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Mercedes-Benz A-Class


Audi S3

Summary

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

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.

The A-Class sedan is substantially longer and fractionally taller than its hatchback sibling, but does that mean it’s better, or simply different?

Safety rating
Engine Type1.3L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.7L/100km
Seating5 seats

Audi S3

The moment Audi slaps an 'S' badge on any of its cars, you know you could well be looking at something a bit special. That single S has usually inferred a big jump in performance and an overall much sportier flavour than the Audi 'A' car on it's based on.

And now there’s an all-new Audi A3 coming to showrooms about now, the chance to take a deep dive into the equally new S3 was a no-brainer.

Describing the S3 as an A3 with more of everything sounds a bit trite, but it’s also accurate. And this is not new; Audi is as good as any other carmaker (and better than most) at taking a volume seller, piling on the good gear and letting it loose to appeal to a cashed-up buyer profile.

Available in both Audi’s usual Sedan and Sportback (that’s Audi-speak for a five-door hatch) the new S3 boasts more of everything from engine output, to handling, to luxury and connectivity. No surprises there, it’s pretty rare to hear of a car going backwards in any of those departments. But compared with the A3 – and this is the important bit – the S3 offers more of the attributes that appeal to buyers with more cash to splash.

While much of the car might be new, Audi fans will recognise the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. It’s been tweaked this time around for more power and, significantly, Australia gets the full-fat, Euro-spec engine, rather than the slightly detuned 'hot-weather' specification we’ve seen in this model in the past.

Other changes over the new A3 include the usual S touches including lower, firmer suspension, bigger wheels and tyres and a more industrial braking package.

Inside, there’s more connectivity and multimedia potential than ever before, and safety has been given a leg-up with the latest driver aids.

The other significant thing about the S3, of course, is that until the even hotter RS3 turns up in showrooms sometime later this year, this car will represent peak A3-platform performance.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz A-Class8.1/10

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.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.


Audi S38/10

There are plenty of historical instances where a particular model within a broader range manages to hit the absolute sweet spot even though it’s not the fastest or most expensive variant. Porsche’s GTS specification across various models is a great example of this.

And at the risk of being proven wrong when the all-new RS3 comes along later this year, this car, the S3, might just pull off that feat.

Yes, the new RS3 will be more powerful and will offer even more grip and sporty flavour, but it will also be more expensive. And we defy anybody to drive the S3 and say that it lacks dynamism in any single area.

It’s also a magnificently balanced car with the right amount of attention paid to every aspect of its trim and performance. That, in essence, is where that `balanced’ label originates and even though it’s felt most in the actual driving experience, it permeates throughout the entire vehicle.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel, accommodation and meals provided.

Design

Mercedes-Benz A-Class9/10

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.


Audi S39/10

Perhaps the most striking thing about the styling of the new Audi is just how similar it looks to the old model. Okay, this is not a new thing with Audi which has made a point of not throwing a handsome design into the dumpster in pursuit of new for new’s sake.

As such, the exterior lines are taut and typically Audi clean and, with the latest LED headlights and a refinement of the Audi trapezoidal grille, the look is fresh and crisp without being a novelty act.

Inside, the virtual dash display and large, relatively flat centre console almost amount to anti-styling. Or it would if the rest of the deal wasn’t so sharply angled towards a philosophy of less is more.

Again, this is classic modern-era Audi where the game is to make a complex layout look as simple as possible. The face-level air vents also seem to have borrowed a little Lamborghini (part of the Audi family) DNA.

I particularly like the new shift-by-wire gear selector which is a nifty looking switch but works just as intuitively as a conventional shift lever. New tech meets old muscle memory, I’m calling it.

It's worth mentioning (again) just how good Audi’s customisable dashboard display is. With sharp, clear graphics and the ability for the driver to prioritise the information on display at the time, the S3’s display is still about the best in the business.

Overall, ergonomics have always been a long-suit of this brand and there’s been a clear intention to follow that tradition this time around.

Practicality

Mercedes-Benz A-Class8/10

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.


Audi S38/10

While SUV owners are often quick to tell you that they bought their car for its interior space, the truth is sometimes different. And without the huge wheel-wells and suspension towers of a high-riding SUV, the conventional hatch or sedan often has an advantage.

Certainly, there’s no lack of room in the S3 and the hatchback version has a wide hatch opening to make loading easier. The sedan, however, is a full 150mm longer than the hatch and that extra is all behind the rear seat.

So the boot is actually very useable with a capacity of 325 litres. Audi claims the same 325 litres for the Sportback, but that figure jumps to 1145 litres with the rear seat folded flat.

