The Audi S3 Sportback must be coming to the end of the line. A new Golf on the way signals the start of the VW Group small car dominos falling.
Perhaps this car came to me in black because its end is near. In truth, this black car signals the S3’s return to the Australian market after a brief hiatus enforced by petrol particulate filter (PPF) issues that are too tedious to recount.
It’s also a marker of Audi’s recovery strategy. The Australian arm didn’t have a good 2018 or 2019 so the local arm loosened the parent company’s purse strings. More gear, better value, same fun.
How much is a 2020 Audi S3 and what do I get?
Pricing valid January 2020.
Audi S3 Sportback $64,200
Audi S3 Sedan $65,800
Audi S3 Cabriolet $73,400
The Audi S3 is, of course, kid brother to the awesome Audi RS3, which I tested in sedan form. It’s still the same car, so give that a watch.
For 2020, Audi says they’ve slung an extra $9000 of value into the S3 for no extra cost. You can see what’s new, I’ve put the bits in italics.
Your S3 comes with 19-inch Audi Sport alloys, 14-speaker B&O surround system, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Audi Virtual Cockpit, sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, metallic paint, red brake calipers, auto wipers, auto parking with steering, Nappa leather interior, auto folding mirrors, wireless phone charging and dynamic damping.
The B&O system is run from the retracting 8.0-inch screen and controlled by the rotary dial MMI controller on the centre console. Pleasingly, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and they’re free. Sadly, they’re not wireless, you’ll have to wait for the next one for that, I think.
Warranty and Servicing:
Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service plan available: $1850 (3 years), $2380 (5 years).
Roadside Assist: 3 years.
As with BMW and Mercedes (and in the interest of balance), the length of the warranty is not up to scratch. Three years/unlimited kilometres is not really long enough. I’m sure the warranty itself is fine, but it should be five years minimum. These aren’t cheap cars and I know from what people tell me, they’re not cheap to fix.
You can buy an extended warranty for as long as another four years on top.
A three-year service plan costs $1850 and five years $2380. You’ll need to return to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km which is pretty standard. The five-year plan seems like good value, working out at $476 per year. There’s a very big service at 48 months/60,000km covered under that plan.
While you get three years roadside assist when you purchase the S3, as long as you keep servicing with Audi, you get another 12 months.
Safety – 5 stars (ANCAP, December 2015)
The S3 comes with a solid safety package that includes seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitoring, brake assist, forward AEB (low speed) with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and tyre pressure sensors.
As part of the MY20 package, you also get active lane assist, auto high beams and adaptive cruise.
The A3 range scored its five-star ANCAP rating in 2015. The rules have changed a lot since then.
Look and Feel
The Audi A3 on which the S3 is based has been with us for, like, ever. It still has a nice look to it, though and I’d forgotten how much I liked the interior. It has been a few years since I’ve been in one.
The exterior is your basic Audi – crisp, beautifully detailed and from before the time of the light curvaceousness of the new A5 (which we’ve reviewed in RS5 form). I still really like it, though I wish the taillights were a bit more grrr. The quad exhausts help, though…
Added to the A3 is a set of 19-inch two-tone alloys, a body kit front and rear and a roof spoiler. Now-standard, the red calipers peek out from behind the wheels. I like the LED daytime running lights, too, something of an Audi signature, as is the strong line running from the corner of the lights to taillights.
It’s lower, too, so is a bit more menacing.
Astonishingly, out of the ten colours – Brilliant Black, Mythos Black, Ara Blue, Navarra Blue, Daytona Grey Pearl, Nano Grey, Tango Red, Florett Silver, Glacier White and Ibis White – only the Ara Blue is an extra cost. Even then, it’s an entirely reasonable – by Audi standards, anyway – $560. That’s almost as cheap as a Mazda and very, very welcome.
If you’ve more money to spend, let me recommend the Matrix LED headlights (a stout $1300). The $520 Assistance Package adds traffic jam assist, hill hold assist and emergency assist (which dials up help if you run into grief or a wall).
The interior is a fine example of how to get a small car’s cabin to look good. I love the way it’s fairly restrained. However I am convinced men like it because the two central air vents look like a pair of breasts on the dash. I shared this theory with my wife years ago and she didn’t fix with me with one of those looks, so I’m not too far off.
The back seat isn’t what you’d call spacious, but will do the job for short trips if the occupants are over 170cm. Cargo space is not bad for a small hatchback, but it’s not amazing at 380 litres. If you put the split-fold seats down, you have a handy 1180 litres.
Cupholders are arranged in pairs, two in front and two in the centre armrest and four bottle holders will help you keep hydrated.
Audi’s always-impressive 2.0-litre TFSI sends its power to all four-wheels via a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission. This is the newer gearbox which is much, much better than earlier cars had, so there’s less to worry about.
The engine fires up with 213kW and a proper 380Nm of torque, which is not bad for a car and engine of this size. Audi suggest you can hit 100km/h in under five seconds.
Fuel Economy – 6.6L/100km (claimed)
The official figures of 6.6L/100km on the combined cycle are, naturally, some way off the mark. If you drive it carefully you can manage around 8.0L/100km but if driven as intended you’ll be rather closer to 10L/100km, like I was.
Obviously it wants premium unleaded for its 55-litre fuel tank.
The S3’s 19-inch wheels wear some reasonable Pirelli P-Zero rubber, with 235/35s all around. You can’t get away from the fact that these aren’t going to ride in a super-smooth fashion but they’re undeniably sticky.
Dynamic damping is along for the ride to stiffen things up in the corners when you go into Dynamic via the drive select.
Apart from that, there isn’t anything to tricky – no limited slip diffs, just a standard VW Group electronically locking front diff.
Despite its advancing years, the S3 is plenty of fun. The punch from the 2.0-litre is still impressive and lag reasonably limited. I’ve always loved the way you can find the speed in this car. It does understeer a little bit, but that’s to be expected. Even the RS3 understeers.
The engine pulls hard without ever feeling overworked or highly-strung. That means you don’t mind giving it an absolute hammering, burping up through the gears.
It’s worth noting, however, the ride is pretty firm. Verging on harsh, if I’m honest. oddly, I think the RS3 rides better, even without dynamic damping fitted (I’ll be surprised if that isn’t standard upon its return to our shores).
The ride is worth it, though, for the fun. You can get into a really good flow with the S3. As long as you’re patient, you can pile into a corner on the brakes, turn it in and punch out the other side as you start to wind off lock. Don’t get cocky or you’ll power understeer and don’t go in too fast because. Well. You’ll understeer.
It’s not so much that it’s unbearable, but where the S3 really is a weapon is in daily driving. No gap is too small, no launch into traffic too hard. It’s ready to carry you through the trials and tribulations of suburban bother.
That seems like a weird reason to praise a car, but that’s where we drive them – the city. It would be an very decent country car (well, not too country), but the city is where it’s at.
The S3 is still fun after all these years, but it is feeling its age. If you’re not after the latest razor-sharp machine, though, it’s comfortable and now with all the extra gear, pretty good value. It’s probably going to be around for another year or so before the new A3 appears and then there will be a gap. It might be a long gap, too.
If it was my money, I’d try and stretch to the sedan. I don’t know what it is about the four-door, I just like it. But if you’re a hatch person, the S3 will do just nicely.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.