Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Audi S3
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
- Great handling
- Excellent engine
- Perfectly proportioned
- Not much leg or headroom in the back
- Standard feature list is a bit light
- Artificially enhanced sound
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
Richard Berry has gone low-profile and high-performance behind the wheel of Audi's S3 sedan, a Bavarian wolf dressed in very stylish sheep's clothing. His road test and review includes specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Would you be comfortable wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap in public? If you answered: “FTW! I do already, brah!” then head over to our Golf R review here. If your answer was a definite no, then stay where you are because the Audi’s S3 Sedan could be for you. And if you don’t know what a flat-brimmed baseball cap is then you might be interested in reading about a Camry here.
See, the S3 Sedan takes the boy racer recipe of crossing a little car with a high-output engine and puts it in a grown-up package – a sedan, and a small one at that. Based on the A3 Sedan the S3 is visually so subtly different from its sedate brother that only those who know would know that this car is a bit of an animal. It’s not as much of a beast as the RS3, however. That thing is brutal.
Audi’s not the only one to cotton on to the small prestige missile concept: Mercedes-Benz has its CLA 250 Sport 4Matic and BMW has the M240i. Both awesome, and a step down from the full-blown AMG and M versions.
Audi updated the S3 Sedan just as 2016 was shutting up shop and it’s this new, quicker and smarter version we’ve road tested here.
So, what’s it like to live with? Why is sitting in the backseat a pain in the neck for me? How do the magnetic shock absorbers work? Is a virtual cockpit as good as it sounds? Where’s that noise coming from? So many questions… all answered.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The S3 Sedan is the perfect midpoint between domesticated and wild. It doesn’t have the sledgehammer performance of the BMW M240i or the bling factor of the Benz CLA 250 Sport, but for many buyers that’s just what they’re after – a low-key, quick, fun, but prestigious car.
Are the S3 Sedan's looks too subtle or do you like it low-key? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
Okay, if you can spot the difference between the new S3 and the previous S3 then you’re an Audi spy or you own one, because the changes are minor.
The grille is now wider and its corners meet at sharper points, while the LED running lights, which are still integrated into the headlights, provide more of a frame around a new intricate lens design, while the outside plastic casing is more angular in its styling. The tail lights have been redesigned and the rear indicators have gone all Vegas and now use strip LED lighting which progressively illuminate in the direction the vehicle is turning. The rear diffuser has also been restyled.
Picking an S3 from an A3 is tricky – they look so much alike. The easiest way to know if you’re looking at an S3 and not an A3 is if it has the beefy rear diffuser and quad exhaust tips.
Apart from those tail pipes, the S3 looks a lot like an A3, which looks a lot like an A4, and an A6, and an A8, only smaller. Which is no bad thing – it’s a sleek good looking shape and the S3 appears perfectly proportioned despite its small size.
It really is small. At 4469mm long, 1960mm wide and 1392mm tall the S3 Sedan is shorter than a Mazda3 sedan. As for its rivals the S3 is 171mm shorter than the four-door CLA 250 Sport and 37mm longer than the two-door M240i.
The cabin is refined and prestigious and shares the same materials and styling as higher-end Audis.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
Yes, it has four doors and five seats but space in the back row is limited. Tall friends won’t be pleased sitting behind you. I’m 191cm and can only just sit behind my driving position. The bigger issue is the lack of headroom and I can’t sit up straight without having my cheek up against the roof. That’s literally a pain in the neck.
Up front you’d never know about the space issues behind you. The cockpit is roomy from the pilot’s seat, with good headroom, plenty of space in the footwell and stacks of shoulder room.
There was somebody that did love sitting in the back seat - my two year old son in his car seat. Apart from him having plenty of space, the low window sill meant he had a better view of the outside world than many other cars I’ve tested lately.
So a young family or empty nesters with grandchildren may find the size suits their life best, or treat it as a two seater with a bonus back row if you need to give people a lift.
Storage throughout isn’t great – there are no cup holders in the back, but there are two up front. You’ll find small bottle holders in the back doors and larger ones in the front.
Boot size is impressive though at 425 litres – that’s just 55 litres less than the A4’s luggage capacity. The M240i’s cargo capacity is 390 litres. It’s even bigger than the boot in the A3 Sportback hatch (340 litres), but the boot opening itself isn’t big and we couldn’t fit the CarsGuide pram in no matter how much violence we directed towards it.
