The pace is quickening at Audi. Where once the Ingolstadt brand made enthusiasts wait two years for S models and four years for the stonking RS – if they get one at all – Ingolstadt is keen to feed consumer hunger faster.
And that’s on top of regularly updating a core model range that has grown from six to 18 in two decades.
Nowhere is the pace hotter, the attention greater, the competition more fierce, than in the small-car segment.
That’s why we’re driving the S3 Sportback just three months after Carey tested the all-important A3 on which it’s based.
The S3 won’t land here until December, seven months after the A3, and, like the A3 range, initially it’ll be five-door only. Unlike the auto-only A3, the S3 Sportback gets a six-speed manual as standard, though most buyers are expected to go for the six-speed dual-clutch auto.
The S3’s engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot which Audi says shares nothing but its bore and stroke measurements – and therefore capacity – with the previous 188kW/330Nm engine.
It shares a lot more with the new Golf GTI, although the Audi version gets modified pistons and higher-strength conrods, and more boost which ups the ante to 221kW and 380Nm.
That’s more than the Golf GTI and enough, says Audi, for 0-100km/h in 4.8sec. Not so long ago that would be astounding in a hot hatch; these days it’s line-ball with the BMW M135i and forthcoming Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
But that doesn’t stop it being impressive performance for a sub-$70K hatchback, especially with claimed 6.9L/100km fuel economy.
The five-door is 35kg heavier than the 1490kg three-door dual-clutch I drove at the launch, which makes it an impressive 70kg lighter than the old model.
So it’s no surprise the S3 feels considerably quicker than its predecessor.
This new engine has serious punch, and sounds gravelly when angered. But you’d expect that, because the good notes are piped into the cabin as is common these days.
The programmed backfiring on gearchanges and overrun is nice but not convincing. After a while it sounds artificial, which I suppose it is. But still, it’s supposed to be evocative, right?
Moving the lighter engine back in the wheelbase has improved steering response and turn-in, but there’s still little communication with the driver.
The suspension copes well with German roads, but can feel brittle over broken surfaces. Magnetic dampers do a good job of firming up the chassis in Dynamic mode.
Overall, the S3 is fast and competent, but lacks a sense of occasion.
Backfiring and a rorty engine note aren’t enough to make it feel alive and engaging.
But still, it’s hard to get picky over sub-5sec performance for $70K. And no doubt there’ll be an even more exciting RS3 along in a year.