The hot hatch which is just as fast as the new replacement model
Getting old is never easy. Those who look after themselves seem to defy the ageing process, which is probably why the athletic Audi S3 still looks and performs like a youngster.
The S3 is due for replacement later this year, when the four rings will pack more punch into the five-door and sedan variants.
Sporting variants from Audi were difficult to find last year, but there are a few S3s in showrooms starting from about $70,000 drive-away.
We’ve seen most S3s priced about $75,000 drive-away courtesy of having an optional pack which includes automated operation in traffic snarls and flashier interior features.
Specification remains high in standard guise, including sports front seats covered with nappa leather and diamond stitching (plus heating function), dual-zone aircon, Bang and Olufsen stereo with 14 speakers connected to a seven-inch colour display, smartphone mirroring apps, wireless phone charging, as well as a configurable 12.3-inch digital display for the driver.
External colour options are two shades of white, grey and black, blue, red and a special crystal-effect blue which is the only hue to attract an additional cost. There are also two styles of five-arm 19-inch alloys to choose from.
Audi’s service plan covers five years, with intervals annual or 15,000km, at a cost of $2390. That’s not bad for a high-end European offering, but best to check the fine print for exclusions.
Warranty coverage is only three years. Mercedes-Benz has moved to five years, as has parent company Volkswagen across its range.
Back in 2013 was the last time the A3 was awarded five stars by Australia’s crash testing authority, so much of that data is now redundant.
This model comes equipped with the latest safety tech, most importantly emergency braking which can autonomously slow or stop the car if a collision is detected and the driver fails to act. Also on the complimentary list is radar cruise control to maintain a set distance from other vehicles, rear cross traffic warning which is peace of mind when departing busy carparks, and lane assist that can gently steer the S3 between lines if the driver becomes distracted.
Bucket seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel fulfil the sporting brief.
This is typical Audi performance luxury, so the trade-offs for having extra athleticism are few. Ride quality is excellent while road intrusion is limited.
The last major upgrade was about four years ago, and some of the interior features are beginning to age — it’s amazing how quickly the manufacturers move in this realm, and the latest innovations implemented in newer Audi models showcase exciting additions which will be on the new variants.
While the seven-inch central screen can only be controlled via the console rotary dial, the operations are straightforward and the infotainment system is bolstered with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Future models will have an in-dash screen, whereas this is one of the few pop-ups that can fold away.
Dual cup holders and bottle storage spots in each door ensure the commonsense storage options are covered.
Based on the standard A3, there is reasonable space front and back for adults. Rear cabin accommodation can be compromised if those in the front shift aft too far.
Boot space remains similar to most rivals and able to handle a couple of suitcases or a weekly family grocery shop.
Famed Audi Quattro all-wheel drive and punchy acceleration unite for a compelling combination.
Powered by the same engine that’s in the VW Golf R, the S3 isn’t as hard-edged in terms of suspension and daily driveability.
Various drive modes control the acceleration and steering responses. Choose dynamic and the S3 bares its teeth accompanied by a nice growl from the exhaust.
Pushing the limits is fun and engaging courtesy of direct and well-weighted steering, while the seven-speed automatic does a fine job of selecting the right cog — there are steering wheel-mounted paddles if overcome by the need to pull gears yourself.
Yet, select comfort mode and the S3 will effortlessly cruise around town with minimal fuss. Jekyll and Hyde personality choices are completely within the driver’s control.
The next iteration jumps in power and torque (increasing to 228kW/400Nm), but this current derivative is no slow coach, with capacity to complete the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds. The new model will be no quicker.
Getting places fast is a must, and I don’t need to feed a thirsty six- or eight-cylinder engine. Nor do I need to sacrifice comfort over performance.
My grille needs something more special than a VW badge. When the athletic looks don’t get the blood pumping, flexing the right ankle does.
Hyundai i30N Fastback $47,030 D/A
Ample bang for buck here, with a potent 202kW/378Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo under the bonnet. Brilliant sound and performance if you can stomach the brand, front-wheel drive and handle three pedals.
Mercedes-AMG A35 $79,000 D/A
The 2.0-litre turbo is brisk without being ballistic. Powered by a 225kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, the A35 has a forgiving point-and-shoot playfulness, its all-wheel drive encouraging an early prod of the throttle out of the corners.
Those who don’t need the latest tech gizmos will find the S3 an engaging and fun offering with a brilliant burst of speed along with wonderful balance.
AT A GLANCE
AUDI S3 SPORTBACK
PRICE $70,900 drive-away (pricey hot hatch)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3yr unlim’ km w’ty (short); $2390 5yrs (OK)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo 213kW/380Nm, AWD (quick)
SAFETY 7 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise control, auto park, active lane assist, cross traffic assist (fine)
THIRST 7.4L/100km (9.9 on test)
SPARE Space saver (not great)
BOOT 340L/1180 (good)