Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cyl, turbo-petrol | Power & Torque: 213kW and 400Nm | Transmission: 7-speed Auto | 0 - 100 km/h: 4.8-secs | Top Speed 250 km/h | Fuel Economy: 7.8l/100km
As its own sub-segment, the idea of an upmarket hot-hatch was invented by the Audi S3. I owned one. It was leaps ahead of its time. I should not have sold it.
Fast-forward 2 decades and the entire hot hatch interpretation has been redefined with even more fiery and finessed versions prowling the streets extended into sedan offerings too. There’s a hotted something for everyone nowadays and the argument as to which is best is no longer as easy as it was at the turn of the century.
The Audi S3 Sedan is a similar working concept to its predecessor and that may not be such a bad thing. The engine is the same as before albeit more efficient and uprated, by SA standards to 213 kW though we’re still asking the question as to why we don’t receive the Euro-spec 228 kW version. We’ll take it though. Power is still sent to all four contact patches via an excellent 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and again, there’s nothing too new here.
There’s an evolution in the design of this new Audi S3. The bodywork flexes with a fuller face and tauter lines with the most notable cues being the much larger front LED headlamp clusters and reworked 19-inch alloy wheel options. There are a few of these from which to style the S3 Sedan and with a Black Appearance Package or the BAP+ you can get more and more of the bodywork finished in black. It cuts a premium, refined, considered product now that will probably find favour among more and more customers. This is no doubt, Audi’s hope with the S3 – an ability to find a bulk of customers who don’t have the ‘hot-hatch or ‘hot sedan’ phrase titled in their search history.
The interior also feels larger thanks mainly to a much cleaner design bereft of the buttons and knobs from yesteryear. Now the only real buttons control the volume, climate control, drive select mode, ESP and hazard lights. The rest is contained within the MMI Nav and the Virtual Cockpit digital technology that Audi has pioneered. Optional items will uprate the sound system or add Auto Parking Assistance but there’s a wealth of tech and functions contained in the package. It’s impeccably Audi in here – in other words, it’s built superbly well.
The interior design as minimalist as it is feels safe and understated where rivals have really pushed the envelope or made larger design leaps. This isn't a bad thing. The Audi S3 hasn't been compromised - in fact, it's highly tech laden but just packaged within a smart, tech-centric UX. I like it. Added to the art of technology, it also makes for a more roomy and pleasant cabin.
In sedan form, there are a further 65-litres of boot space, easier ingress into the rear and therefore it represents an easier sell to those seeking a smart, fast and functional option where the term 'hot hatch' isn't too important. Who doesn’t want more space if it doesn’t compromise on design and performance?
Under the skin Audi has done some mild tweaks to the suspension settings and dampers but overall it feels every bit as sure-footed and confident as before. Even with more power, the S3 Sedan counteracts even the hardest compulsions with restrained poise and in its most focused drive select mode, there’s a maturity to how it behaves, how it sounds, how it grips and how it stops. It’s very fast sure, but it’s so good that it feels unremarkably so. It’s devoid of excitable oversteer or neighbour-nagging crackles from the split tailpipes.
It’s an S3 after all and perhaps that tomfoolery is left for the RS3 to boast. Compared to a Merc-AMG A35 as a reference, there’s just less theatrics and flair in the S3, such is its wizened approach to speed.
It's mighty on the brakes and the quattro all-wheel drive system is so good that you can expect very neutral handling. It's hard to upset the S3 but in the event that you do, the understeer bites first and remains so unless the surface is excessively slippery. It is fast - but safely so.
So then, you're considering a matured and grown up S3 amongst a few other options. Hot hatches are certainly a consideration too but there are now some direct competitors for the sedan itself. The A35 Sedan or CLA35 are options as is the latest small act from BMW's 2-Series(reviewed here).
If you're looking for something with more attitude there are also other options.
Also an option is the upcoming Subaru WRX, with similar power and all-wheel drive too. There are options. Some more expensive and some cheaper.
Consider your specifications carefully and you'll land a smart S3 Sedan for under R900 000 with a significant batch of extras.
The Audi S3 is a very good car and it continues to position itself as the premium offering in the segment. It’s assured and safe with a turn of speed that hits the right numbers…but not necessarily the right notes. The S3 may be too mature now, so much so that it doesn’t command the emotional connection with some that it did way back when. I wanted a bit more mayhem and a bit more shout but that can't excuse what is a truly good set of wheels.
As the car to live with every day, the S3 sedan is near-perfect. As the car to hit the breakfast run with…maybe not.