George Clooney is one of those annoying overachievers. As you probably know this 52-year-old is an accomplished actor, director, producer and screenwriter who’s racked up numerous awards.
In his downtime, away from Hollywood, he’s also a noted political activist and humanitarian. On top of this, People Magazine has voted him the sexiest man alive. Twice. Yeah, try as you might, it’s hard to find much fault with the dude. As an all-round package, Mr Clooney seems to encapsulate our perceived concept of perfection. A bit like the Audi S3.
Launched last year, the current A3 is an already handsome piece of machinery. And now in performance-skewed S3 specification it looks even more dapper, thanks to the addition of a few styling tweaks.
For the privilege of all those extra ponies living under the hood you score faux aluminium wing mirrors, larger 18-inch aluminium alloy wheels, edgy side sills, as well as a set of vampire-slaying Xenon Plus headlamps. You can also expect a roof spoiler and, in true S-line tradition, two sets of double exhaust tailpipes sprouting from either side of a rear air diffuser.
It’s a very subtle makeover. One that whispers — never shouts — about this car’s considerable performance potential. Now I know that some people will like this. But others might feel that the Audi S3 is just simply too bland when lined up against similarly powerful — and less expensive — competitors like the Opel Astra OPC and evergreen Renault Mégane RenaultSport Trophy. Personally though, I’ve always preferred a sleeper.
Inside, it’s a similar story. Blissfully free of any boy- racer frippery, the S3, like its less powerful siblings, gets a sedate but beautifully packaged interior that places an emphasis on build quality and ergonomics.
Seriously, it’s probably one of the most intuitive cabins I’ve yet to sample. Making life behind the wheel even easier is the firm’s latest MMI media interface that, with a push and twirl of that chunky push-button controller mounted on the centre console, gains you access to car’s headlining features: satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free telephony and Audi Drive Select.
The latter, by making mapping adjustments to your engine, gearbox, suspension and steering, lets you set up your S3 to suit real-time driving conditions. You get four factory preset modes (Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic) plus a customisable Individual mode that allows for more personal fine-tuning.
Now having been impressed at the how good the standard A3 was to pilot, I was expecting big things from this 206kW monster. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Especially when it came to straight-line speed. Dialled into Dynamic mode the S3 morphs into a damn quick piece of machinery. How quick exactly? Well in my mind it felt no slower than a Porsche 991 Carrera.
With practically no turbo lag and a mid-range more muscular than Manny Pacquiao, this Audi piles on speed at an astounding rate. It sounds awesome too, surprisingly. Normally turbocharged fours are as dull as dishwater. But thanks to the combination of an electromechanical actuator in the bulkhead and two acoustic flaps in the exhaust system, the S3 complements its velocity with a deep-chested wail.
Fitting the optional S-Tronic transmission also unleashes a big ‘whoomph’ every time you tap the right-hand paddle to change up a gear. Oh, and a launch control system that brings up 100km/h in 5.1-seconds.
Aim it down a curvy strand of spaghetti bitumen and this whole effortless, polished act continues. Fitted with the firm’s famed Quattro all-wheel drive system and substantial 225/40 ContiSportContact tyres, it feels like it is impossible to run out of grip.
Even in greasy conditions the S3 is all about carrying ridiculously high speeds through corners of all shape and stance. Simply point the nose where you wish to go, nail the accelerator to the floor and let the car do the rest. Simple.
Driving fast has never been easier. Unfortunately this safe and steadfast handling does come at a slight cost. As dynamically accomplished as the S3 may be, it can feel uninvolving at times. You get the sense that you are merely there to turn the steering wheel. It’s almost saying: ‘don’t worry, kid, I’ve got this all sorted. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride’.
If you like this level of flattery you won’t have a problem. If you don’t, then you would probably better appreciate the more visceral BMW M135i with its twitchier rear-wheel drive configuration.
Another niggle I encountered was the rock-hard suspension setup. Set in anything other than Comfort mode the S3 jolts along like some kind of concrete pogo stick. In fact, even then there were quite a few occasions when I heard the thwacking of bump stops over scabby tracts of tarmac. Not ideal when you live in a city with some of the crappiest roads in South Africa.
Other than these two bugbears — and that scarily expensive options list — I couldn’t find anything else to criticise with Ingolstadt’s Opel Astra OPC rival. Undeniably classy (nobody would ever blink if you drove one to the next board meeting), it’s a mature performance offering that excels across a broad range of applications — everything from the Saturday morning shopping run right down to an impromptu track day.
Perfection? No, but it does come irritatingly close. So close in fact that if old George were ever suddenly and inexplicably turned into a hot hatchback then the Audi S3 would be it.
The Facts: Audi S3 2.0 TFSI Quattro
Engine: 1984cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 206kW at 5500 rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1800 rpm
Top Speed: 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h: 5.1sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 15.4l/100km (achieved)
Pricing: From R474500
One of the best cabins in the business
Might look too sedate for some
Long, expensive, options list
Ride can get hard and flustered