What I do if the new S3 turns out not to be the car for me..
Choices, choices, choices…
I have a 4 ½ year old 8L S3 and was until very recently in the market for a new 8P S3 without thinking about it much, now don’t get me wrong I do actually like the new S3, the fact that it is understated means it will get a little less attention compared to the model I have now and that to me is a good thing. It’s just that the reviews of the car so far don’t seem to amount to much. I was planning to splash out on a new one with a deposit at the dealers, but the flood of mediocre reviews have got me waiting for a test drive first.
I sat down, like I did last time to review what I wanted in a car and note why I didn’t end up with a Ferrari, Porsche, etc last time is due to the total cost of ownership. A mate recently part ex a Maserrati for a M3 and that needed 2 services with a new clutch all of which was not going to give much change out of £5K. The decision I came to, like I did when buying my current S3, is that my choice of car needs to be AWD (once I had it on a car I was well and truly hooked), build quality and practicality. My S3 has that in equal measures.
The new TT does come close, nice as it looks, but is going to be as common as muck after a year or so, and it certainly is not practical. I am really struggling to find a suitable uber class compact hatch that oozes so much of what my S3 does, how come no one is competing in this market with Audi, they do so need some competition…
If I end up spending £30K+ on a car it needs to give me a smile, I am a little worried that the new S3 isn’t going to deliver, so I have been reviewing my options. Today I had the pleasure of a B7 S4 saloon and an 8P 2.0T S line DSG sportback for company.
Yikes. The S4 is yummy! The burble of the 4.2 never gets to be obtrusive enough to annoy you but remains a continual background soundtrack whilst you waft about everywhere, and boy do you waft. The S4 is not noticeably faster than the 8L S3, which was a surprise, but it comfortably soaks up the road, whilst still providing enough enjoyment when you boot it round corners. I couldn’t get used to the servotronic steering during the drive though and did wonder if this is not a bit of a step backwards. It was great at high speeds as the car settings into cruse mode approaching 100MPH, but around town and in tight corners its response is not sufficiently linked to the throttle control, when I wanted to get into ‘booting it’ it took until the car was at speed to weight the response. I think there should be a way to put this into sport mode with a heavier setting as it was very light, almost disconnected from the road at low speeds. The car does not feel that much bigger than the S3, which is fantastic too. I also got a front seat that tilts independently at the front and back which is a revelation after the recaro’s in the S3 that raise and lower at the rear, but not the front near the squab. Fantastic car.
Anyway I am smitten, I have asked for a longer testdrive, a week possibly, to see if me the MPG and the group 20 insurance can work out the relationship together, if the S3 fails to delight, and the bank definitely says no to an RS4 at the moment, then it can say yes to an B7 S4…
I was back in the showroom when swapping over for a ride in the 8P 2.0T when I spotted a monster in the doorway of the dealers, a dolphin grey RS4 estate, with bucket seats, sat nav and a lot more toys besides. I had a quick chat with the guy as we commented that most motoring journalists are a bit too clever for their own good these days, I mean it is funny TV, but I don’t want to see Clarkson and the boys farting around in converted cars come boats, I do miss the boring ridging reports of Chris Goffey who at least gave an appraisal of the car and did not try to turn it into a house or some such. Anyway he agreed and noted Evo now seem to be the best reviews of the cars these days, and being a guy who provides consultancy on car handling and expert tuition in high speed driving I was inclined (as I jealously looked at his new RS4) to agree. The upshot is however that he let me sit in the front and the bucket seats are utterly fantastic, even at £1600 for the S3 they are going to be soo worth it… I do wonder why they are not standard in the S3.
The 8P 2.0T S line was worthy of comment too. Its ride, even lowered is nowhere near as firm as that in the 8L S3, and needs to be a whole lot firmer for me to enjoy it. It seems to be comfortable for passengers but not stiff enough for driving. It reminded me a bit of the British economy, something for everybody. I hold hope that the revisions to the 8P S3 will do their stuff. The S line seats, who on earth designed these?!! The closest think to Japanese torture I could find (I know I worked for a Japanese company for 2 ½ years)! With my tall frame (slender 6’1”) the portion of leather across the top of the seat is not as recessed at the rest of the centre section, this added with the headrest pushes my neck and head forward fractionally and after 45 minutes I seriously wanted out of the car. This was never a problem in my 8L 1.8TQ not 8P S3 how come Audi ergonomics have this so wrong? Makes me wonder sometimes, it’s a good thing I can buy £1600 optional seats for the S3 to correct this defect eh? ;-)
The surprise for the test was the DSG box, what an amazing revelation in motoring, my right foot went to sleep and my brain stayed active, not usually the case on most auto’s where your brain does to sleep to. After cautiously driving down the road in I soon got used to it and was very impressed. I spend the entire hour changing via the paddles and loved its flexibility in most driving conditions. It is clever in getting the right gears, silky smooth and a joy to use, even selecting 1st when the car slows, all very well until I found any sort of a hill and tried engine braking, then the wheels came off the DSG wagon as the car kept moving down a gear when I wanted to stay in the gear I had chosen to use the throttle to control the cars descent. I am sure it is possible to disable the ‘shift-down’ feature; else what I though was a great option would annoy the pants off me very quickly.
The 2.0T engine is OK but not as pushy as the S3, despite mine having only 10BHP more and I really missed that urge, it is well weighted, for the car, but with FWD the car quickly succumbed to understeer over uneven roads, OK if you drove a bit slower with a full car of family and kids, but not for me. I might add that the MPG on my hour drive was amazing, I did wonder if the DIS showing 50MPG was having me on, if it isn’t then the economy of this car is something to behold.
I though, perhaps a short shift manual A3 with stiffer suspension and turbo lag with more urge is what I do need after all? S3 anyone…
After my experience today I do ponder why Audi did not add magnetic suspension and DSG to the spec list for the new S3, but I think I might know why and hope the drivers car I want is in the new S3. The steering though is definitely going to need to have been tweaked as the standard servotronic makes you feel too remote at the times when you can be pushing the AWD system the most, round nice sharp bends.