Price and features
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
The S3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic lists for $64,500 and that’s $1600 more than the S3 Sportback, but $7500 less than the S3 Cabriolet.
Standard features in the S3 Sedan include 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats (sports buckets up front), dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch screen, sat nav with six monthly map updates, CD and DVD player, digital radio, 10-speaker 180W Audi sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. There’s also the Audi virtual cockpit – a fully digital instrument cluster.
You’ll also get LED headlights, drive mode selector, front and rear parking sensors plus reversing camera and blind spot warning. There’s also new advanced safety equipment – read about that below.
It’s disappointing that features such as auto parking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, collision warning, auto headlights and even hill hold need to be bought as options, particularly when they are offered standard on many Hyundais, Kias and Volkswagens.
Our test car was optioned with Navarra blue metallic paint for $1150, Magnetic Ride dampers for $1600, the $850 black high gloss package and $1350 18-inch five spoke 'Turbine' design alloy wheels, bringing the total package to $69,450.
On the upside, the S3 Sedan’s list price undercuts its rivals, with the CLA 250 Sport selling for $67,600 and the M240i listing at $74,900.
Engine & trans
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
The latest S3 Sedan is more powerful and quicker than the previous one – by a smidge. Power has been increased to 213kW (+3kW) with torque staying at 380Nm and the claimed 0-100km/h time drops by 0.2s to 4.8s. It’s a better sprinter thanks to the new transmission – the six-speed dual-clutch from the previous version has been swapped for a seven-speed.
Drive goes to all four wheels thanks to Audi’s signature quattro system.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
Audi says the S3 should drink premium unleaded at an average rate of 6.5L/100km when driving under combined conditions. My fuel consumption was a bit more than Audi’s serving suggestion at 11.0L/100km, but I drive like I’m on the run.
There’s a stop-start system which is great at saving fuel but it’s annoying in traffic, particularly with a DSG gearbox. The system will cut the engine when coasting to a stop which I find unnerving, particularly when I’m turning at an intersection. For these reasons, unless I need to save fuel, I’ll switch it off.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
Just say you were looking for a getaway car then the S3 may be ideal. It’s low key enough for it not to stand out and quick enough to out accelerate mostly everybody else you’ll encounter. A sprint time of 4.8s for the 0-100km/h dash is almost a second in front of Ford’s new V8 Mustang and only 0.2s behind an entry-spec Porsche 911.
The M240i is quicker at 4.6s to 100km/h, but the CLA250 Sport is way back at 6.4s.
The best part of the S3 is the driving. This thing feels sharp, agile and well balanced. There were times I wanted more grunt when climbing corkscrewing hill roads, or coming out of turns onto a straight, but that would begin to encroach into the RS3’s territory.
No, the S3 is a playful and safe-feeling little missile with great pedal feel, and an excellent low seating position. Dynamic mode can be set through the Drive Select function to adjust steering weight, change the throttle mapping and firm the dampers for better handling.
The Magnetic Ride Control system adjusts the dampers continuously to suit the situation. Charged particles in the oil inside the shock absorber align themselves when a magnetic field is applied in connection to the driving conditions – this changes the viscosity of the fluid.
The S3’s sound completes the fun package, although it's slightly artificial. There’s an actuator under the bonnet which looks like a hockey puck and vibrates to enhance the sound to a deeper growl. I’m not a fan and don’t see the need for it when the engine note would still sound great without it. Oh and yes, the S3 lets rip a burp on the upshifts.
The Virtual Cockpit is an excellent feature. You can digitally configure the instrument cluster to your own tastes – the view which reduces the speedo and tacho down and fills the screen with your sat nav map means you don’t have to keep looking across to the main display.
That main display, by the way, is looking dated and small – it’s been the same since the A3 launched in 2013, and tech (as proven by the virtual cockpit) has come a long way since then.
Mechanically, the S3 is closely related to the all-wheel drive Golf R (both being in the Volkswagen Group family), although the current version of that hot hatch is more like the old S3 with a six-speed dual-clutch and 206kW engine.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
The S3 Sedan has seven airbags and the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but that score has really become the new minimum these days, so the way to see if a brand is going further is to look at the advanced safety equipment list. AEB with pedestrian detection (up to 65km/h) is offered for the first time in this S3 and so is rear cross traffic alert.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts in the back row and two top tether anchor points.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.