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Audi S3


Alfa Romeo Giulia

Summary

Audi S3

Audi was the first to market with a premium small performance sedan in 2014, with its four-door S3 combining luxury appointments with a punchy engine.

The German brand has largely enjoyed free air in the somewhat niche segment, but now Mercedes-AMG has launched its A35 sedan and BMW's 2 Series Gran Coupe-based M235i is set for a 2020 introduction to try and steal some of the S3's thunder.

With a new-generation version expected around the corner, Audi has updated its S3 with more kit to keep things fresh against its new rivals.

Now priced at $65,800 in sedan form, and $64,200 for the five-door Sportback hatch, does the S3 still have what it takes to stave off the competition?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.5L/100km
Seating5 seats

Alfa Romeo Giulia

You know how in the movie Rocky III Rocky Balboa has become all rich and successful, but unfit and he can’t really box to save himself.

Then the young maniac boxer James 'Clubber' Lang (awesomely played by Mr T) challenges him to a fight and his trainer tells him he’ll lose, but he fights him anyway, and gets knocked out.

But then he asks for a rematch, and Rocky trains hard and makes a comeback to beat Lang. Well that never happens. If it was the real world Rocky would have been beaten again.

Alfa Romeo is a bit like Rocky. The Italian carmaker used to be unbeatable in speed and looks – it won the first ever Formula One Grand Prix in 1950.

Alfas were drop dead gorgeous too, but then - like Rocky - things started to go downhill. It got successful, unfit and old. Yes, occasionally there were flashes of the genius we once knew, but if a car maker takes enough hits there’s every chance it will never get up again. Alfa Romeo had become a joke. It hurts to write that.

But there’s a big difference between Rocky and Alfa because a car maker can start afresh, build a fighter with a new body, more powerful fuel-pumping heart, stronger bones and given the right trainer it could become formidable.

Well that’s what Alfa hopes. The fighter’s name is Giulia. The trainer is Roberto Fedeli. The story goes that the head of Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne could see Alfa was circling the plughole and called in the only person he felt that might just have a chance of being able to reach in and save it before it went down.

That was Ferrari’s chief engineer Fedeli. Told to fix it or look for a new job, Fedeli reckoned it was possible, but he needed some money…five billion Euros in fact. Oh, and he’d need a team… of 800 designers and engineers. He wasn’t mucking around.

When the Giulia made its world entrance in 2016 the star of the range – the hardcore Giulia Quadrifoglio (or QV for short) stepped into the ring dripping in carbon fibre with an engine that had Ferrari’s finger prints all over it and mouthing off about having just set the new lap record at the Nurburgring.

It’s mission is to lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback… and slay BMW’s M3 on the way there.

Now, we recently had the chance to drive the new Giulia Quadrifoglio on a track and it made us so happy you could tell we were grinning even though our helmet. But what is it like to drive on the road? We found out at its Australian launch. How did it handle the real world? Does it have what it takes to beat the M3 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 S? More importantly is it enough to save Alfa Romeo?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Audi S37.9/10

Despite being close to the end of its lifecycle, the Audi S3 sedan remains a solid choice for those looking for punchy performance wrapped in a premium package.

There is a bit of a trade-off in comfort for the extra performance, but it never strays towards being too unbearable or unliveable.

If you can survive with just using the rear seats occasionally, the S3 sedan also serves up one of the best front-seat interiors on the market, even after all this time.


Alfa Romeo Giulia8.6/10

Absolutely stunning – both to drive and in looks. This is a monster, but one you can live with safely and practically. Proper rear seats, a proper boot and proper performance. A quality feeling package that feels more than a bit Ferrari but entirely Alfa Romeo. It does everything the M3 can. This looks very much to be a prize fighter that will lead Alfa Romeo’s comeback.

Comment call to action: Do you reckon the Giulia Quadrifoglio will make Alfa the next big thing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Design

Audi S38/10

Measuring 4466mm long, the sedan is 144mm lengthier than its hatchback sibling, but this also means there is about 50 litres more boot space.

While you might struggle to fit something like a full-sized bike into the boot of the sedan, the extra cargo capacity would easily accommodate extra grocery bags or a stroller.

