If plastic surgery obsessed Jocelyn Wildenstein was a car, she would probably look a lot like Audi’s face-lifted A3 models. Driven by her feline obsession, Jocelyn’s scalpel-enhanced facial features kept coming to mind whenever I approached the two Audi A3 models I recently tested. Considering the cost of these beauties, I also suspected that Jocelyn’s extensive surgery may well have been considerably cheaper…

The S3 Sportback is the top model in the A3 range and offers everyday practicality and awe-inspiring performance in the same package. The A3 Cabriolet is the latest addition to the local range, and adds a playful variation to an already successful package.

Both models now feature Audi’s dramatic headlight design that incorporates LED daytime running lights, giving the car a captivating front end with an uncanny resemblance to Jocelyn’s face, especially with the xenon headlights also turned on and viewed from low down.

As any cat-lover would tell you, there is little that comes close to the heart-warming feeling one gets when a cat is snuggled up against you or curls up on your lap. In a way it’s similar to the comfortable luxuriousness you experience in the cabin. Space is abundant for a hatchback (thanks to the increased length of the Sportback), with an even more surprising amount of space in the Cabriolet. Thankfully, everything is instantly familiar as Audi.

The Silk Nappa-leather covered sport seats (a R10 150 option) are comfortable and provides plenty of support, but need to be adjusted manually for height and reach. Whether they are worth that much extra is debatable. Steering is light but very direct in both models, while the gear-changes are surprisingly supple in the S3 (the Convertible came fitted with Audi’s renowned Multitronic automatic gearbox).

Aside from their standard specifications, both our test units came with a centre armrest (R1 390) that I never used, a 6-disc CD changer on the S3 (R3 930) and a Bose sound system in the Convertible (R5 830), cell phone preparation (R6 300) and Audi’s Navigation Plus system (R19 770). The Cabriolet also included cruise control (R2 550), a light and rain sensor pack (R3 130) and a fully automated roof latch system (R8 200).

If you’ve ever tried to catch a wild kitten off the street you’ll know that they have immense speed and jaw-dropping maneuverability, a characteristic also found in the S3. It shares its 2.0T TFSI engine with numerous siblings, this time delivering a very sprightly 188kW of power and 350Nm of torque between 2 500 r/min and 5 000 r/min, mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Acceleration to 100km/h takes 5.8 seconds, with a limited top speed of 250km/h.

Unfortunately, there is slight turbo lag present and quick take-offs take some practice. Luckily the S3 makes up for this with unbelievable traction and handling thanks to Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel drive. Dynamically the S3 is just plain awesome, and takes every corner and twist in its stride while pushing you into the next one even faster and harder. The grip is further enhanced by the car’s squat stance, due to the wheels being placed far in the corners, despite the awkward length. It will take serious arguing to convince me that there’s a better alternative to Quattro.

The Cabriolet is powered by Audi’s familiar 1.8-litre turbocharged engine that delivers 118kW of power between 5 000 and 6 200 rpm, and 250Nm of torque from a low 1 500 rpm all the way to 4 200rpm. Mated to Audi’s equally familiar S-tronic dual clutch autobox, the car is sufficiently sporty with impressive handling and dynamics. Acceleration to 100km/h takes 8 seconds, and top speed is at 218km/h.

While there’s very little to find fault with in the S3, its price tag is concerning. In standard spec it’s already a lofty R388 000. Add to that the numerous options I would have expected as standard, and you’re moving much closer to the half-million mark. Our test model came to R447 450 thanks to the optional extras and metallic paint (R1 800) and special 18” alloys (R7 300).

If you’re looking at a hot hatch, there are plenty on offer, some for way less money. Try the Ford Focus ST 5-door (R276 000) or the manic Renault Megane F1 R26 (R282 000, also for three doors) for an equally exciting ride. If you’re trying to get the best bang for your buck, also check out the Audi TT 2.0T FSI (R390 000), BMW 135i Coupe (R405 500), or even M3-rivalling BMW 335i (R447 000), all three costing you in the same regions as a fully-loaded S3.

While a price premium is to be expected for a convertible, the silver 1.8T Cabriolet’s R341 000 isn’t way beyond what’s expected. However, our test model came with a whopping R85 750’s worth of options, which includes a R19 800 S-line package on top of what has been listed before, bring the total up to R426 750.

There’s a definite desirability about the A3 range that few other hatches can offer…apart perhaps from its other German counterparts. Its aggressive good looks, legendary handling and inspiring power combine with a traditional German desirability to make the S3 a performance car well worth trying. Drop the top and the A3 Convertible offers even more desirability.

The days of finding a cool car at a reasonable price are long gone, as the S3 Sportback and 1.8T Cabriolet have proved with their hefty price tags. While I would seriously consider selling a few non-vital organs on the black market to have either of these parked in my garage, it doesn’t change the fact that they are very, very expensive and that some options should be standard at this price level. By purchasing either of these cars you will be making an excellent choice, but be careful when ticking those options…

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