Not only do they exhibit the very latest in engine, electronics and suspension technology but they also provide a realistic everyday driving proposition, although it must be said that pricewise they’ve certainly moved up a notch. Cars in this category include the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, BMW’s M135i, Volkswagen’s Golf R and the car I recently drove, the Audi S3 in Sportback guise.
Approaching the S3, the first thing you notice is how understated it is; there are vague hints of its sporting pretensions in its more aggressive front and rear bumper design and slightly bigger wheels. I personally want my half a million Rand performance hatch to scream and shout about its appearance when it rolls past but there is a case for the undercover, almost sleeper-like aesthetics of the S3.
Up close, more keen observers will notice subtle S3 badging while inside it’s a similarly understated affair with the typical Audi suave sophistication and the odd S3 badge here and there to let you know that you’re in a fast car.
And fast it most certainly is; Audi claim that it makes 206kW/380Nm but honestly it feels like more. The turbo may be large but there’s very little perceivable lag which is strange because it has three factors working against it, namely an automatic gearbox, a turbocharger and four-wheel-drive but somehow the car manages to remain quite responsive.
I’m not a fan of the actuated exhaust tone that resonates throughout the cabin, however, I concede that this is a four-cylinder engine and that not much can be done by way of producing a realistic soundtrack that would be believable.
Claimed figures of 0-100 km/h in five seconds and a top-end limited to 250km/h feel totally achievable while the claimed fuel consumption of 6.9 litres/100km is sadly not. I did manage to dip in to the 7’s during my tenure but a car with this much performance provides too much temptation for anyone to try and achieve the claimed figures without boasting every now and again.
The straight line stuff is very impressive indeed. I believe this car and its sibling, the Golf R, will run very close to the A45 AMG in a straight line and that’s a feat in itself. Audi S cars have always been good in a straight line though but when it came to cornering, they lacked that neutrality or even tail-happy nature that people desire and would often understeer their way around the place.
This new S3 is different though, and I’m not claiming there’s no understeer because that is just a reality of all-wheel driven vehicles. However, there is a satisfying amount of turn-in oversteer when pitching the car into a bend while the mid-corner and exit grip levels remain impressive. The only time understeer is perceivable is when the car is thrown in to a corner too quickly, the old slow-in-fast-out principle works very well and will make the S3 an incredibly balanced vehicle.
The six-speed S tronic transmission adds to the perceived performance with its super slick shifts and intuitive nature. The gearbox is so good, in fact, I stopped using the car in manual mode and left it to its own devices in sport mode which did a far better job than me at shifting the car along.
My test unit had over R90 000 in optional extras which brought the price to over R600 000. Of all of these options I’d really only splurge on a select few such as the Bang and Olufsen sound system which is just superb and the MMI navigation with touch functionality as this takes the car to the next level in terms of infotainment convenience. Other options such as the red interior package, LED headlights, styling package, sun roof and magnetic dampers are all fantastic but not strictly necessary in what is a very well-specified base car in base form anyway.
The Audi S3 Sportback retails for R519 500 and comes with a one-year unlimited mileage warranty and a five-year/100 000km freeway plan.