/ By Waldo Rendell /
A new Audi… Is it evolution, or revolution?
That’s a tough question that’s always plagued and nagged motoring journalists. Fundamentally, the S3’s anatomy hasn’t changed since it was launched in 1999 and neither has its market position as a sophisticated and cultured hot hatch that doesn’t sacrifice premium niceties for spine-tingling speed. Suffice to say, the new S3 (8Y in nerd terms) doesn’t deviate from that successful and now ubiquitous script, rather choosing to enhance these characteristics and sharpen the styling.
The entire A3 range, when wearing the S-line kit, now features a bolder look with wider vents carved into the bumpers. Due to this, even a relatively plain A3 can appear menacing with the right options, and the S3 sometimes struggles to take it a notch higher.
Our Sportback in Python Yellow wasn’t as flamboyant as a Mercedes-AMG A35, but the four pipes, big alloy wheels over large red callipers, bonnet vents and black mirrors – wrapped in a sensible five-door configuration – conveyed a sense of sportiness and all-round ease-of-use.
The S3’s interior isn’t too different to the A3 35TFSI we recently drove on test. That’s because they both share the same extensive options, some of which, like the reverse camera, really should be standard on a S3. But Audi could push the S3’s cachet a little stronger, or throw in some details, other than red stitching, that aren’t offered in the lower-tier models. Nevertheless, those piercing lines and angular shapes that run from door to door do suit the S3’s cut-and-thrust personality.
The screens are neatly held in the dashboard, and it’s a digital cockpit that returns to some of that driver-focused detail that was initially lost when touchscreens first burst on to the scene. Audi says the system is ten times faster than before although we didn’t notice that sort of gain when toggling through the menus and apps. Audi’s virtual cockpit still performs well with visible digital dials and maintains close links between the information you need now, and the information you might need in a few minutes’ time.
A punchy 0–100 km/h time
Nowadays, a relatively sporty SUV with a modicum ground clearance and roof rails can do 0–100 km/h in six seconds, so the Audi S3 has to keep chipping away at the stopwatch to keep the pocket-rocket reputation and appeal alive and healthy.
Fortunately, it remains an extremely polished package in this regard. One long hold of the traction control button while activating dynamic mode releases the S3 down the road as if it’s been fired from a gun to a 0–100 km/h time of 4.9 seconds. Then you point it at the next target and do it over again, with the same result, until the cars that were once on your rear bumper have shrunk to unrecognisable dots in the mirrors.
Contrary to our usual new-model expectations, kilowatts are actually down from 228 – available in some markets and in the previous S3 sold in SA – to 213. Torque remains identical at 400 Nm. I’m pleased to confirm that it’s a reduction that is of little consequence when out on the road and if you want to go faster, Audi’s RS 3 with 294 kW and 500 Nm has been confirmed for later this year.
Sprinkle in some corners and the S3 really shines
There’s a lot of fun to be had attacking a roundabout or a highway on-ramp like a turbocharged lizard. Any understeer that tainted previous S3 models isn’t nearly as evident in the latest generation. It claws at the apex and loads up the steering accordingly until your neck muscles start to ache. Due to its compact size and profound grip, the S3 is one of the fastest packages money can buy as it pounces on any gap with the sharpest of reflexes and the most surgical control.
Every trip, no matter how boring it commences – or as good as the intentions are – usually ends in an aroused blur of dynamic mode and manual shifts while giggling like an evil scientist.
And the other modes?
The S3 has always juggled various roles and the latest generation just adds some mature refinement to a list of familiar ingredients. Audi really needs to make this mode-selecting possible from the wheel, rather than the dashboard, but aside from that one inconvenience, you can expect dampers in varying degrees of fluency, a lighter steering feel, and softer shifts. Or, skip the difficult decisions, and let Audi’s Auto algorithms fill in the missing pieces.
This is the most complete S3, capable of instantly injecting excitement into any stretch of the daily commute and never putting a foot wrong. It builds and builds on the very architecture that brought accessible five-second hot hatches to the masses and as the roads have gotten worse, the S3 has simply gotten better. It might not be the revolutionary machine it once was, but you can lean on it and trust it through corners in a way that’s typical of all Audi’s latest performance models. It’s fair to say there’s a little bit of S3 sparkle in every fast Audi, and that’s quite the honour.
Model: Audi S3 Sportback
Engine: 2.0 litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 213 kW
Torque: 400 Nm
Transmission: 7-Speed auto
Price as tested: R970 000
Fast over any surface
Practical, sporty looks
Slick dual screen display
Lower kilowatts than the previous model
Some equipment should be standard on flagship