Since the mid-'90s, Audi has offered a premium alternative to conventional hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. While the idea of a posher hatchback may not have made sense at first, the segment has grown immensely, with Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW all dabbling with their own equivalents.
Audi’s A3 has always remained one of the favourites in the segment. The S3 hot hatch derivative brought attainable performance to many, cementing Audi’s reputation as the maker of tasteful, well-built, and well-priced sports cars.
The latest S3 is immensely impressive. Priced at R815 000, it’s difficult to say the new car is ‘affordable’. But consider this: The Mercedes-AMG A35 is priced at R941 350 and the BMW M135i xDrive at R865 988. This makes the Audi the cheapest of the three.
Is there a performance deficiency? Not at all. On paper, the 213 kW Audi S3 trails behind the BMW and AMG, both of which produce 225 kW. The BMW boasts the most torque (at 450 Nm) while the Mercedes and Audi have 400 Nm each. However, they all have the same top speed (250 km/h) and when it comes to 0-100 km/h times, the Audi comes in at 4.9 seconds. This is slightly slower than the claimed times from the A35 (4.7 seconds) and the M135i at 4.8 seconds.
When it comes to interior quality, however, the Audi is on par with the superb BMW and streaks ahead of the Mercedes. It’s shaping up to be a very close race…
What’s the Audi S3 like to drive?
In a word, riveting. The turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine is both exciting and refined, depending on how you drive it. The motor is very quick and responsive, working in tandem with the superb seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. A rorty exhaust note accompanies low-speed driving, with crackles and pops spewing out of the exhaust when at full acceleration.
In the corners, the well-weighted steering is communicative and offers plenty of feedback. Through the corners, the all-wheel-drive hatchback is far more entertaining than both the A35 and M135i. In normal, everyday driving, the S3 is more comfortable than the Mercedes but trails slightly behind the buttery-smooth Beemer.
Average fuel consumption is rated at 8.0 litres/100 km and this is totally achievable in everyday driving. Push the S3, however, and expect to average closer to 11 litres/100 km. Overall, it’s a great hot hatch to drive and can be used every day.
Painted in Python Yellow Metallic (a no-cost option), it’s certainly striking. There are more conservative colours available if the brighter hue isn’t to your liking. We quite enjoyed the attention-grabbing paintwork, with passers-by glancing at the brightly coloured hatchback.
Fitted with R13 500 Audi Sport wheels, it finished off the look nicely, with the subtle Audi Sport body kit giving you some additional aggression. Several appearance-enhancing packages are available, including a Black Appearance package at R7 400.
Much like the Audi A3 on which it’s based, the S3 has a beautifully built interior with Lamborghini-inspired elements. The air vents straddle the instrument binnacle, giving a very sporty feel. Soft-touch plastics and leather fill the cabin with rich materials, making for a premium-feeling cabin.
Audi’s MMI infotainment system is a joy to use, with intuitive controls, and remains feature-rich. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work seamlessly, with Bluetooth and aux capabilities standard. Naturally, climate control, cruise control, LED headlamps and a full suite of safety features are standard. A panoramic glass sunroof, at R17 000, is a worthwhile edition and so is a rear-view camera system, at R6 500.
Space in the rear can feel tight for taller passengers, the larger sports seats up front impending on rear legroom. The cabin is comfortable though, with all the seats offering plenty of support even for longer journeys. Lastly, the boot measures 325 litres and, when the rear bench is folded down, there’s an impressive 1 145 litres up for grabs. This does trail behind the slightly larger A35 and M135i.
At R810 000, the S3 Sportback offers the best value for money in its class. What’s more, you’re not losing out on performance or quality, the Audi offers similar performance and the best cabin quality in class. What’s more, it looks classy and has a superb driving experience, with great ride quality and superb cornering abilities. If you’re looking for a premium hot hatch, look no further than Audi’s S3. We’d go so far as to say it’s the best car in its class.