Twas a dark and stormy night years ago... and with an Audi S3 in the driveway I was late for a meeting in the hills of the Gold Coast Hinterland. It could have been a horror drive, but the trip through the tight twists and turns in lashing rain and into the clouds remains one of the most striking I have ever taken.
The little Audi not once gave cause for alarm, with the German company's signature quattro all-wheel drive system on full song, the hot hatch gripped the narrow road like a rock climber on a vertical face. The memories came flooding back recently when I spent time with the latest of the Audi S3 line, the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic automatic. There's also a six-speed manual. Both come to market at $59,900.
The test car featured metallic pearl effect paint, at $1050 extra, and the S performance package consisting of 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, red brake calipers, Nappa leather sports seats, 3D design black inlays, Bang & Olufsen sound system, LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights and Audi magnetic ride, all for $4990.
Typical of a hot hatch, the Audi S3 Sportback plays on the theme of its A3 sibling, the lower bonnet and sloping D-pillar adding the sharper visuals of a sporty car without going over the top. The single-frame radiator grille frame is chromed, the matte grey insert carries expansive Audi rings and an understated S3 insignia, while horizontal twin crossbars have a shiny aluminium look. The redesigned bumper has integrated air inlets with aluminium-look double ribs.
The test car was fitted with optional LED headlamps, previously available only on high-end vehicles, which not only look the part but provide superior illumination. LED technology has been extended to lights at the rear where the bumper has been redesigned. Red brake calipers are visible through the spokes of 18-inch alloy wheels. A grey diffuser with aluminium-look double bar houses four oval chrome-tipped tailpipes. A roof-mounted spoiler with side inserts adds to the car's overall dimensions.
Completely done out in black, the cabin interior is a match for the sporty exterior. Instrument faces are grey, the needles white, with the rev counter incorporating a charge pressure indicator. Driver information is projected on a pop-up colour screen when the ignition is turned on. The standard leather multifunction sport flat-bottom steering wheel, with S tronic, incorporates aluminium-look shift paddles.
Pedals are aluminium, sports seats are leather trimmed, the rear positions, firm and flat, offering adequate legroom and headroom to match. Boot space is a fully usable 340 litres.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The only thing the totally new Audi S3 engine shares with its predecessor engine is its 1984 cc capacity. Putting out a maximum 206 kW of power and 380 Nm of torque, mated with the six-speed S tronic automatic transmission, the motor rushes the car to 100 km/h in 5.0 seconds.
With the maker claiming a combined urban / highway fuel consumption figure of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres, our test S3 clocked more than 10 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway. A fuel-saving engine stop / start system is standard.
Focus of the Multi-Media Information Navigation plus system is the 7-inch thin-screen that rises majestically from the top of the dashboard when the ignition is turned on. Access to information displayed is via the MMI wheel and surrounding switches on the centre console.
A 705 Watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, standard with the S performance package, consists of 14 high performance speakers and 15 channel amplifier. A Bluetooth interface provides mobile phone connectivity.
Audi S3 Sportback occupants are surrounded by airbags, including front side, curtain and driver's knee, while a strengthened body and chassis incorporates energy absorbing crumple zones to minimise crash danger. Active safety features include electronic stability control with ABS anti-skid braking. An optional Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, lane assist, pre-sense collision warning, side assist and high-beam assist.
Early in the piece, the Audi and I experienced one of those ‘grrrr' moments: standing in a car park my S3 refused to start, an MMI message declaring the battery charge was low and several system functions were not working.
The little Audi was in need of some automotive CPR, which gave me my first chance to call on the company's 24-hour roadside assistance. A quick phone call, an exchange of details and 45 minutes later a technician hooked up the German-made battery to his meter to discover the voltage was 10 amps. No current was flowing due to a cell collapse. A new battery installed, I was soon on my way. However, I later had to call into the local Audi dealer to reprogram the car's computer.
The rest of the time with the S3 Sportback was a mix of relaxed city driving and exhilaration, with the quattro system in complete control, competent handling in a range of situations; from sweeping highway to tight-turn country hills. Braking was sharply efficient.
The Audi 2.0 TFSI responds instantly to the throttle pedal once past its turbo lag stage. The sonorous sound mounting with the Audi drive select system in Dynamic mode, two sound flaps in the exhaust system opening to produce an even richer sound under load.
Drive select and Audi magnetic ride enabled the car's character – from languid limo to rip-it-up hot hatch - to be altered suit driver preferences: a great source of debate among occupants and beating the hell out of I-spy.
The battery glitch apart, nothing has changed from my previous pleasing experiences with the Audi S3. The S performance package is a no-brainer.
2014 Audi S3 Sportback
Price: $59,990 (automatic or manual)
Engine: 2.0 litre petrol turbo. 206 kW / 380 Nm
Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch or six-speed manual
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, Stability control, EBD, TC
Crash rating: Five-star
Thirst: 6.9 litres/100 km
Weight: 1430 kg
Size: 4.3m long; 1.8m wide; 1.4m high
Warranty: Three years unlimited km