Audi S3 VS Audi A5
- Virtual cockpit
- Accessible performance
- Handsome styling
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat headroom
- Engine runs out of huff at top end
- Sharp looks
- Sophisticated cabin
- No shortage of equipment
- Drive experience can lack excitement
- Tight backseat in Coupe body style
- Three-year warranties are too short
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?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Yes, yes, beauty is in the eye of beholder. But I challenge any eye to behold the refreshed Audi A5 and find it anything but beautiful.
In a world in which car design seems to be getting fussier and busier with every new model, the A5 remains a monument to simple lines and sophisticated shapes, both inside and out.
Looks are only part of the story, of course. So the big question is, does the rest of the package stand up? Or is the beauty only skin deep here?
Let's find out, shall we?
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.
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.
It's gorgeous, the A5. There's simply no disputing it. It's elegant, sophisticated, and above all, restrained. There's no look-at-me chintz here, just clean lines, sharp creases and a shapely figure.
Like its A4 sibling, the A5 has been tickled at the front, with a new-look grille, along with a new headlight cluster with redesigned DRLs, and Matrix LED headlights.
The four sharp bonnet creases that fan out from the grille lend the A5 a sense of speed, even when stationary, and we love the way the 19-inch alloys fill the wheel arches. It looks polished, premium and athletic.
Inside, Audi's interior treatment is on-point, from the figure-hugging leather seats to the material choices that span the dash. The big news in the cabin is the inclusion of Audi's new 10.1-inch touchscreen perched above the dash, which isn't just easier to use (in my opinion, at least), but also removes the traditional controls from the centre console.
It means Audi's already fuss-free cabin is even less cluttered, and it's definitely a change for the better.
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.
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.
It very much depends on the model you've opted for, with the Coupe compromising backseat space for exterior style.
The Sportback is easily the most practical of the trio, what with its four doors, comfortable backseat and dimensions that stretch 4757mm in length, 1843mm in width and 1386mm in height, and its 480 litres of boot space.
The Coupe, then, is a two-door design, stretching 4697mm x 1846mm x 1371mm, with 450 litres of luggage space at the rear. It's long, the Coupe, but most of that space is absorbed by the front half of the cabin, wth the backseat reserved for kids.
Finally, the Cabriolet (which we're yet to test) stretches 4697mm x 1846mm x 1384mm, and will deliver the lowest luggage capacity of the lot, at 375 litres.
Elsewhere, though, the A5 range delivers two cupholders up front, with another two in the centre armrest that can deploy to divide the rear seat. Rear-seat riders also get air vents with their own temp controls, USB charge points (joining the two up front) and bottle holders in the doors.
For parents, you'll find a pair of ISOFIX attachment points in the backseat, too.
Price and features
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.
The cheapest way into an A5 remains the Sportback or Coupe body styles, which will set you back $71,900 with the 40 TFSI engine choice. You can upgrade to the 45 TFSI quattro engine, but doing so will also up the entry point to $79,900. The Audi A5 Cabriolet sits atop the pile, costing $85,400 for the 40 TFSI, and $93,400 for the 45 TFSI quattro.
Happily, all A5s get the S line style treatment, gifting each a sportier look, with a new-look grille and venting adding to the performance-spec style up front.
You also get 19-inch alloys, Audi drive select with five drive modes, three-zone climate (and neck-level heating in the Cabriolet), leather trim, matrix LED headlights, as well as tech-heavy interior highlighted by a new 10.1-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash that controls the cars key audio, navigation and driving settings.
Speaking of the Cabriolet, the three-layer acoustic roof opens in just 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h, with a wind deflector also deployed to help with cabin ambience.
Audi's very cool Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch digital display that replaces the traditional driver's binnacle) is also standard, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi says the new model offers 10x the computing power of the outgoing model, owing mostly to connected car features including live traffic, weather reports and fuel pricing, as well as the ability to remote unlock or lock you car from your phone, or pre-plan destinations and send them to the vehicle's nav.
Engine & trans
Power in the S3 sedan comes from a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, which outputs 213kW at 6500rpm and 380Nm from 1850-5300rpm.
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.
Two choices here, the slightly tongue-twisting 40 TFSI and and 45 TFSI quattro, both of which make use of a 2.0-litre turbo engine tuned for different outputs.
The 45, on the other hand, will give you 183kW and 370Nm, pairing with the same auto gearbox, but this time sending power to all four wheels thanks to the quattro system. The 100km/h sprint drops to 5.8 seconds at its fastest.
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.
Audi reckons the 40 TFSI engine will return 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle, and emit 148g/km of C02. The bigger engine increases fuel use to 7.1L/100km, but lowers the C02 output to 163g/km. Both those fuel numbers are taken from the Sportback.
Both engines also get a new 12V mild-hybrid system said to drop fuel use by up to 0.3L/100km.
Fun tank capacity is either 54 litres or 58 litres, depending on the model.
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.
You'd describe the A5's drive experience as evolved, rather than revolutionary, but to be honest, in a vehicle this competent, that's no small thing.
The hybrid tech is unnoticeable, and so the A5 delivers an on-the-road feel that isn't far away at all from the car it replaces. None are truly fire-breathing, but it feels comfortable and sophisticated, the outside world largely banished from the interior (though the firm-ish ride can send road imperfections into the cabin).
Audi has done a stellar job of making the A5 feel connected to the road below it, and the world around it, without dialling down the comfort factor. The steering, light in its normal setting but firming up as you cycle through the drive modes, is direct, but not twitchy, the ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, the engine (at least, the 45 TFSI we drove on launch) is capable without being ridiculous.
The end result is a predictably competent drive experience, with the A5 delivering in the areas it should, largely before you even notice.
The only downside to all of that, though, is that the experience is so predictable, that there are few surprises, positive or negative, thrown in. It can leave you feeling slightly disconnected from the experience, rather than truly engaged.
Now, a disclaimer, we spent limited time in the A5 on launch, so we'll wait until we get it in the CarsGuide garage before making a final verdict. But I'd be surprised if we liked it any less over a longer period.
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.
Standard safety kit includes eight airbags, parking sensors front and rear, a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning, and lane keep assist and lane change assist, along with a bevy of airbags, with the A5 range still wearing a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
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.