AUDI S3 SPORTBACK Performance, practicality and a punchy price
LIKE A SPONTANEOUS holiday romance, I’ve spent the six months since I drove the new Audi S3 in the UK wondering if it really was as good as I remember. Was its turbo 2.0-litre quite as muscular as I recall, or perhaps I was just swept up in the beautiful Cotswolds scenery? Its quattro drivetrain and deftly tuned MQB Evo platform seemed the perfect pairing but maybe my judgment was clouded by the nostalgia of a return to the old country.
I’m pretty certain the fourthgeneration S3 struck a good balance of practicality and performance, but there’s a chance I could have been too busy enjoying the road trip with a friend. But the car in question has just arrived in Australia for a reunion on home turf, and it’s time to find out if I’d had the beer goggles on – so to speak.
On first inspection I still feel the styling has become a little busy compared with the restrained and understated third-gen version but It certainly looks purposeful and aggressive. Its lightly flared arches impart a focused stance while its massive grille looks capable of ingesting small dogs and I’m left wondering why Audi seems immune to the criticism BMW is copping for its similar grille-enlargement program. Proportionally though, the S3 looks like an S3 should, taking all the right parts of the new A3 and adding a little Audi Sport magic.
Under the bonnet, there’s another evolution of the prolific EA888 turbo four-cylinder petrol, which produces 228kW and 400Nm from 2.0-litres. Unlike the previous S3 which was de-tuned compared with the version sold in the UK and Europe, the new version has the same full-fat power output. It’s enough to do the zeroto-100km/h dash in a claimed 4.8 seconds. But this latest iteration is so much more than brute strength and has a broad ability that’s very easy to live with.
At low engine speeds and minimal throttle, the four-pot is tractable and well-mannered with good torque characteristics. Keep your toe pointed though, and there’s a satisfying linear build to the full might between 5450 and 6500rpm. In this state of tune, the EA888 has all of the advantages of turbo torque, little of the lag and the desire to rev like a natural atmo donk. The bonus with this excellent unit is a convincing augmented engine note that somehow makes it sound as if has an extra cylinder. It’s bolted to Audi’s S tronic seven-speed dualclutch automatic, and no amount of begging will make the German car-maker swap it for a manual. Nor should you. Aside from the
THE BONUS WITH THIS EXCELLENT ENGINE IS A CONVINCING AUGMENTED NOISE WHICH SOMEHOW MAKES IT SOUND AS IF IT HAS AN EXTRA CYLINDER
occasional reluctance to kick down, the revised ‘box is a great pairing. Taking control with the paddles, it’s impressively obliging and has the smoothness of a torque-converter with the instant shifts of a DCT. As before, the versatile power and torque delivery is made easier to access thanks to the Quattro allwheel drive system. Apart from a complete lack of torque steer, the abundant traction really only manifests itself when pushing the limits with a clever distribution of power to the most deserving wheels, but the combination of power, flexible final drive and a supple chassis renders the S3 incredibly confident on back roads. Body control is excellent, understeer bleeds in beyond a surprising grip limit, and the fast redistribution of torque has an almost four-wheel-steer feel.
There’s no variable steering rate but a new progressive rack ratio is perfectly engineered for twisty roads. There’s also the debut of new adaptive dampers. They replace the old magnetic ride system with a broader arc between their most comfort oriented and most dynamic settings. When the fun is done,
NEW ADAPTIVE DAMPERS WITH A BROADER ARC BETWEEN COMFORT AND SPORT REPLACE THE OLD MAGNETIC RIDE SYSTEM
the S3 returns to its likeably placid nature with a manner that belies its high-performance personality. Unlike close rivals, the S3 doesn’t have multi-piston front brake calipers, opting instead for singlepiston sliding versions but they are painted red and our blast along some of Tasmania’s finest roads didn’t once produce the dreaded fade or lengthening pedal. As a machine for getting somewhere in a hurry, the S3 will deliver you to the chosen destination fast regardless of the way ahead and, had the typically unpredictable Tassie weather thrown some climatic challenges into the mix, I’m confident the little hatch has the performance capacity to accommodate. Obviously we’re deliriously excited to try the new RS3 but in all honesty, the bandwidth of the S3 would satisfy all
but the most track-hungry hatch fans. Speaking of which, the S3 is available in identical spec but with a boot in place of the Sportback’s hatch. It adds $2500 to the price along with a boot that grows to an impressive 420 litres in capacity from the Sportback’s 380L.
Included in the S3’s price are plenty of features more often found on options lists including 19-inch alloys, LED matrix headlights and metallic paint for the exterior, while Nappa leather sports seats with electric adjustment and heaters (front), digital displays for the instrument cluster and central 10.1-inch display, and Bang and Olufsen stereo are cabin highlights. Generally speaking, the interior is ergonomically deft and spacious although a few scratchy plastics sneaking in are surprisingly un-Audi-like. If you’re difficult to please, Audi will take a few more dollars and add a selection of option packs necessary to add a panoramic sunroof, head-up display or some carbon-fibre embellishments, for example.
With more muscle than ever but the chassis to handle it, the S3 has never been more deserving of its boot badge, but better than that, its equipment level and performance have been perfectly dialled to give it breathing space from the A3 range as well as the RS3 halo model. This fourthgen version stands as a very worthwhile performance product in its own right, with its own distinct and endearing personality.
It seems my memory of this car serves me well and the 2022 S3 is as well-rounded as the model I first got my hands on half a year ago. However, there is one additional compelling feature for the version you’ll find in Australian showrooms. UK customers are offered a range of S3 variants including a fairly basic entry version whereas Audi Australia has just one relatively kit-rich car. Dressing up the most affordable S3 to look like the Australian version requires the addition of the so-called Vorsprung Pack and increases the price to the equivalent of a hefty $83,500. Virtually the same specification S3 will cost Aussie customers just $70,700. This, says Audi, is a product of both Australia’s extremely competitive premium market, as well as a local demand for generously equipped cars.
Either way, the 2022 Audi S3 isn’t just more grown up, it’s never been more deserving of the coveted Audi Sport badge. It’s also a bit of a bargain.