quite impressive too, and you can hardly hear ambient noise outside even when travelling at high speed. However, the stiff sporty suspension does come to bite you back if you're just looking for a cushy ride home after a long day's work.
Fuel efficiency is not spectacular, although that's to be expected for a performance saloon of any kind. Audi claims the S3 can achieve about 13.9 km/l, although I feel like that's a tad too aspirational. For context, I found mine to be closer to 7.6 km/l, with mixed styles of driving involved.
The S3 Sedan is currently priced at S$292,696, inclusive of COE, and falls in the VES C1 banding. It's one of the marque's more exciting offerings this year with superior driving dynamics, and a return of sorts to the simpler days when cars were smaller and nimbler. And the best thing is, it does not need to shout out its presence for the whole world to see.
If this is anything to go by, we believe that its upcoming hardcore RS3 twin will be even more rewarding to drive. But as far as all-rounded performance and practicality goes, the S3 is already up there with some of the very best.
S$292,696 (inclusive of COE)VES Banding: C1
Motor: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine
Power: 310 bhp
Torque: 400 Nm
Fuel Consumption: 13.8 km/l (official) / 7.6 km/l (recorded)
0-100km/h: 4.8 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Drivetrain: Seven-speed S Tronic, All-Wheel-Drive
Brakes: Ventilated discs (front & rear)
Suspension: MacPherson (front) / Multi-link (rear)
Dimensions (LxWxH): 4,504 mm x 1,816mm x 1,415 mm
Kerb Weight: 1,505 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 55 litres
Boot Capacity: 325 litres
Tyres: 235/35 R19
Electric front seats with four-way lumbar adjustments
Android Auto & Apple Carplay integration
Audi pre sense basic
Lane Departure Warning
S Sport Suspension
LED headlights with headlight cleaning system
LED tail lights with dynamic indicators
Tyre repair kit
Audi virtual cockpit plus
Audi MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch
Photo Credit: ACube Creative (@weareacube)
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