Audi A4 VS Audi S3
- Beautiful inside and out
- Terrifically comfortable
- Excellent tech
- a bit restrained
- warranty looking short
- not very emotional
- Great handling
- Excellent engine
- Perfectly proportioned
- Not much leg or headroom in the back
- Standard feature list is a bit light
- Artificially enhanced sound
Audi's A4 is one of those cars that everybody likes. Despite wearing a German badge, it doesn't feel the need to bellow about itself. If anything, the A4 is so subtle you have to check it's not either its smaller sibling the A3 or its larger one, the A6.
In 2019, the A4 has a bit of a blue on its hands - the new BMW 3 Series is a belter of a car. The rivalry is now freshly-fired, with the 3 lifting its game in every single area, including the interior. And the C-Class is still going strong.
The A4 isn't a whole new car, though, it's the mildest of mild refreshes of a model we've had here for just over three years.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Richard Berry has gone low-profile and high-performance behind the wheel of Audi's S3 sedan, a Bavarian wolf dressed in very stylish sheep's clothing. His road test and review includes specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Would you be comfortable wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap in public? If you answered: “FTW! I do already, brah!” then head over to our Golf R review here. If your answer was a definite no, then stay where you are because the Audi’s S3 Sedan could be for you. And if you don’t know what a flat-brimmed baseball cap is then you might be interested in reading about a Camry here.
See, the S3 Sedan takes the boy racer recipe of crossing a little car with a high-output engine and puts it in a grown-up package – a sedan, and a small one at that. Based on the A3 Sedan the S3 is visually so subtly different from its sedate brother that only those who know would know that this car is a bit of an animal. It’s not as much of a beast as the RS3, however. That thing is brutal.
Audi’s not the only one to cotton on to the small prestige missile concept: Mercedes-Benz has its CLA 250 Sport 4Matic and BMW has the M240i. Both awesome, and a step down from the full-blown AMG and M versions.
Audi updated the S3 Sedan just as 2016 was shutting up shop and it’s this new, quicker and smarter version we’ve road tested here.
So, what’s it like to live with? Why is sitting in the backseat a pain in the neck for me? How do the magnetic shock absorbers work? Is a virtual cockpit as good as it sounds? Where’s that noise coming from? So many questions… all answered.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The 2019 Audi A4 is a classic case of failing to break something that wasn't broken. It's a pretty suave, elegant looking thing and that philosophy extends to the technology and the drive experience. It's such an easy to car to look at, live with and drive.
At this price point, you probably want a car to move your heart a bit, and that's where the A4 might fall short for some. But it's awesomely comfortable, quiet and powerful, shrugging off whatever you can throw at it.
It stands apart from its rear-wheel drive rivals with its quattro all-wheel drive and the elegance of its design.
Does the A4 have what it takes to combat the resurgent 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The S3 Sedan is the perfect midpoint between domesticated and wild. It doesn’t have the sledgehammer performance of the BMW M240i or the bling factor of the Benz CLA 250 Sport, but for many buyers that’s just what they’re after – a low-key, quick, fun, but prestigious car.
Are the S3 Sedan's looks too subtle or do you like it low-key? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
The update to the A4 hasn't changed much, so it's as it was - calm, cool and sophisticated. The new, wider grille is an improvement - when you see the two grilles side-by-side, the bigger one just looks better and the front and rear bumper detailing is different. Nothing major.
Current Audi design thinking is starting to carefully add curves, but the nearly four-year old design of the A4 is resolutely straight-edged.
I don't mind that, but if you're looking for a bit more 'look at me', you'll have to go to the S4 or RS4. Even S line doesn't do a huge amount to toughen up the A4's visual appeal apart from the very cool design of the new for this year Audi Sport wheels.
The horizontal themes and gentle stacking of visual elements is calming and the materials are superb. Run your finger along the climate controls and enjoy the visual and tactile quality. Just a little thing, yes, but it's a lovely cabin. The ambient lighting is also nifty if you have it fitted.
