Big-turbo S3 hatch offers a refined ride
ALMOST as appealing as the Audi S3 Sportback's performance has to be its styling.
The "S" version of the A3 is pure understatement - it is less a hot hatch and more like a mini estate, especially with its long roof and prominent roof rails. And a pair of twin-oval tailpipes peeking out from the rear diffuser is a first for the S3.
This third-generation car is now longer, wider and taller with its 2,636mm wheelbase extended by 58mm. Thanks to the German luxury carmaker's ultra-lightweight philosophy, it is also 100kg lighter at 1,490kg.
But its performance is what makes the new S3 Sportback most delightful. Because it is more powerful, it is now faster.
Its predecessor had 256 horsepower and 350 Newton-metres of torque - this one has 280hp and 380Nm. The acceleration from zero to 100kmh is now five seconds, down from 5.7 before.
As a souped-up version of the A3, the S3 comes with quattro all-wheel-drive as standard. The nice thing about quattro is, of course, the optimised traction, especially in a fast curve, which the extra grip always reels in more easily than a standard front-wheel-drive car.
But quattro's virtues are evident at lower speeds too. One example is the absence of wheel spin when flooring the accelerator from stationary - even on a wet road.
On the new S3, handling is further improved. It is better balanced, with its front axle "moved" 52mm forward compared with the previous car. The S sports suspension with its fixed-rate dampers is 25mm lower than the A3's and specifically developed for the S3, with aluminium arms for reduced weight. The ride is firm, but never harsh. The progressive electromechanical steering gets a novel variable ratio which influences the steering angle, making it very direct when steered sharply and more indirect around the centre.
On the move, the steering feels completely natural and it is highly accurate, although it may be a bit light for some.
Tap the acceleration pedal and the S3 leaps forward. This responsiveness is partly due to the all-new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
It has a big turbo to deliver sufficient oomph but, to avoid the lag that comes with something this size, there is variable valve timing and lift for both the intake and exhaust. Throw in an electronic wastegate actuator and forced induction never felt more efficient.
But it is the aural qualities of the S3 that have undergone the biggest change. The S3 has a lovely growl, because it has two flaps in the exhaust. Until now, these "sound flaps" were unique to the more extreme RS models. This is the first time an S model has this active option.
For its refined ride and subtle sportiness, the compact Audi S3 Sportback has to be one of the most stylish and competent all-rounders on the market.