$50-100K: 2nd - Audi S3

If you’ve been reading our BYFB 2014 coverage thus far in sequential, last-to-first-place order – as we’d expect you have – you already know be aware that the relatively cut-priced ($59,990) Audi S3 Sportback all but trounced it’s $22K-pricier, RennSport-badged RS Q3 sibling in the competitive proceedings.

But to score second place against the class of the finest and fastest sub-$100K performance car of the past 12 months or so? That, readers, is some serious merit.

Underpinned by VAG’s clever, modular MQB architecture, the new version is an S3 transformed.

But then again, so too are four other MQB-based BFYB combatants this year: Audi’s SUV, the Skoda and the two Golfs.

Conspicuous by its absence in the pages thus far, it’s fair to say that the Golf R - the S3’s mechanical twin corporate cousin – was the Sportback’s biggest nemesis.

The raw spec bore out the S3’s slight disadvantage. Unlike the more powerful Euro-spec S3, the Aussie version gets 206kW and 380Nm…which is exactly what the Golf R is rated at.

But the more upmarket Audi tips the weighbridge scales with an extra 85kg or so across the board whether you opt for conventional or twin-clutch manuals in either marque’s models.

And that extra premium sheen of the Audi crop? Well, it accounts for a difference of $8000 in favour of the Volkswagen (in manual form).

Frankly, the S3 needed to pull a miraculous effort. And in ways it did.

First up, the drag strip. As one of the two least-powerful $50K-$100K competitors, the Audi hatch was also only one of two to slip into the ‘fours’ for the 0-100km/h sprint (4.99sec).

And by the 400m mark its 13.28sec pass was just edged out to third quickest by BMW’s 235i. In short, the slick-looking five-door was taking the scalps of pricier and more powerful all- and rear-drivers left, right and centre. Bravo!

The problem was that pesky Golf R. The bugger was fractionally quicker – if slightly slower in 400m trap speed – everywhere. And it didn’t help matters that the Golf pulled up shorter to a standstill from 100km/h either.

Around the tighter confines of the Winton circuit, you could feel that the Audi isn’t quite as light on its feet and keen to change direction as the lighter Volkswagen.

But, boy, was it still quick. The hierarchy that had played out on the strip was maintained around the track, the Audi scoring the third quickest lap time behind the VW and the BMW, with all other comers jostling for more minor placings.

That said, its actual Apex speed (53.34km/h) through Turn Seven wasn’t spectacular, which hurt its overall points score, though the S3 (with 172.90km/h) was in the top half of category’s measured V-max speeds.

No surprise, then, that the VW-BMW-Audi status quo remained intact in the eye of subjective judgment.

On the plus side, the S3 offers incredibly punchy engine delivery, a light level of accuracy in its chassis’ dynamics, beautifully clear steering and a sense of edginess and potency that not just the RS Q3 only hoped for but was also lacking in most of its class competitors.

On the downside, the Golf R was a sharper device again, and the 235i provided a more intimate, playful and lively driving character when you started wringing necks.

The S3’s deception is also a big part of its appeal. Surely the Sportback is the most mature, classy, sophisticated and upmarket small hatchback good money buys. To a point where it’s easy to forget just how capable a performance device it actually is under that suave skin.

But whether it’s potent enough to dispatch the sub-$50K hotties in buck-banging overall standing still remains to be seen. - CD

$50-100K placing – 2nd
Overall placing – 12th
Judges’ Ranking – 7th

0-100km/h – 4.99sec (2nd)
0-400m – 13.28sec @ 169.84km/h (3rd)
Lap Time – 1:43.4sec (3rd)
Pricing – $59,990 (17th)

Engine: 1984cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Power: 206kW @ 5100-6500rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1800-5100rpm
Weight: 1445kg
Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch
Suspension: A-arms, struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: 340mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (f); 310mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 18 x 7.5-inch (f/r)
Tyres: 225/40 R18 92Y Continental ContiSportContact5 (f/r)

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