MTM S3 Conversion – Mayer Brings you the Hot Hatch Audi Wouldn’t
Text and Photos by: Chris Ostberg
Hatchbacks are really the jack-of-all-trades of the small car ranks. They offer maximum interior usefulness in the smallest package. By virtue of their compact size and light curb weight, they can also create an interesting performance proposition…which is exactly why many automakers showcase high performance versions of their practical hatches.
It’s no secret that the small car hatchback (or “Sportback” in Audispeak) segment has not been moving many cars off the lots as of late. In light of the slow sales, Audi has not yet been able to build the business case to bring an additional high performance S3 offering to North America on top of the current A3 2.0T and A3 TDI sales mix. Pity that. Come on, who doesn’t want to mix the performance of a TT-S with the practicality of the A3?
The guys over at MTM (Motoren Technik Mayer, headed up by Roland Mayer), one of Germany’s most renowned Audi tuners, have come up with a way bring an S3 option to North American customers who have an appetite for small car performance. When Bill Young (MTM’s US marketing manager and specialist for complete vehicle packages) contacted us about checking out the first example they took through Audi’s European delivery program, we were very excited to experience what we’ve been missing out on for the last ten years.
The formula for Audi’s S3 is fairly simple. Take the standard A3. Install a 265 horsepower version of the 2.0T also found in the TT-S (EA113). Get that power to the ground via Haldex – quattro AWD. Get it around corners via lowered and stiffened suspension. Get it stopped via larger brakes adorning “S3” logos. Get it noticed via S-exclusive body kit, grille treatment, and badging. This potent concoction yields a unique blend of luxury and performance which becomes a Swiss Army knife of cars, lined with Alcantara trim of course. It’s a car that’s not out of place at an autocross or trackday, yet it’s luxurious enough to take a date to a formal dinner after you’ve spent the day hauling drywall from your local Home Depot with the rear seats folded down. Even in a blizzard. In Europe and the rest of the world, the S3 is available in three-door or 5-door trim.
Now, MTM has a few tricks up their sleeve, but they still have to follow DOT/EPA guidelines like everyone else. Currently, a full blooded S3 is not legal for importation to the US, at least not without some major finagling which would put the car financially out of reach practically speaking.
To get around this issue, MTM orders up a US spec A3 2.0T DSG S-line quattro via Audi’s European delivery program. After it rolls off the assembly line in Ingolstadt, it takes the 2.5 mile trip north to MTM’s workshop in Wettstetten, just down the road from Audi’s headquarters. At this point, the car is fitted with OEM S3 parts, including brakes, grille/front fascia, sideskirts/doorsills, rear bumper, badging, and side mirrors. The EA888 2.0 TFSI engine is reprogrammed through MTM’s ECU software upgrade (in conjunction with a turbo-back exhaust system) to crank out 272 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. This is a smidge more than what you get on a full OEM S3. For those seeking more thrust, 310 and 380 horsepower kits are available thanks to turbocharger and additional hardware upgrades.
To balance out the newfound power, MTM fits their own springs to lower the ride height about an inch and reduce body pitch and roll. MTM typical bimoto wheels are fitted, this time in 19 x 8.5 inch sizing with the perfect offset to completely fill out the wheel wells. This car has a great stance which will be noticed, and the gunmetal finish to the wheels provides a sharp contrast to the white car. Best of all, we noticed zero fender-tire contact despite the paces we put the car through. That’s another example showing how this car was put together with deliberate thought, not just some tuner parts thrown at a car with the hope it will work right.
Enough about the car’s specs, the bottom line is the driving experience and the performance. MTM’s effort does not disappoint. In fact, this car is highly entertaining and turned out to be a better real world car than we expected. On first glance, we noticed the aggressive lowered stance and low profile 235/35/19 Pirelli Pzero’s. Our immediate reaction was concern that this combination would resemble a pogo stick on Detroit’s blown out pothole ridden roads. Quite the contrary, the ride ended up being surprisingly compliant despite the stiffness necessary to keep body movement in check under hard cornering loads approaching 1g.
The additional horsepower and midrange torque is immediately apparent the first time we got on it. The car pulls smoothly and firmly after overcoming a minimal trace of turbo lag. After testing back-to-back with a TT-S (265 hp and a few hundred less pounds), acceleration seemed to be very close between the two. Instrumented runs would show 0-60 in the low low 5’s and high 13’s in the quarter mile nearing 100 mph in trap speed. This is about a second quicker in both metrics than a standard fare A3 2.0T quattro. Audi’s S-tronic dual clutch DSG gearbox copes well with the additional power, although mid throttle shift quality isn’t quite on par yet with Audi’s own OEM calibration. On the up side, driving this car couldn’t be easier. There is no drama on a 3,000 RPM launch with the ESP switched off. No wheelspin due to the quattro AWD, just smooth acceleration and instant gear changes just past redline.
MTM’s turbo back exhaust system offers a slightly more intense soundtrack than stock, yet is very tolerable during extended cruising and doesn’t drone at low RPM. One of the neat parts about gearchanges with the S-tronic is the quick snaps of ignition timing intervention which create a distinct “FFUURRRRPPP” noise. This effect is enhanced by MTM’s exhaust and will keep you entertained in a boy-racer sort of way. We won’t lie, we snapped off extra part throttle upshifts for fun. Watch the last scene in the video linked at the end of this story for a demonstration.
Handling is very similar to a normal Audi A3, with a little extra sharpness. Body control is better. Turn in is a little more crisp. Grip is increased over stock. Admittedly though, the overall chassis dynamic is tuned for understeer at the limit. Under hard cornering with heavy throttle, the Haldex quattro system will bias up to 50% of available torque to the rear axle which can rotate the car a bit, certainly in the rain or snow. We don’t have many overall complaints with the setup. The brake feel could be a bit firmer, but this is typical of the A3 in general. The stopping performance with the oversized S3 brakes (13.6” front, 12.3” rear) is more than adequate. We’d like to see a little more aggressive (neutral) suspension setup, though not if it came at the expense of the excellent road manners the MTM S3 has shown us.
Overall, the MTM S3 conversion left us with a good impression. Our feelings were very close to what we initially expected; a car offering a similar performance envelope to the TT-S wrapped in a more practical 5-door Sportback body. The price is a bit on the steep side at $55,000 as tested, though you do get a very rare and exclusive vehicle which will spark conversations and get you compliments. MTM is projecting doing only 15 of these conversions. For further info on pricing, packages, and conversion availability, please email Bill Young at Young@MTM-US.com
Here is a video impression showing us enjoying the MTM S3…