And I'm still a big fan of the jet-fighter style transmission selector.
Okay, if you can spot the difference between the new S3 and the previous S3 then you’re an Audi spy or you own one, because the changes are minor.
The grille is now wider and its corners meet at sharper points, while the LED running lights, which are still integrated into the headlights, provide more of a frame around a new intricate lens design, while the outside plastic casing is more angular in its styling. The tail lights have been redesigned and the rear indicators have gone all Vegas and now use strip LED lighting which progressively illuminate in the direction the vehicle is turning. The rear diffuser has also been restyled.
Picking an S3 from an A3 is tricky – they look so much alike. The easiest way to know if you’re looking at an S3 and not an A3 is if it has the beefy rear diffuser and quad exhaust tips.
Apart from those tail pipes, the S3 looks a lot like an A3, which looks a lot like an A4, and an A6, and an A8, only smaller. Which is no bad thing – it’s a sleek good looking shape and the S3 appears perfectly proportioned despite its small size.
It really is small. At 4469mm long, 1960mm wide and 1392mm tall the S3 Sedan is shorter than a Mazda3 sedan. As for its rivals the S3 is 171mm shorter than the four-door CLA 250 Sport and 37mm longer than the two-door M240i.
The cabin is refined and prestigious and shares the same materials and styling as higher-end Audis.
As a mid-size sedan, it's not especially roomy, but is fine for four adults. The rear seats are comfortable with decent head and legroom, but you won't want to be much taller than six feet before you'll feel the pinch. Having your own climate control zone in the back is rather nice, though.
There are two cupholders in the front and another pair in the rear, and each door will hold a modestly-sized bottle.
The centre console is relatively shallow and topped by an armrest and that's where the USB ports are to connect your phone to the MMI.
The glove box is cooled, so it's a good place to keep your Mars bars, I guess.
Like all the mid-size German sedans, the boot is a suspiciously uniform 480 litres (I'm guessing it's probably more than that) and is a usefully clean shape.
Yes, it has four doors and five seats but space in the back row is limited. Tall friends won’t be pleased sitting behind you. I’m 191cm and can only just sit behind my driving position. The bigger issue is the lack of headroom and I can’t sit up straight without having my cheek up against the roof. That’s literally a pain in the neck.
Up front you’d never know about the space issues behind you. The cockpit is roomy from the pilot’s seat, with good headroom, plenty of space in the footwell and stacks of shoulder room.
There was somebody that did love sitting in the back seat - my two year old son in his car seat. Apart from him having plenty of space, the low window sill meant he had a better view of the outside world than many other cars I’ve tested lately.
So a young family or empty nesters with grandchildren may find the size suits their life best, or treat it as a two seater with a bonus back row if you need to give people a lift.
Storage throughout isn’t great – there are no cup holders in the back, but there are two up front. You’ll find small bottle holders in the back doors and larger ones in the front.
Boot size is impressive though at 425 litres – that’s just 55 litres less than the A4’s luggage capacity. The M240i’s cargo capacity is 390 litres. It’s even bigger than the boot in the A3 Sportback hatch (340 litres), but the boot opening itself isn’t big and we couldn’t fit the CarsGuide pram in no matter how much violence we directed towards it.
Price and features
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line is a fairly long name and, obviously, wants to give you an idea of exactly what kind of car it is. The 45 TFSI bit I'll explain in more detail later, but it means a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, the quattro bit indicating it drives all four wheels and S line means some shiny wheels and other bits and bobs.
Starting at $70,300 before on-road costs, it's clearly head-to-head with the BMW 330i. Out of the box, you get 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, three-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, a comprehensive safety package, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, the 'Virtual Cockpit', electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, power everything and a space-saver spare.
A 10.1-inch screen graces the dashboard and is controlled by a rotary dial on the console. Audi's 'MMI' system include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (without any of BMW's subscription nonsense), DAB+, CD and DVD player. MMI is an excellent system and coupled with the digital dashboard Audi calls Virtual Cockpit, it's a bit sci-fi inside.