The rear seat in either variant is handily split 40/20/40 and there are storage nets on the back of each front seat, luggage nets in the cargo area and 12-volt outlets in both the centre-rear and luggage compartment. Even floor mats are standard.

Price and features

Mercedes-Benz A-Class8/10

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.


Audi S37/10

There’s only one trim level across the S3 range, so it doesn’t matter whether you choose the sedan or hatch, the level of standard kit remains the same. And extensive.

As with many performance variants of a platform, what you’re paying for in the S3 is the hardware that allows it to be a more aggressive, more involving drive. So, compared with the A3, the S3 gets much more engine performance, bigger brakes and improved suspension.

Inside, the S3 runs to S-specific trim and presentation (instrument display, steering wheel) standard heated, powered, four-way lumbar-adjustable sports seats, a black headliner and the 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo that’s a $1500 option on some variants of the A3.

The interior is also home to a 10.1-inch info screen, dual-zone climate-control, an auto-dimming mirror, keyless entry and push-button start, wireless phone charging, rain-sensing wipers, park-assistance and acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Connectivity runs to Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and sat-nav.

Helping the image match the performance, the S3 also gets dark aluminium accents, alloy pedals, ambient lighting and gloss-red brake calipers to give it the visual punch the price-tag suggests.

Speaking of price, the new S3 represents a fair hike over the outgoing S3, and a sticker of $70,700 for the Sportback and $73,200 for the sedan means the new model will be tickling the $80,000-mark as a drive-away proposition.

Compared with the old model, those prices represent a leap of around $6000, not to mention a spike of around $23,000 or $24,000 over the entry-level versions of the new A3 on which it’s based.

But perhaps a more meaningful comparison is with the 40 TFSI variants of the new A3 which also feature Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel drive system.

In that case, the price difference between the A3 and S3 is closer to $17,000; closer, but still a big tweak to the monthly lease repayment.

Given you’re starting with a premium-priced product to begin with in the A3, the extra performance and dynamics offered up by the S3 seems to be reasonably priced given the scope of their influence.

Again, you need to see it through the prism of high-end motoring, but when you do, you can see where the money has gone.

And if you have even more to outlay, there’s always the 'Premium Plus' package for the S3. That gets you a panoramic glass sunroof, head-up instrument display, 360-degree cameras, a memory function for the driver’s seat (which should be standard at this end of the market) and a memory function for the exterior mirrors. Yours for an extra $3990, which, given some makers charge that just for the sunroof, seems a pretty reasonably proposition.

Engine & trans

Mercedes-Benz A-Class7/10

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).

Drive goes to the front wheels only via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.


Audi S39/10

Here’s where a lot of the extra currency demanded for the S3 goes. Forget the 1.5-litre engine in the base-model A3, and instead move to the two-litre four-cylinder as seen in the A4 40 TFSI. Then, add extra turbo-boost (up to 1.8 bar thanks to an efficient intercooler) different variable valve timing protocols, and a direct fuel-injection system with a specific calibration and the potential to create injector pressures of up to 350 bar, and you have the S3’s powerplant.

Maximum power is 228kW at anywhere from 5450 to 6500rpm, and maximum torque of 400Nm produced in a broad range between 2000 and 5450rpm.

Transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch unit driving through all four wheels as per Audi’s Quattro mantra, although it’s important to note this version of Quattro is the simpler, arguably less pure, on-demand system where the car behaves as a front-drive platform until the all-wheel-drive system is required to step in.

That said, with 228kW under its wheels, that’s a fair bit of the time. And compared with previous systems, this one takes more notice of driver inputs and wheel-speed to be less reactive and more active.

Fuel consumption

Mercedes-Benz A-Class8/10

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 S36/10

Audi quotes an official combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 7.4L/100km for the A3 Sportback and 7.3 litres for the sedan.

That difference is a bit of a mystery given the sedan is heavier (by just five kilograms) until you consider that the combined figure includes freeway running, at which point the sedan’s extra 150mm of length and different rear diffuser may be the aerodynamic deal-breaker.

The Sportback emits 170 grams of CO2 per kilometre (166 for the sedan) and with the 55-litre tank fitted, both variants should have a range of around 750km between fill-ups.

Driving

Mercedes-Benz A-Class8/10

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.


Audi S39/10

Some cars take a few minutes at the wheel before they start to get chatty. Not so the S3. From the moment you grab the lovely leather tiller, haul it into gear and give the perky little turbo-motor a squeeze on the throttle, the Audi is making all the right noises and giving clear, precise feedback on its every move.