We actually think the sedan looks better than the hatch, as the styling is a little more mature and grown up. It actually looks like a shrunk down A4!

The 19-inch wheels fitted to the S3 also help fill its slightly blistered wheelarches, while subtle nods to its sportiness can be seen in the red brake callipers and quad exhaust tips.

The rest of the S3 sedan is unmistakably Audi thanks to its singleframe front grille, strong shoulder line and contrasting side mirrors.

Inside, sports seats with Audi's unique diamond-quilting are fitted for the front occupants, while the rear bench seats also feature the bespoke finish – at least on the outboard pews.

Between the driver and front passenger sits a small storage cubby, the gear shifter, multimedia controls and two cupholders.

In the centre stack, you will see climate controls, the drive mode selector and a small screen above circular air vents.

Everything in the cabin is laid out in a clever, ergonomic fashion, though we will note the central cupholders won't be much use for anything bigger than a small coffee cup.

The best part of the interior is easily the virtual cockpit, which lays out all the information you need right in front of you. It's even customisable, so you can adjust the sizing of the satellite navigation maps or media system.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

With its long, nostrilled bonnet, high roofline, short tail and almost no overhangs to mention there’s more than a sniff of BMW 3 Series going on. That’s no bad thing – its intentions are clear.

It’s actually smaller than the M3. The dimensions reveal that at 4639mm the Giulia Quadrifoglio is 32mm shorter end to end than the Beemer, but only 4mm narrower at 1873mm in width and just 2mm taller at 1426mm.

The Giulia is light at 1585kg thanks to the driveshaft, roof, bonnet, front splitter, plus the rear spoiler and side skirts being made of carbon fibre. Meanwhile the engine, suspension, brakes doors and wheel arches are all aluminium.

Inside, the cabin swallows you up in stitched leather, there’s a dash that that swoops and curves in front you and holds the impressive display screen. Many Alfa cabin traits are there such as the driver-orientated controls which tend to make the front passenger feel like, well just a front passenger.

Under all of this is an entirely new platform called Giorgio – it’s scalable like Volkswagen’s MQB. This means the Giulia is just one of the cars to be based on it – the Stelvio SUV also uses it and Alfa says there are more to come.

Practicality

Audi S37/10

Being a small sedan, the S3 doesn't exactly boast heaps of interior space, but there is enough for a young family or a group of four adults over short distances.

Roughly the same size as a Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla sedan, the S3 will comfortably seat two adults in the front, but we found the rear headroom to be severely lacking.

Our head can just about fit in the rear outboard pews, but our necks were a bit sore after trying the middle seat. For reference, this writer measures about 186cm.

Leg room was pretty good though, even with the front seats set-up for someone our size, though again, we'd only recommend small children for the middle seat.

Amenities in the rear are sparse, with just a 12-volt socket to charge devices and rear air vents to keep passengers entertained.

The door cards will swallow small bottles, but not much else, while there is no fold down centre armrest or cupholders.

The front fares a little bitter, with larger door pockets, a glove box and central storage cubby, but don't expect to be moving houses in the S3 sedan.

As for the boot, its deep and wide with a cargo net to keep things tumbling round, and is generous enough to swallow 390 litres of volume with the seats in place – that's about 50L more than the Sportback.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

I don’t normally fit Alfa Romeos because I have Viking ancestry and don’t come from a land where the people have short legs and long arms. So as much as I’ve liked driving Alfas, when I do my legs are cramped and yet I feel too far from the wheel.

Not so in the Giulia, everything feels the right distance away. And the pedals, which in other Alfas are far too close and cause me to constantly hit the brake and accelerator at the same time just because my feet aren’t like a ballerina’s are a proper distance apart. Not once did I embarrass myself with my ‘brakcellator’ trick.

Room in the back is excellent – it’s a four seater and even at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position with a good three fingers space between my knees and the seatback.

Boot space is also excellent and matches the M3’s 480 litres.

Storage inside is good in some places – such as wide the centre console storage bin, but not so great in others – the door pockets are only enough for small bottle and there only two cupholders – they’re in the front.

