Although the auto industry's renewed global focus is streamlining product plans across continents, there will always be cars we want but can't have. For its discreet performance and sleek luxury, the Audi S3 compact hatchback is one of these mythical machines. To drive the real thing, you'd have to cross the Atlantic or endure the bureaucratic agony of trying to import one, but perhaps the best way to get into an S3 is to make your own.
This particular solution is easier than you might think, thanks to Germany's Motoren Technik Mayer, or MTM, which offers a complete package to transform Audi's mainstream A3 into the elusive S3. Starting with an all-wheel-drive, dual-clutch A3, MTM adds its own chip tuning and turbo-back exhaust system to achieve a claimed 272 hp, up from the 200 hp produced by the stock 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. (Audi's European S3, by comparison, produces 261 hp using a modified version of the 2.0T.) MTM then drops the car about an inch with new springs, adds the larger S3 front brakes, and bolts on nineteen-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero rubber. For a genuine S3 appearance, MTM installs authentic European Audi parts, including front and rear bumpers, side skirts, doorsills, a front grille, sideview mirrors, and even S3 badges.
On the road, the lower center of gravity and the low-profile Pirellis make steering response instantaneous. Quattro all-wheel drive keeps the car relatively balanced, but a stiffer rear antiroll bar would reduce the inevitable understeer. The reprogrammed engine delivers smooth power with OEM-like refinement, and the 72-hp boost is noticeable and appreciated from a stop or at speed. MTM's exhaust note is louder and deeper but isn't obnoxious, fading from notice when you're cruising. The turbo also makes its presence known as it spools up louder, thanks to increased boost and the new exhaust. Front brake discs measure 13.6 inches in diameter, compared with 12.3 inches stock, and provide ample stopping power. The most impressive thing about MTM's S3 is the consistent quality. From body-panel fits to sophisticated performance, the car feels as if it came from the factory.
Our biggest complaint is that the S tronic transmission lags coming off the line, slowly engaging the clutch as the tach needle climbs toward 3000 rpm. The transmission character is similar at speed, shifting gently and never hurrying. That's not bad for comfort, but in a car like this, we wouldn't mind a bit more aggression.
For the power hungry (and the financially flush), 310- and 380-hp tunes are available with additional external engine hardware. On our test car, the complete package of wheels, tires, suspension, brakes, exhaust, and body upgrades cost $17,000. Adding the price of the A3 brings the total ticket for our S3 to $55,000. That's a lot of money, to be sure, but if you want something you're not supposed to have, it's gonna cost you.
On sale: Now
Price: $48,325/ $55,000 (base/as tested, est.)
Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 272 hp, 274 lb-ft