Before we start I want to make it clear that Audi Middle East still hasn’t made up its mind whether the S3 hatch will actually be offered for sale here or not. In any case, while we were in Munich to drive the rabid RS6 Avant, we settled into the cosy environment of a fully-loaded S3 with a twin-clutch ’box, crisp Google satellite maps on the top-mounted aftermarket-looking display, chunky three-spoke multifunctional steering wheel, digital driver display, MMI and B&O sound system, supportive Nappa leather seats and plenty of aluminium trim.
Immediately you’ll think, “Well, this looks expensive.” Exactly. If it was offered in the GCC, how much would it cost? Dh150K? Dh160K? Am I getting warm?
Image is everything here, so Audi could surely find a couple of people who are repulsed by the notion of a ‘People’s Car’ and would never buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI, with which it shares some important components. And that also makes it very, very good. The S3 quattro hatchback houses the same EA888 motor — the old VAG four-cylinder with redesigned cylinder head and a couple of other tidbits — up front, but turned up to 296 horsepower.
Instead of calling it the DSG, Audi refers to the six-speed with paddle shifters as an S tronic gearbox, which is anything but sporty in feel but excellent at handing a never-ending stream of torque to all four wheels. That’s why 0-100kph comes up in less than five seconds, and the quattro system with an optional limited-slip sport differential is why you can keep the accelerator flat everywhere.
Yet even though the S3 has shed some weight compared to its predecessor — mostly thanks to Volkswagen Group’s new MQB structure — it still weighs in at well over 1,400kg, and depending on options the end result could probably hike the figure to 100kg over the Golf GTI.
And that’s the problem. The badge on the back says Audi; score. The spec sheet says 0-100kph in 4.8sec and 380Nm of torque from 1,800rpm; score. And did I mention that the badge says Audi?
It’s got everything going for it, but to drive, however scalding hot and pointy it is, it’s no more exciting than a bouncing, eager, Golf GTI with a noticeably more responsive front end. And let’s not even get to Audi’s idea of steering feel.
However, it does get the job done, especially with Audi’s Drive Select set in Dynamic mode making the steering slightly more feelsome. On the outskirts of Munich through the countryside and its meandering B-roads, the ride was extremely firm, but not with the juddering and convulsions sent through the driver’s spine in Audi S and RS cars of old.
The short wheelbase hasn’t got much room for dissipating energy, yet the S3 manages to feel fixed and secure, rather than hard and uncomfortable. If you ditch the run-flat Continentals, things might even improve even more.
But we’re surely getting the S3 Sedan instead of the hatch here anyway — we’ll report as soon as we return from the international launch in Austria — and that one will obviously give the buyer a less head-scratching decision to make.
The Golf GTI is a youthful hatchback. The S3 with a boot is an A4 to most passers-by, and a traffic-light superstar 300-horse sleeper to you. It’s a grown-up choice, and when somebody tells you you’ve spent your money on something with a Golf drivetrain, you can point to the boot and place your pinky finger near the corner of your mouth to emphasise just how sly you are.
As for this new S3 hatch, it’s a great car; accommodating, luxurious, practical and very, very fast. But would I have one? No, and not just because I can’t anyway…