Volkswagen Golf R 2014 review: road test
We have always held the top dog VW Golf in high regard, way back into the R32 days. We were a tad...
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Audi's S3 had the premium hot hatch market all to itself until a couple of years ago. Sure, BMW tried with the E87 130i, but it wasn't until the M135i landed and then the Mercedes A45 AMG fired up that it seemed Audi had a battle on its hands.
The new Audi S3 is the blood brother of the awesome Golf GTI but with a quattro drivetrain and the sort of power we'd all like to see in the Golf. With its patch firmly established within the VW Group, it goes to battle in a shiny new suit and with a point to prove.
Before it turns a wheel, the Audi S3 wins its little niche on sticker price. Starting at $59,900 ($62,200 for the sedan), it's $5000 cheaper than dumpy-but-brilliant BMW and a sturdy $15,000 down on the A45 AMG.
The S3 has a reasonably long list of standard inclusions – leather interior, MMI infotainment system, cruise control, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, reversing camera, auto-park, 360-degree parking sensors, keyless entry and start and sat-nav.
You can choose the six-speed manual or add the DSG automatic without a price penalty.
The $4990 S Performance package adds very cool S Sports seats with diamond quilting (looks way better than it sounds), black inlays with 3D design, Bang & Olufsen sound, LED headlights replacing the standard Xenons and magnetic ride.
The Assistance package ($1800) adds things like the excellent adaptive cruise and the pearl metallic paint of our test car ran to $1050.
Audi S3's styling adds to the look of the already handsome, if demure, A3. The lowered suspension and bigger wheels combine with the deeper, vented-and-slotted front bumper to bring the car closer to the road and has the effect of looking wider than it really is.
The aforementioned optional S package also brings a set of darkened five spoke 18-inch alloys and red brake calipers for a bit of bling, as well as the sill kickplates.
The Audi S3's seven-inch screen, which glides almost silently in and out of the dashboard, features sat-nav, bluetooth, USB smartphone connectivity, 20Gb hard drive, DVD player and car setup info.
Frustratingly, the A3/S3 has stuck with the fabulously annoying, expensive proprietary cable for smartphones, an idea long since abandoned by German rivals and just about everybody else. With Bluetooth streaming the cable isn't essential but USB is a neat way to keep the phone charged. Resorting to a 12V adapter seems a bit old school.
Aside from that, the S3's optional 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system was most impressive and comes with some funky LED lighting. Audi's MMI, which has a rotary dial with shortcut buttons and rocker switches alongside a volume/track skip knob on the console, is almost natural to use, but can sometimes cause confusion when you try to use the steering wheel controls.
The sat-nav is a good one if a bit low-res and dark, but performed well in Sydney.
Audi's dependable 2.0 TFSI carries out the propulsion duties. With 206 kW at 5100 - 6500rpm and a muscular 380 Nm of torque from 1500 rpm, it's right up there with Renaultsport's rival Megane 265.
Unlike the manual-only Megane, you can have the S3 with Audi's six speed automatic transmission, which is better than the seven-speed found in lesser models. Audi claims fuel consumption of 6.9l/100km for the S3, but this is an improbable figure if you enjoy a good drive.
Audi has fitted seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), ABS, brake force distribution and brake assist, stability control and hill start assist to add up to an ANCAP rating of five stars.
The reversing camera helps avoid driveway drama and the quattro all-wheel drive is arguably one of the best active safety measures on the road.
Modern German hot hatches really are something else. The three makers all have distinctly different approaches so there's one to suit a broad range of customers. The Audi S3 is tailored to suit a particular taste - understated tech.
The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG is also all-wheel-drive but it's got a hand grenade of an engine and sci-fi looks. It's also really, really hard on your spine and, relatively speaking, your wallet. The BMW M135i is an easy ten percent more than the S3 but is a rear-wheel drive, turbocharged straight six with a nose to scare small children.
The Audi S3 falls in between - the engine is flexible and quiet, with just a hearty exhaust crackle on the upshift when you've selected the Dynamic driving mode. Where the lively chassis of the rear wheel drive BMW will wag, the Audi stays neutral up to impressive speeds with an unflappability aided by our test car's magnetic ride control.
It looks as slick as any Audi and will neither surprise nor delight but will impress.
Much of the time the S3 feels like a 1.8 TSI, very civilised and with that well-sorted six-speed DSG shifting smoothly and quickly without too much hesitation in traffic. Foot flat the changes are incredibly quick, with no let-up in forward progress.
The steering is much more direct than a standard A3, but when in Comfort mode, the ride is soft, almost too soft, rebounding oddly from a steep speed bump.
Step it up to Dynamic, though, and things get a lot more interesting. In truth, the steering is too heavy in Dynamic to be much use in city driving, but the weight is very handy when you're throwing it down the twisty stuff because road feel is in short supply.
The broad spread of torque from the engine is easy to ride when you're moving quickly and is capable of prodigious slingshot overtaking. The 0-100 km/h time of five seconds flat is completely believable but lacking drama - point and go.
The quattro drivetrain is a delight, providing tons of grip and plenty of security even with the electro-nannies switched off. Couple that with the very clever sport mode of the auto or your own fingertip's choices, the S3 is super-capable, except for the automatic’s addiction to upshifts whether you want them or not.
Goldilocks would probably pick the Audi in the German hot-hatch line-up. Even forgetting it's comparatively low price point, there's nothing to get worked-up about in the Audi S3, no glaring faults, no spectacle. It's low-key, understated and goes like a rocket.
It's also beautifully put together and like the guy in the after-shave ad, there isn't a hair out of place. For subtle, understated performance, you can't go wrong with the Audi S3.
|2.0 TFSI Quattro||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP||$31,200 – 40,810||2014 Audi S3 2014 2.0 TFSI Quattro Pricing and Specs|
|Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP||$26,100 – 34,650||2014 Audi S3 2014 Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro Pricing and Specs|
|2.0 TFSI Quattro||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP||$27,200 – 36,080||2014 Audi S3 2014 2.0 TFSI Quattro Pricing and Specs|