2009 MTM Audi S3 Sportback

2009 MTM Audi S3 Sportback 2009 MTM Audi S3 Sportback
Specialty File

If you’re reading this, you probably know that the S3 is the hopped-up version of the Audi A3 hatchback. You’re also probably aware that a factory S3 can only be purchased by dudes who wear Capri pants in seriousness—Europeans, for example. Still, because of the former and perhaps in spite of the latter, you want one. If you’re a Euro type, no problem. (Your pants look fabulous, by the way.) If you’re in the U.S., where the S3 isn’t offered from the factory, you’re gonna need some help. In swoops MTM with the assist.

MTM, a German tuner with an American beachhead in Birmingham, Michigan, specializes in Volkswagen Group stuff like Audis, VWs, SEATs, and Lambos, although it wizards-up the random KTM X-Bow and Spyker, too. To create the lovely bit of hatchiness you see here, MTM starts with a U.S.-spec A3 2.0T Quattro and applies factory-original S3 front and rear bumpers, side sills, silver mirror caps, and brakes, as well as its own springs, turbo-back exhaust, and ECU tuning. Snorty, rorty, and bad-ass-looking to boot, the resulting Franken-S3 is U.S.-legal.

Born in Bavaria

The example we drove started as an A3 purchased from a Michigan dealer and picked up in Ingolstadt, Germany, via Audi’s European delivery program. It went to the MTM facility—10 minutes from Audi HQ—had the bits installed, and was shipped to the U.S. (Single orders will have to go the German route, but if you’re not into a Griswoldian holiday on the Continent, you can wait for three or four other people to order an S3. At that point, it becomes economically feasible, MTM tells us, to get the parts shipped here and the conversion done in the U.S. of A.) MTM then invited us to take a spin.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the driving experience was the ride. MTM’s springs lower the car by about one inch, and the company’s forged—all the better to withstand potholes—19-inch wheels were wrapped in super-low-profile 235/35 Pirelli P Zeros, yet the car felt well damped and, frankly, pretty comfortable. Yes, the bump stops were tested a few times, but we doubt that would be an issue on anything other than the bombed-out Afghani sheep trails that pass for roads around Detroit.

The S3 demonstrated good grip at the test track (0.93 g, the same as a 2010 VW GTI) and on our handling loop near Ann Arbor. The stability control allows you some freedom to four-wheel drift and doesn’t really throw down an anchor unless you’re brutish on turn-in. Fifty-eight percent of the weight over the nose means there’s plenty of understeer when you enter a curve, but aggressive throttle will rotate the car as Mr. Quattro sorts things out and tucks the nose in. Body roll is nicely controlled.

Heavy—but Quick

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four produces 200 hp in A3 spec, but MTM’s retune has coerced it into making 272 hp here. (The European-market S3 is rated for 265 hp.) An A3 2.0T Quattro with a six-speed stick hit 60 in 6.3 seconds and covered the quarter in 14.9 seconds at 93 mph with our test gear onboard, but the dual-clutch S tronic–equipped S3 knocked a full second off the 0-to-60 sprint and 0.9 second off the quarter-mile, adding 5 mph, too. The quickness is somewhat surprising considering the car’s considerable heft: 3611 pounds by our scales, although that’s just 23 more than that manual A3 2.0T. You could, however, pack 400 pounds of wurst in the back of a GTI and still come in below the S3’s weight.

The upgraded brakes are strong and responsive, hauling MTM’s creation down from 70 mph in 160 feet, 14 fewer than the A3 on which it’s based. We wish the brakes had more feel, though, a complaint we aim at the steering, too. The rack is linear and accurate, but you get most of your feedback on what the car’s doing from your butt—it’d be nice if your hands got more info. Inside, you have the same great A3 interior we’ve raved about for years, but that’s all you get; it’s missing most of the special S accouterments of the Euro car, like S3 gauge faces; a white-stitched, flat-bottom steering wheel; and a pair of totally rad, fixed-headrest sport seats.

It’s Very Pricey—BMW M3 Pricey

The audience for this car is the affluent Audi gearhead—make that very affluent; the entire package, donor car included, costs $55,000—who knows the S3 exists and knows he can get a sort-of one here in the States. The person who wants an all-wheel-drive, 270-horse hatchback and can’t wait for VW’s Golf R. Put another way, the audience for this car is, like, 18 people. It’s good, then, that MTM says it plans to build just 15 of these, although the company adds that demand beyond that will be satisfied.

But if you’re one of those few takers, we think you’ll be pleased with your purchase. We know there’s no sense trying to talk you out of it. If you’re a crazy enough Audi-phile to drop this much coin on an A3, arguments in favor of similarly priced—and spectacular—cars like the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG are likely to fall on deaf ears. Just skip the Capri pants, okay?