Price and features

Audi S38/10

Priced at $65,800 before on-road costs, the S3 sedan is about $6500 cheaper than its $72,500 Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan rival, but still comes loaded with what you'd expect in a premium small car.

Close to the end of its life, Audi bundled nearly $9000 worth of extras in the S3 sedan at no extra cost late last year, which includes the aforementioned 19-inch wheels, metallic paint, Nappa leather sports seats, wireless smartphone charger, magnetic suspension, and Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker sound system.

A sports bodykit is also fitted as standard, while LED headlights, keyless entry, push-button start, electronically folding side-view mirrors and heated front seats also feature.

Inside, passengers will find dual-zone climate control, LED interior lighting, flat-bottom steering wheel, and 7.0-inch multimedia system with digital radio, satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.

Our favourite feature though, is the 12.3-inch all-digital virtual cockpit instrument panel, which is easily customisable and clear to read.

Audi set the benchmark for digital displays when it first introduced virtual cockpit in its third-generation TT sports car, and it still remains the benchmark to this day.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

The Quadrifoglio is the king of the Giulia range and lists at a right royal $143,900. Sounds like a fair bit of coin, but it undercuts the M3 Competition’s $144,615 and C63 S’s $155,510.

Standard features are excellent – there’s the 8.8-inch display, 14-speaker Harman Kardon 900w sound system, the carbon fibre bonnet, roof, side skirts and rear spoiler and carbon fibre interior trim, leather and Alcantara upholstery, the steering wheel with starter button, quad exhaust tips, aero curtain on the front bumper, active aero splitter, rear diffuser, B-Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-high beam, aluminium pedals and advanced safety equipment which we’ll tell you about, too.

Engine & trans

Audi S38/10

Power in the S3 sedan comes from a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, which outputs 213kW at 6500rpm and 380Nm from 1850-5300rpm.

Drive is sent to the road via Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions, translating to a 4.8 second zero to 100km/h acceleration time.

Engine outputs are impressive for a small car, though the powerplant does run out of go when the needle approaches redline.

The engine is also down on power and torque when compared to its newer rivals, such as the 225kW/400Nm Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan and 225kW/450Nm BMW M135i xDrive – though the latter is a hatchback.


Alfa Romeo Giulia10/10

When it comes to six cylinder engines it’s hard to beat an inline six – the balance is near perfect, they scream and BMW’s delivers its power beautifully.

The Giulia has a V6. It’s a 2.9-litre twin turbo that makes more power than the M3’s 331kW at 375kW and also more torque at 600Nm.

It is a potent power plant and Alfa won’t say it too loudly, but with the same bore and stroke as the V8 in Ferrari California T it’s pretty much the same thing only with two cylinders chopped off.

Sending all that grunt to the rear wheels is an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission – I have pictures of this transmission on my fridge – it’s in a lot of cars and I am yet to find another road car transmission I like more.

A claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds beats the M3 by 0.2 seconds.

Fuel consumption

Audi S37/10

Official fuel consumption figures are pegged at 6.5 litres per 100km, while carbon dioxide emissions are 151 grams per kilometre.

The S3 sedan sips premium unleaded fuel and the engine is Euro 6 compliant.

With a 55-litre fuel tank, the S3 should average about 846km of driving range per fill-up, but this is obviously dependent on driving conditions and the urgency of the driver's right foot.


Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10

Alfa Romeo says the Giulia Quadrifoglio should drink Premium Unleaded at a combined rate of 8.2L/100km. It should, but it won’t if you drive it like we did. Let’s just say after 400km and starting with a full tank the fuel light came on.

Driving

Audi S39/10

Audi has probably perfected the easy-to-drive-fast formula with its S3 sedan, deftly balancing approachable limits with an engaging drive.

The exhaust just pops, rather than crackles, but again, that characteristic lends itself more to the mature and grown-up status of the S3 rather than the ‘boy racer' image of other cars in the same class.

The quattro all-wheel-drive system means the S3 sedan just grips, but leans towards understeer if you really come into a corner red hot.

It's no bad thing though, as steering is communicative and the chassis feels neutral for the most part.

If you want a small luxury sedan that will make you feel like a hero, the S3 is it.

