|March 26, 2000
Big Results from the Smallest "S"
For my recent trip to Geneva to cover the auto show I planned on two full days at the show. With some hard work on day one, however, I got all of the information and pictures I had come for. Carshow duties aside, my wife and I were anxious to go and see more of the beautiful Swiss scenery. A quick inquiry with the concierge told me that I could rent just about any car I might be interested in -- from economy to luxury. As with most things in Geneva, incredible cars are readily available for the right price. I quickly discarded any fantasies about a Ferrari, decided an S8 would be just too darn big and settled on a S3. It was delivered to our hotel bright and early the next morning.
Why the S3? The obvious reason is that they are not available in North America -- neither in the basic A3 configuration or in the sport S3 version. I was anxious to get some time behind the wheel of a car that will probably never make it across the pond (both for my own selfish reasons and so I could share the experience with AudiWorld's readers). Secondly, I wanted to see for myself whether the A3/S3 lineup was truly a car deserving of the four rings. The "new" standard of luxury, performance and features are, in my opinion, the reason that Audi has seen such a resurgence in the past five years. Would this smaller vehicle live up to the pedigree?
Starting from the exterior point of view, the car takes on an aggressive stance. It all starts with the 17" Avus wheels and from there it builds with the front air dam (including foglights), enhanced body panels and "S" badging. There's no doubt in my mind that the car carries a bit of a VW Golf IV look and feel to it. In fact, it's similarity in size and shape to the Golf is probably the main reason that we will never see the A3/S3 in North America where brands are kept more distinct.
The excitement of getting in the car the first time was compounded by the fact that this particular car was brand, spanking new. I'm not talking about just a few other drivers; this S3 had only 65 kilometers on it (about 40 miles) and smelled like it had just rolled off the factory floor. The first thing I noticed was that although it had an intimate cabin, it was not a tight fit for a big guy like myself. Whereas I often feel cramped in the TT, I had plenty of leg and head room in the S3. Granted, with the driver's seat all the way back it would have been nearly impossible for somebody to sit behind me, but the point is that I was very comfortable as the driver. The seats had a lot to do with it -- Recaros wrapped in smooth leather are comfortable every time! The shape of the seat was much more contouring than in my 2000 S4 back home.
The route for the day was a big loop around Lake Léman. Geneva lies at one end of this beautiful lake -- the largest body of fresh water in Europe. With three-fifths of the coastline in Switzerland and two-fifths in France, the day's drive would cover two countries, major coastal cities such as Lausanne, Montreaux and Evian and provide both mountain and water scenery.
But, heh, you didn't expect me to be looking out the window the whole day, did you?
Driving the S3 I immediately experienced familiar Audi cues. The steering was neither ultra-responsive nor soft, but rather provided just the right amount of feedback from the road. Features such as pedal spacing, shifter alignment and lines of sight seemed to be designed with the avid driver in mind. Again, unlike the TT, I found the car to be quite comfortable and I did not have any major blind spots.