There’s no need to give up hot hatch thrills even after you’re all grown up.
I recently had a go in the vanilla Audi A3 Sportback – a formidable competitor to the Mercedes-Benz A180 and BMW 116i.
While not meant to be a hot hatch, the 1.5-litre mild-hybrid engine was pleasantly peppy even with just 148 bhp. Unsurprisingly, several little foibles let it down on the performance front. Steering was somewhat vague and disconnected, and I never really knew what the front wheels were up to.
No matter, the A3 got a pass for the rest of the (rather competent) package. ‘The S3 will be better,’ I thought, and boy was I right.
Enter this, the S3 Sedan with 306 bhp and 400 Nm. Thanks to the test car’s grey paintwork, it didn’t quite look like something that would rocket to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds. Not that I’m complaining – I took it to an impromptu meet at Kallang on Friday evening and no one gave the car a second look. Great success!
It’s one of those ‘if you know, you know’ kind of cars. For the car nerds, subtle differences let on that this wasn’t just a regular A3. Larger front bumper intakes, a less dense honeycomb grille, brushed silver wing mirror caps, and four purposeful-looking exhaust tips out back.
Of course, there are also the larger 18-inch wheels that hide red ‘S’ brakes. What you see here on the test car are optional 19-inch units that are a costly option, wrapped in 235/35R19 Bridgestone Potenza rubber.
Big wheels and four exhaust tips it might have, but the S3 still does the job as a premium compact sedan.
With an interior nearly identical to the A3 Sportback, all Audi’s had to do is set it apart with some ‘S’-specific trim. For starters, there’s a flat-bottomed, slightly chunkier steering wheel, and a purposeful red ring around the engine start button.
In the Audi virtual cockpit, there’s even an ‘S’-specific gauge design that displays the rev counter as a half y-shaped bar.
The same lovely seats from A3 test car come on the S3 as standard. However, in place of the eco-friendly textile in the seat centre is a diamond quilted pattern with red stitching.
Leave the car in ‘Comfort’ and passengers will be hard-pressed to tell the difference from an A3. With the exception of sharp bumps in construction zones that rudely intrude, the adjustable dampers keep everything civil in Comfort mode.
This is Burnpavement.com after all, so enough about comfort.
I took a brief spin in the previous generation S3 Sportback way back in 2014. While this new car with 20 bhp and 20 Nm more is 0.2 seconds quicker to 100km/h, it’s dialled back on the drama factor.
That said, prod the drive select button until ‘DYNAMIC’ appears on the dash, and the S3 still comes to life. For starters, the engine note even at idle becomes fruitier as an exhaust flap opens. Nudge it into ‘drive’, and throttle response gets massively sharper, and the engine feels much more frenetic. Continue on at maximum attack, and the engine burbles and pops as you wring it out to the 6,500 rpm redline.
In dynamic mode, launch control can also be activated. It’s a fairly simple process – hold down the electronic stability control (ESC) button till ESC is disabled, then hold both the brake and throttle pedals down fully. The car will hold revs at between 3,000 to 4,000 rpm, indicating that launch control is ready. Lift your foot off the brake pedal, and be ready for all 306 bhp to push you back into the driver’s seat.
The combination of the quattro system and sticky Bridgestone tyres make high-speed corners a laughably effortless affair, though that’s come to be an Audi hallmark. Show it some tighter corners though, and you’ll need to dial back your expectations a bit. Make no mistake, the S3 is still a weapon on roads like South Buona Vista – but make quick directional changes at silly speeds and signs of understeer will rear its head.
The sorted-out steering (something I really disliked on the A3), stiffer dampers, 15mm lowered ride height, and fancy electronics should keep even the most violent of drivers out of trouble, but it’s a car best enjoyed at 90% or less. To get yourself into proper trouble – i.e. sky-road-sky-road-ditch – you’ll definitely need to be weapons-grade irresponsible.
Rocketship in My Garage?
The S3 Sedan does come with a pretty hefty pricetag, retailing for S$282,696 (as of December 2021).
As a petrolhead, the choices for a compact hi-po sedan are just this, and the Mercedes-Benz A 35 AMG (S$288,888). While the options do increase if hatchbacks are open for consideration, there’s the stealth appeal of a sedan bodystyle.
With the roads getting increasingly filled with crossovers and SUVs, the S3 Sedan would be my pick for a fast, unique, and understated rocketship.