'Our' car had a bunch of individual options: sunroof ($2470), metallic paint ($1950), nappa leather ($1950 and very nice, if you must know), a colour lighting package ($520) privacy glass ($1105) and heated front seats ($780)
The $1300 S line Sport package switches the 19s for Audi Sport five-spoke design with titanium look, dashboard and headlining in black, various aluminium trim bits and perforated leather, sport front seats with Alcantara and leather and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The $2470 'Assist Package' adds adaptive cruise with stop and go (it'll keep you moving in traffic semi-autonomously), active lane assist, pre-sense front (senses you're about to, or might, have a crash) collision avoidance assist, auto high beam and turn assist (tries to stop you turning across oncoming traffic).
The 'Parking Assistance Package' brings 360 degree cameras and auto parking for $1235.
The 'Technik Package' adds the excellent matrix LED headlights a Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System and head-up display for $5600 - that's a fair bit, but the matrix LEDs tend to be very expensive on their own.
All of that adds up to a hefty $89,680 as tested.
The S3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic lists for $64,500 and that’s $1600 more than the S3 Sportback, but $7500 less than the S3 Cabriolet.
Standard features in the S3 Sedan include 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats (sports buckets up front), dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch screen, sat nav with six monthly map updates, CD and DVD player, digital radio, 10-speaker 180W Audi sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. There’s also the Audi virtual cockpit – a fully digital instrument cluster.
You’ll also get LED headlights, drive mode selector, front and rear parking sensors plus reversing camera and blind spot warning. There’s also new advanced safety equipment – read about that below.
It’s disappointing that features such as auto parking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, collision warning, auto headlights and even hill hold need to be bought as options, particularly when they are offered standard on many Hyundais, Kias and Volkswagens.
Our test car was optioned with Navarra blue metallic paint for $1150, Magnetic Ride dampers for $1600, the $850 black high gloss package and $1350 18-inch five spoke 'Turbine' design alloy wheels, bringing the total package to $69,450.
On the upside, the S3 Sedan’s list price undercuts its rivals, with the CLA 250 Sport selling for $67,600 and the M240i listing at $74,900.
Engine & trans
The A4 45 TFSI translates to Audi's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing a not inconsiderable 185kW/370Nm.
Using Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, all that heads to all four wheels through the company's famed quattro system. You'll see the ton in just 5.8 seconds.
The latest S3 Sedan is more powerful and quicker than the previous one – by a smidge. Power has been increased to 213kW (+3kW) with torque staying at 380Nm and the claimed 0-100km/h time drops by 0.2s to 4.8s. It’s a better sprinter thanks to the new transmission – the six-speed dual-clutch from the previous version has been swapped for a seven-speed.
Drive goes to all four wheels thanks to Audi’s signature quattro system.
The official combined cycle figure is listed at 6.5L/100km, and do you know what? I reckon you could get pretty damn close to that.
My week was almost exactly 50 per cent highway and 50 per cent urban battling and the outcome was an indicated 7.7L/100km.
If some of it had been of a less enthusiastic nature, I'm confident that number would have dipped under 7.0L/100km. Not bad.
Audi says the S3 should drink premium unleaded at an average rate of 6.5L/100km when driving under combined conditions. My fuel consumption was a bit more than Audi’s serving suggestion at 11.0L/100km, but I drive like I’m on the run.
There’s a stop-start system which is great at saving fuel but it’s annoying in traffic, particularly with a DSG gearbox. The system will cut the engine when coasting to a stop which I find unnerving, particularly when I’m turning at an intersection. For these reasons, unless I need to save fuel, I’ll switch it off.
I had forgotten how quiet and smooth the A4 is. It may be that this mild 2019 update has further suppressed pretty much every sound, making this cabin the calmest in the class.
The A4 took us up to the Blue Mountains in virtual silence, only the garbage surface of Sydney's appalling M4 motorway ruffled the interior calm.