Sometimes, cars with lots of tyre, lots of all-wheel drive grip and the sort of sharp steering fitted here, can start to feed back so many responses that it becomes difficult to know which one to respond to.

Not the S3, which seems tuned to a keener driver’s priorities (as it should be, of course). As a result, the steering feedback is distinct from what the rest of the front end is doing and everything else going on is clear, quantifiable and designed to improve the experience.

That even extends to the soundtrack which, Audi told us does not use any electronics to improve it beyond amplifying the engine-bay harmonics which use the windscreen and scuttle as their 'speaker.'

Combined with the active exhaust system, this car honestly sounds like a five-cylinder engine (I opened the bonnet to count the spark plugs to make sure it wasn’t. It isn’t.)

If you’ve ever driven a five-cylinder Audi or a V10-powered R8 (two in-line fives, really) the tune will be a familiar one. Lovely, and – again - such amazing attention to detail.

The 2.0-litre engine runs fairly high boost levels, but that doesn’t seem to have affected the way it storms off the mark. Neither does the dual-clutch transmission contribute any delay, provided you haven’t managed to stand on the brake and throttle at the same time (as many left-foot brakers might).

At that point, the driveline goes into sulk mode and will force you to wait a heartbeat or two before full power is restored. This can be an issue when trying to dart across a busy intersection or merge into a traffic flow.

It’s not a new thing to Audis, but remains an annoyance to those of us who equate having two pedals with having two feet.

The driver-selectable drive modes fitted to the S3 are interesting inasmuch as they actually make a meaningful difference to the way the car operates. They alter the transmission shift points, the throttle sensitivity, steering weight and damper settings.

'Comfort' mode will be the default for most owners, and while 'Dynamic' does sharpen up the dampers ever-so-slightly beyond an acceptable day-to-day level of firmness, it also adds weight to the steering feedback.

Frankly, I don’t think it needs it and simply adding resistance feels like a token gesture. And since the steering has a (non-negotiable) variable rate in the first place, bigger inputs equal a bigger proportionate change of direction anyway.

The damping control is now the more sophisticated magnetic-hydraulic type where hydraulic pressure varies the valving rather than the simpler, previous system of energising an electro-magnet to alter the viscosity of the damping fluid.

This more finite control system has allowed more 'bandwidth' as Audi puts it, between Comfort and Dynamic damper settings.

While the auto mode is almost prescient, it’s not actually pre-emptive but rather takes into account suspension deflection, wheel-speed and driver inputs to come up with a combination of settings to make the most of the situation.

And if you really want to fiddle, you can choose 'Individual' and create an overall setting that combines bits of Comfort and Dynamic with a smattering of 'Efficiency' thrown in.

Toggle down to Dynamic and throw the S3 at some bends and it soon emerges as a pretty gripped-up piece of equipment. The front-drive bias is not really noticeable, but then neither is the transition where the computer begins to engage the rear multi-plate clutch to turn the rear axle into an active participant.

There’s certainly no lack of grip at any stage of a typical corner, and even the odd unexpected damp patch poses no awkward questions. Perhaps the biggest grumble would be the tyre roar at highway speeds, but that’s often the price of performance rubber.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz A-Class10/10

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.


Audi S39/10

No surprises for guessing that Audi has this angle absolutely covered.

Some driver-assistance technologies have now filtered down from larger more expensive Audi models, and are standard fitment on the S3. Those include collision-avoidance assistance, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic assistance and parking assistance programs.

There’s also adaptive cruise-control, hands-on detection, traffic-jam assist, exit warning, a rear-view camera and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.

You also get the usual six air-bags including side-front bags and curtain air-bags at head height for rear-seat passengers. The S3 also gets a centre-front air-bag; a move that is likely to become a lot more widespread in the not-too-distant future and is designed to avoid head clashes between the front-seat passengers in a side impact.

Autonomous emergency braking is fitted and can also detect pedestrians and cyclists; a first for the S3.

The S3 scored a maximum five stars for safety in ANCAP testing.

Ownership

Mercedes-Benz A-Class7/10

Mercedes-Benz covers its passenger car range with a three year/unlimited km warranty, like the other two members of the German ‘Big Three’ (Audi and BMW) .

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.


Audi S37/10

Audi has finally had to cave in and extend its warranty to match its competition. So, any new Audi sold after January 1 this year moves up to a five-year/unlimited kilometre factory warranty; a big step up from the previous three years of cover.

S3 buyers can also opt for Audi’s five-year service plan which costs $2580. Servicing is set down for every 15,000km or 12 months.