Review: Audi S3 fast enough to fly
This small sports sedan from Audi proves it has the handling and engine to keep up with these majestic birds at British Columbia's bald eagle festivals.
THE PROS & CONS
- WHAT’S HOT: Power, handling, comfort.
- WHAT’S NOT: Throttle lag off idle when accelerating, small back seat
VANCOUVER — With a wingspan averaging two metres and weighing between five and six kilograms, the majestic bald eagle is an iconic symbol of the wilderness and the official emblem of the United States. In all my years in Ontario, I’d seen maybe three of these incredible birds.
But during one day at the Fraser Valley Eagle Festival, I saw dozens of these birds. The sight of 10 mature bald eagles roosting in one tree, with another 20 or more soaring overhead on thermal updrafts, is nothing short of inspiring.
Snow and cold weather forces thousands of bald eagles from their summer nesting grounds in Alaska and northern British Columbia to the Fraser River Valley, where they feast on thousands of dead salmon. Yes, this regal, clinically-efficient hunter loves dining al fresco on salmon carcasses well beyond their best before date.
There are two bald eagle festivals in B.C. — the Fraser Valley gathering in Harrison Mills, about 110 km east of Vancouver, and the Brackendale Count gathering, about 70 km north on the wonderful Sea to Sky Highway.
Soaring with the eagles requires something special, and Audi’s S3 small luxury sports sedan fits the bill (no pun intended). Visual upgrades from the A3 include quad exhaust tips, a trunk spoiler, tarted-up outside mirrors and 18-inch wheels. Tick the “performance package” box and you get 19-inch wheels and magnetic dampers.
While the A3 has a base price of $32,400, the S3 bumps that up to $45,400. Tack on options, such as jazzy red brake calipers, and my 2015 press unit checked in at $52,750.
With 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque available from the 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbo, there is no shortage of oomph when you press the right pedal. The only transmission available is a six-speed DCT unit, but it shifts so quickly and seamlessly, I didn’t lament the lack of manual input.
Going to either eagle-viewing venue from my newly-adopted home in Maple Ridge, B.C., covers every type of driving condition you might encounter across Canada, short of gravel roads. There’s a mix of city traffic, twisty two-laners and freeway.
The S3 is completely unfazed by any of the above and even though it easily and comfortably devours the freeway grind, its considerable talents are wasted on a flat, straight highway. The quiet cockpit is awash in top quality materials with excellent fit and finish, and both driver and passenger seats are roomy and exceedingly comfy. Cruising at a B.C.-legal 110 km/h, the S3 returns a satisfying 7.5 L/100km.
It’s when the road gets curvy that the S3 really shines. The electrically-assisted steering has a light feel, although feedback is a bit lacking. There is absolutely no shortage of grip, especially with the monstrous 19-inch buns and magnetic ride option.
A quick tug back on the shifter changes the car’s dynamics into Sport mode and the S3 immediately grows fangs and adopts a number of rowdy personality disorders. Throttle response becomes a bit crisper, shifts are quicker and the transmission hangs on to each gear a bit longer. Stomp on the gas, it just digs in and goes.
Even in Comfort mode, the throttle response is linear and progressive except for an annoying hesitation just off idle when accelerating from a stop. It’s as if you apply the throttle, nothing happens for the first half inch of travel and then — boom — you’re away.
All-wheel drive is handy in areas where the pavement isn’t dry and smooth all year (see “Canada” in your dictionary), and while the west coast generally doesn’t have to deal with snow on a daily basis, there’s enough rain to warrant the security and sure-footedness that AWD offers. Plus, a good chunk of Audi owners are somewhat upscale with ski trips or cottage jaunts on the agenda, which means dealing with icy and snow-covered roads for most of the winter months.
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Travelling to either festival reveals the amazing vistas that’s typical of British Columbia, especially in late fall and winter. Yeah, it rains a bit—but when it’s sunny, it’s absolutely spectacular and most of the mountains have snowy-white tops, just like the eagles. An added bonus travelling to Harrison Mills are dramatic settings along the Fraser Valley including views of snow-covered, 3,286-meter Mount Baker in Washington, 85 kilometres to the southeast.
The eagle festivals are informative, educational and a great way for the public to learn more about this amazing bird, as well as the life cycle of the salmon and other integral components of the food chain.
Indoor exhibits feature nature displays with live raptors, green businesses and conservation organizations. Fish hatchery tours showcase the life cycle of the various Pacific salmon and nature tours highlight the biodiversity of the area.
The eagle festivals were pretty cool stuff for an eastern boy, and the S3 showed that when it’s time to soar with the birds, good things still come in small packages.
Freelance writer Steve Bond is a long-time contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. The vehicle for the story was provided by the manufacturer. To reach him, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put his name in the subject line.
2015 Audi S3
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $47,500/$52,750
ADD-ONS: freight, taxes, licence
TYPE: Four door sedan
PROPULSION: front-engine, front-wheel drive
CARGO: Trunk Cargo capacity — 283 litres (10 cubic feet)
ENGINE: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder, 16-valve, transverse mounted.
TRANSMISSION: six-speed, dual-clutch S-tronic automatic, all-wheel drive
POWER/TORQUE: 290 horsepower, 292 lb-ft. torque
FUEL CONSUMPTION: Premium required. 10.1L/100 km city, 7.7L/100km highway. As tested — 8.56L/100km.
BRAKES: Front — 13.4-inch vented rotors, rear — 12.2-inch vented rotors
TIRES: 235/35 — 19 inch all-season
STANDARD FEATURES: All-wheel drive, rear fog lights, rear spoiler, heated power front seats with lumbar adjust, leather sport steering wheel, quad exhaust tips
COMPETITION: Mercedes CLA45 AMG, BMW M235i,