Phillip Matera was a very good footballer, a pacey forward pocket who made the All-Australian side once and led the Eagles goal-kicking five times; the kind of guy anyone would want in their side. And yet, if you were able to have any Matera in your team, just about everyone would justifiably go for his dual premiership-winning, Norm Smith medallist, Hall of Fame-residing brother Peter.
And so it is with Audi performance hatches. The RS 3 is the undisputed top dog, offering insane levels of performance while still being very comfortable and easy to drive in peak-hour traffic. But don’t let the RS 3’s brilliance detract from its less-lauded S3 brethren: just like Phil, this is very, very good at what it does.
Like the rest of the A3 line-up, the S3 is stylish, comfortable and effortless about town. For a small car it’s a decent size — I’m 185cm and could just sit behind my own driving position and had plenty of head room.
There are rear vents and points for charging electronic devices as well, so kids won’t complain too much about being back there.
The boot space is decent. Even with a space-saving spare it’s shallower than most but was still able to handle shopping and pram duties.
Being the second-top variant, it is well equipped: sat nav, heated, electric sport seats, brushed aluminium inlays, selectable drive modes and more. The test car was fitted with the $3490 S performance package, which added diamond pattern stitching, 18-inch wheels, red brake calipers and a 14-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system.
So there’s an argument to be made the S3 is the pick of the A3 bunch, regardless of its performance capabilities.
But chances are, you will want to push it a little bit — and there’s a lot to enjoy once you do. The 2.0-litre turbo four-pot engine is so, so willing. It’s a joy. As mentioned, its certainly refined when asked to potter about — but equally as hassle free when asked to do more.
Power delivery is fantastically linear; there’s no jerkiness as the transmission searches for the right gear or sudden surge in power as the engine hits its optimum rev range. You know exactly what will happen depending on how much throttle you give it, and that predictability makes for wonderful fun.
Plus if you bury it, you’ll hit 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. It wasn’t all that long ago when that figure was jaw-dropping.
As refined as the engine is, you still get the pleasing exhaust belches as you flip through the gears that most buyers would want.
In corners, it benefits from Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive and, combined with topnotch brakes, makes cornering a breeze but still enjoyable.
There are a range of drive modes to choose from, but you can leave it in Auto and the car does a good job of knowing whether you want performance or plushness from it.
Surprisingly, it works well as a cruiser: its comfort is good, the transmission does a great job of slipping back multiple gears in one go when you need to overtake and once up to speed it will sip on fuel.
That said, tyre noise can be intrusive and anything other than cruising will see the engine chug down the juice, even under moderate acceleration. I used about 9.2L/100km in my week in the car, which included trips up the freeway in light traffic.
The S3 makes a solid case for those whose budgets or tastes go beyond a regular A3 but don’t necessarily extend to the maniacal RS 3. But you can still have a whole lot of fun in this car — without sacrificing on comfort.
Price $62,900 (as tested $67,440)
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission Seven-speed auto