With peak torque available so early in the rev range, the S3 is also a gem when just cruising around at inner-city speeds and when getting off the line briskly.

The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, but if you'd prefer, you can always put it in manual mode and shift with the gear stick or steering wheel mounted paddles.

The S3 then, is suitable for pulling double duty as a weekday commuter and weekend canyon carver, and while there are other options that will do each respective thing better, there isn't much out there that can balance both aspects.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

Starting in the Giulia with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes ($13,000) and the equally optional carbon fibre sports buckets ($7150) we joined Port Macquarie’s peak-hour traffic. Those anchors felt ‘doughy’ first thing in that cool morning and it wouldn’t be until they had some serious heat in them that they’d start to come to life. That wouldn’t be long because we were heading for the hills where great roads waited. But it gave us a good chance to drive this car in ‘normal’ conditions.

Straight away that ride felt so comfortable, so soft even that I was worried it affect handling later. I’d just got out of testing a BMW M3 which feel rock hard even on a ‘soft’ suspension setting. Steering was one-finger light. The dash is high, the window sills are high, the Recaros felt tight.

As we trundled down the main street that V6 gurgled deeply in third gear – that didn’t sound like any V6 I’d driven lately. Coming out of a roundabout and a gear change back to second and the V6 stirred louded but kept its throaty roar – this was special. Dabbing the accelerator the nose lifted up. This thing wanted to go. It felt light, ‘pointable’. Everything felt light – from the accelerator pedal to the steering and body weight. It was happy to stay on the leash.  Well behaved, patient.

As we left the city behind I clicked the drive mode from ‘Natural’ into Dynamic and with heat now in the brakes decided to see what $5 billion euros and 800 engineers and designers felt like.

With acceleration so hard each shift upwards felt like a punch in the back. Those turbos are wound up with 35psi of boost it’s not until second gear that it rushed it then it’s time to for third and fourth. Using those giant paddles it’s hard to shift fast enough to keep up.

The only thing more impressive than the acceleration are those ceramic brakes – we’re talking 100km/h- 0 in 38.5 metres.

Swapping into a Giulia Quadrifoglio with standard brakes and seats I found stopping power was still impressive – those seats actually more comfortable for me.

As we scrambled through the tightest corners through the bush heading higher and higher it became clear that this was different from the M3. The BMW feels harder, firmer, more planted. But the Quadrifoglio was just as adept but did it in a softer more flowing fashion. It’s was agile, changing direction as easily as you could think it.

Also changing direction in the front splitter – it’s active meaning it moves up or down depending on when you need the extra down force.

It’s more powerful than the M3 and you can feel it – it’s wilder, less serious and slightly crazy, but smoother and softer in its suspension – there were times we scuffed the front splitter in dips.

There’s road noise – lots of it on the course chip. That is probably the only complaint. That and visibility front and side is hampered by the thickness and placement of the A and B pillars. The indicators are confusing and hard to stop indicating… but these are small things.

At full roar the Quadrifoglio bellows likes it has so much more to give, the M3 screams into battle.

Both are so so good, and do the same job, but differently.

Safety

Audi S38/10

Audi's S3 comes fitted with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, reversing camera, front parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking.

ANCAP awarded the entire A3 line-up a full five-star safety rating when it was originally tested in 2013.

We'd love to see something like a surround view-camera added to the next-generation S3, but with its diminutive size, it's not a deal breaker.

Some sort of autonomous self-parking technology would also be appreciated to get the car into those tight spaces.


Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10

The left-hand drive version of the Giulia Quadrifoglio has scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, which is yet to be recognised by ANCAP. There's so much more than a reversing camera too, with active cruise control, AEB, lane keeping and rear cross traffic warning and auto high beam. 

There’s two top tethers and two ISOFIX points in the back seat.

Ownership

Audi S38/10

Audi's S3 sedan, like all new Audis, come with a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty alongside three years of roadside assist and 12 months of anti-corrosion cover.

Service intervals are ever 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.

Both three- and five-year service plans are available for $1850 and $2390 respectively.


Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10

A three-year/150,000km warranty covers the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Servicing is recommended at 12 month/15,000km intervals and Alfa Romeo has a pre-paid plan available for owners.