The Col de Braus is a devilish peak in the Alps and part of the Monte Carlo Rally route. The 1002m climb to its peak is peppered with acute switchbacks, much of its surface covered in wet leaves and there's just a hubcap-high stone wall as token protection from the yawning crevasse below. Still, we might just have set an unofficial record for it with the white-hot new Audi S3 sedan, destined for Australia early next year.
Shorter, lighter, lower, faster, more fuel-efficient -- and cheaper -- than the current one, it's a deceptive beast. Virtually everything about it is new, but there's not much of a visual change unless you see it from behind, where four big-bore oval exhausts give the game away.
The single-frame grille remains the face of Audi but there are new bumpers with horizontal contours and big air inlets that emphasise the car’s width. Striking all-LED headlights are a functional and attractive option. And the wheels are 18-inch alloys with fat Continentals.
Prices have not yet been finalised, but will be around $65,000, and for that you not only get a sensible and well-appointed family sedan, but one that will run with Porsche 911s and similar pedigreed sports machines.
The new S3 has a 2.0litre TFSI four-cylinder turbo motor with both direct and indirect fuel injection. It cranks out 221kW and 380Nm and distributes it via a six-speed twin-clutch S-tronic transmission to all four wheels via Audi's quattro system. Australia gets a slightly less powerful motor that develops 206kW, but the Audi people say there's barely a drop in performance and the torque is unaffected.
The 221kW version as driven, can bellow to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds (a 911 does it in 4.7 secs) and the detuned Oz version gets there in 5.0secs. The 15kW power cut is said to cater for our warmer climate. If the car is driven normally, it should return 6.9litres/100km, which is pretty close to phenomenal for a machine of such potency. Suspension is by Macstruts, lower wishbones and an anti-roll bar in front and a four-link rear set-up that suits the car’s 1450kg mass distribution (51/49).
Kiwis, especially, will love the all-black interior. It’s in leather, or there’s a black and red set with mesh pattern that looks as if you’re about to sit on a giant cobra. But it’s a driver’s car and the seats, front and back, are great body huggers. Decent-sized boot too.
Behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel, the speedo houses all sorts of things in addition to speed, but white needles with red lines showing the limits make it easy to read. There’s also a heck of a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and the full electronics package plus the optional Audi phone box, which uses near-field technology to boost the signal to any Apple or Android device. Plus USB slot for other stuff and a retractable MMI screen features with navigation, reversing camera and the rest.
It’s been a while since I was in a car with performance and handling and the demanding Col de Braus was a brave place for Audi to prove the S3’s worth. We set off on a 10/10ths blast up and down the mountain, found a minute trace of understeer from the electronic-assisted and razor-sharp steering – but that only happened at 11/10ths. The golf-ball topped S-tronic transmission has Audi Drive Select with Efficiency, Auto, Comfort and Dynamic modes and you can leave the system to do its own thing, or use the paddle-shift for more involved driving.
Upshifts come in rapid succession and downshifts come with a happy chortle and bark from the exhausts, and in Dynamic mode, the sound effects get boosted via the opening of exhaust flaps and activation of membranes in the windscreen and side windows that act like speakers. After all, what’s a sports car without surround sound? Back towards Monaco, we settled into normal mode and the car drove like a limousine, which is what it is called in some markets.
The complete car. A fully-featured family sedan that you can take to the track on the weekend – and win. It’s seriously quick.
Price: around $65,000
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder turbo, 221kW (206kW in Australia) /380Nm
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch S-tronic, 4WD