On that same motorway is one of the laziest pieces of road engineering, a join to a bridge that can sometimes be a bit hair-raising in softly-sprung cars and downright insulting in stiffer cars.
The A4 handled the resultant heave with exceptional ease and comfort, but watching the other cars ahead was as amusing/terrifying as ever. It made me appreciate how well sorted the A4's springs and dampers are.
And the same impression came from winding our way up the Great Western Highway to Katoomba, with its variety of surfaces, corner types and inclines.
The body control is impressive but the ride is super-refined, remarkable given the huge 19-inch wheels.
The 2.0-lite TFSI is impressive in just about any Audi it's installed in, and in this latest A4 it's even quieter and more remote. The stop-start is unobtrusive and as you cruise to a stop cuts out at higher speeds than most.
There is little to complain about - while the steering is certainly a big improvement over the previous (B8) A4, it can feel a little artificial and light.
The quattro drivetrain is entirely fuss-free but does take the edge off the handling, especially relative to the more natural steering feel of the 3 Series.
Not everyone's worried about that sort of thing, and that's perfectly reasonable.
Just say you were looking for a getaway car then the S3 may be ideal. It’s low key enough for it not to stand out and quick enough to out accelerate mostly everybody else you’ll encounter. A sprint time of 4.8s for the 0-100km/h dash is almost a second in front of Ford’s new V8 Mustang and only 0.2s behind an entry-spec Porsche 911.
The M240i is quicker at 4.6s to 100km/h, but the CLA250 Sport is way back at 6.4s.
The best part of the S3 is the driving. This thing feels sharp, agile and well balanced. There were times I wanted more grunt when climbing corkscrewing hill roads, or coming out of turns onto a straight, but that would begin to encroach into the RS3’s territory.
No, the S3 is a playful and safe-feeling little missile with great pedal feel, and an excellent low seating position. Dynamic mode can be set through the Drive Select function to adjust steering weight, change the throttle mapping and firm the dampers for better handling.
The Magnetic Ride Control system adjusts the dampers continuously to suit the situation. Charged particles in the oil inside the shock absorber align themselves when a magnetic field is applied in connection to the driving conditions – this changes the viscosity of the fluid.
The S3’s sound completes the fun package, although it's slightly artificial. There’s an actuator under the bonnet which looks like a hockey puck and vibrates to enhance the sound to a deeper growl. I’m not a fan and don’t see the need for it when the engine note would still sound great without it. Oh and yes, the S3 lets rip a burp on the upshifts.
The Virtual Cockpit is an excellent feature. You can digitally configure the instrument cluster to your own tastes – the view which reduces the speedo and tacho down and fills the screen with your sat nav map means you don’t have to keep looking across to the main display.
That main display, by the way, is looking dated and small – it’s been the same since the A3 launched in 2013, and tech (as proven by the virtual cockpit) has come a long way since then.
Mechanically, the S3 is closely related to the all-wheel drive Golf R (both being in the Volkswagen Group family), although the current version of that hot hatch is more like the old S3 with a six-speed dual-clutch and 206kW engine.
The A4 ships with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot sensors, brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, exit warning, active safety bonnet, driver attention detection and brake force distribution.
There are also three top-tether anchors across the back seat and two ISOFIX points.
The A4 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars, the highest available, in February, 2016. This car had a few extras and all were welcome, but had no effect on the ANCAP rating.
The S3 Sedan has seven airbags and the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but that score has really become the new minimum these days, so the way to see if a brand is going further is to look at the advanced safety equipment list. AEB with pedestrian detection (up to 65km/h) is offered for the first time in this S3 and so is rear cross traffic alert.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts in the back row and two top tether anchor points.
Audi is stubbornly sticking with a segment-competitive three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and chucks in roadside assist for the same period.
If you keep servicing your car at an Audi dealer, you get another 12 months of roadside with every service.
Audi likes you to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km and you can either take your chances on the day or pre-pay up to three years/45,000km of servicing for $1710 or five years for $2700.
As you can see, the longer plan is better value for money (both are substantially cheaper than the diesel service plan).