Audi A4 VS Audi S3
- Classy cabin
- Looks terrific
- Great value
- No touchscreen - annoying!
- Squishy back seat with three on board
- Some hesitation at low speeds
- Great handling
- Excellent engine
- Perfectly proportioned
- Not much leg or headroom in the back
- Standard feature list is a bit light
- Artificially enhanced sound
The current-generation Audi A4 range has copped it. It was only a matter of time before there was a Black Edition version, because it seems every car these days gets the special treatment.
And, no, it isn’t actually black - but it gets a bunch of black bits and heaps of additional extras, at not much more than the standard A4 sedan it’s based on.
|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|
There’s a good amount of value on offer with the Audi A4 Black Edition, not to mention a pretty flash cabin and sporty exterior design. I love the look of it, and that could be enough to get quite a few buyers over the line. For me, the wagon is the more appealing of the body types.
There’s no denying the A4 is often overlooked because shoppers gravitate towards the C-Class or 3 Series. Value-focused variants like this should help get people to look the A4’s way instead.
Would you take an A4 over a C-Class or 3 Series? Tell us what you think in the comments section 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 current-generation Audi A4 range may have been on sale for a while now, but it still looks as stylish as the day it debuted, back in 2015.
The angular LED headlights and rigid LED daytime running lights help give this car a strong signature on the road, with confident lines running from the front of the car to the rear, where the LED tail-lights anchor the powerful look.
Of course, the Black Edition takes the stylishness to a new level, with metallic paint included, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels in Audi’s signature ‘Rotor’ design, plus there’s standard-fit sports suspension that lowers the car down by 20mm over the top of those rims. It looks mean.
Plus the black exterior design package (encompassing door mirrors, a lip rear spoiler and side sill trims) and dark privacy tinted windows at the rear, along with the four-ring decal on the rear doors. The front doors get acoustic glass for better sound deadening, and there are four-ring LED puddle lights.
The cabin sees some nice Black Edition additions as well - check out the interior pictures below.
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.
If you buy the Black Edition version of the A4, you get yourself some really nice additional bits and bobs, like colour ambient interior lighting front and rear, plus heated front seats and some S line sport interior trim elements like aluminium pedal facings, a flat-bottom steering wheel, Alcantara and leather trim with S embossing, brushed aluminium trim elements and additional adjustment to the front head rests.
The space on offer is pretty good - from a cabin storage standpoint, there’s little to complain about - bottle holders in all four doors, cupholders front and rear (the latter by way of a flip-down armrest) and there is a good storage area under the front armrest with a second USB port for charging - but you might find yourself using the cupholders for your phone, as that’s where the media USB port is. There are map pockets in the rear, too.
With two adults in the rear, there’s a decent amount of space - reasonable headroom, legroom and shoulder space.
But we had a few five-up trips in the car, and on one drive I decided to be a backseat passenger - I was in one of the outboard seats, and it wasn’t comfortable - there was a lack of leg and foot space, and the shape of the seat meant I was bending my neck inwards to avoid hitting the window / pillar on my side. This isn’t a car for five adults - but two adults and three compact kids could be fine.
I was pretty surprised at the boot capacity on offer in the A4 sedan. Personally, I’d go for the Avant wagon model in any instance, because I’m a wagon guy. But the sedan didn’t struggle with all the stuff I took with me on a four-day weekend trip (including supplies and bedding for four adults, two dogs and more!).
With 480 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up, the A4 sedan is bang-on against rivals like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 folding design, which allows a bit of extra flexibility, but they don’t quite fold completely flat.
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
When I told my extended family that this car was $63,900 plus on-road costs, they were beyond impressed. Some thought it was a $120,000 car - which shows they aren’t car people, but also tells you that it looks more special than its price tag suggests.
That $63,900 price is just $2500 over the odds for the ‘regular’ A4 2.0 TFSI (140kW) model it’s based on - and for that money you get $7000 of additional kit. See the sections above for what the Black Edition adds - it’s mostly visual.
You can get a wagon version of the A4 Black Edition, too. It’ll cost you $3000 more, with a list price of $66,900 for the 140kW front-wheel drive version.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the standard equipment on this spec of A4 is the S line styling package with sportier front and rear bumpers than you’ll see on lower-grade European-spec A4 models, and in addition to the LED exterior lighting all around, you’d usually get 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel, where our Black Edition has 19s.
Other standard inclusions on this spec include auto headlights and auto wipers, tyre pressure monitoring, drive mode selection, smart key entry and push-button start, gesture boot opening, electric front seat adjustment, leather-appointed seats (including some fake leather elements), a leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters, three-zone climate control air conditioning, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Plus there’s a 7.0-inch media screen (not a touchscreen) with a rotary dial controller, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (which was patchy at best during our test), two USB ports, two SD card inputs, and DAB+ digital radio.
The safety specification of the Audi A4 is decent - see below for more detail.
As for colour options for the standard A4 model range there are only two are no-cost options, 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White'. There are 12 other hues available in metallic and pearl finishes, including two red, two blue, three grey, one brown, one green, one white, one black and one silver (all $1420 extra). This Black Edition model has four colours to choose, all included in the cost.
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 2.0 TFSI model we have is the front-wheel drive model, which runs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 140kW of power (at 4200-6000rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1500-4200rpm).
It is available only with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic.
There’s a second Black Edition version of the A4, which is the one with quattro all-wheel drive and a higher tune of the 2.0-litre engine (185kW/370Nm). That’s the one I’d go for, if the budget allowed.
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.
Over my week with the car, I did more about 1000 kilometres. A lot of the time I had the boot full, two adults and two dogs on board. But in other instances I had five adults on board, running from town to town on a long weekend holiday.
My fuel use on test was just 7.1L/100km, which I was very impressed with.
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.
This particular version of the Audi A4 range has always perplexed me a bit.
There’s another front-wheel drive model below it with a 1.4-litre turbo engine (with 110kW/250Nm), which I’ve driven and I liked quite a bit. And it costs about $5000 less than the non-Black Edition version of this grade.
Then there’s the model above it, which uses the same 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder but has quattro all-wheel drive and more power (185kW) and torque (370Nm). To me, that version is a lot more appealing, although it does cost about $8000 more.
The 2.0-litre in this version, with 140kW/320Nm, isn’t necessarily short of grunt, with Audi claiming a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 7.3 seconds. That’s not blistering, but it’s quick enough.
At low speeds the engine and transmission can be a little slow to act, with some turbo lag and dual-clutch transmission hesitation to contend with, but you do get used to it.
At higher speeds the gearshifts are clever and brilliantly slick, and the gearbox has a decoupling mode, which allows fuel saving because the transmission can be disengaged when you’re coasting down hills.
Even with the sports suspension and bigger wheels with low-profile tyres, the A4 was mostly comfortable when it came to handling inconsistencies in the road surface. There was some twitching over mid-corner bumps, but it never got out of hand, and around town with five on-board I had to ensure I slowed down for speedhumps, as it could be a bit sharp.
The steering isn’t as involving as a BMW 3 series, but it is light and easy to twirl, making for super easy low speed moves. At pace, there’s a reasonable amount of feel and feedback, but twister bends made for a little bit of understeer if you hit them with pace.
I didn’t particularly love the drive experience of this Audi A4, but nor did it upset me to any great degree. Sure, you get more handling purity in one of its rear-wheel drive competitors, but in regular day-to-day driving, it was decent. Just not overly exciting.
To be honest, my biggest testing gremlins were multimedia based. I had a lot of trouble connecting and reconnecting via Bluetooth, with audio problems aplenty. Plus the CarPlay system - when paired with a rotary dial rather than a touchscreen - is beyond painful.
It’s designed for a touchscreen, like a phone, strangely enough. That and the fact the screen looks out of date already, plus the reversing camera is pixelated… all of that let the drive experience down a bit.
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 Audi A4 four-cylinder range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating in 2015, and that still applies today.
The entire model range has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection that works up to 85km/h, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and Audi’s 'Exit Warning' system that will warn/stop you from opening your door into the path of pedestrians, cyclists or other road users. Driver attention assist is standard, too.
Also standard is a reversing camera (with a pretty poor, pixelated display, it has to be said) and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a package that includes a 360-degree surround view camera system and semi-autonomous parking, at an additional cost.
There are eight airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain), and the rear seat has three top-tether points for child seats and two ISOFIX anchors.
Missing from the safety package is any form of lane keeping assist, lane departure warning and radar / adaptive cruise control. If you’re willing to spend an extra $1900 you can have that stuff in a bundle with high-speed AEB, auto high-beam lights, and a system called 'Collision Avoidance Assist' which makes the steering extra responsive to avoid potential collisions.
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 - like its German luxury car competitors - offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is fine, but many mainstream brands are bettering that level of cover.
Further, there’s a three-year service plan you can choose, which covers the first 36 months / 45,000km of servicing (with intervals every 12 months / 15,000km). It’s not a capped price service plan, per se, as you have to pre-purchase it, and it will cost you $1620 (price correct at the time of writing).
Roadside assistance is included at the time of purchase, and spans three years - just like the warranty.