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Vehicle of the Week
Audi Control
Dan Lienert, 08.08.06, 12:01 AM ET

When the Paris Motor Show opens on Sept. 30, Audi's display there will be all about exclusivity. The company will unveil its R8 supercar, which it will sell in extremely low volumes, and its $45,000 S3 hot rod, which it will only make available in Europe.

As enthusiasts await the first glimpse of the R8, Audi has thrown them a bone with the first official photos and details of the S3. Audi replaces "A" with "S" in designating hot-rod variants of its cars; for example, the S4 cars are hot-rod versions of Audi's A4 model line.

The S3 would be desirable just because of the "S" in its name. It will also be a challenge to buy. Americans who really want them will have to find models abroad once they go on sale at the end of the year and import them.

The S3 is a derivative of the A3, Audi's entry-level, four-door hatchback, which begins at $24,740 in the U.S. The S3 is a two-door model, and while the base-model A3 uses a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, the S3 will use a 265-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine.

Audi of America might think it can pass on the S3 because the company offers a premium A3, the A3 3.2 quattro. While the A3 3.2 quattro uses a 3.2-liter, V-6 engine instead of the smaller, four-cylinder turbo, its performance figures are similar to those of the S3: 250 hp and a zero-to-60 time of 5.9 seconds. The S3 can do zero to 62 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds and has a top speed of 155 miles per hour.

But the S3 is a hot-rod package, not just an A3 with a bigger engine. Like other S cars, it features changes to the design, as well as a modified suspension and modified wheels--18-inch alloy wheels that replace the base A3's 17-inchers.

The S3 will have better aerodynamics than the A3, thanks to a new front spoiler and platinum-gray rear diffuser, two devices that enhance airflow. The roof also features a spoiler, and other design changes include the addition of twin oval, chrome tailpipes.

Inside, the S3 has sports seats with prominent side sections, black or silver headlining and an instrument cluster with special dials and needles. Audi has replaced the A3's traditional steering wheel with a leather wheel that has a flat-bottomed rim, which looks interesting, but doesn't seem to have much of a point.

Audi did more to the engine than just bolt on a turbocharger. It strengthened the pistons' pins and stiffened the cylinder block, among other things making it more capable. To provide a sportier and more engaging ride, it also stiffened the springs and dampers on the A3's suspension for the S3 (the front suspension is now lighter, too), and lowered the car's body by an inch.

All these changes add up to a true hot rod, not just a car with a higher trim level. And keeping the S3 off American soil will only make Audi aficionados hungrier for the new model.

The S3 will not be available in the United States.

Forbes Fact

Some may be confused by Audi's strategy for naming its hot-rod models, as the company has two hot-rod lines: its "S" cars and its "RS" cars. The difference is that the RS cars are hotter, pricier and more exclusive. Compare Audi's S4 and RS4 sedans. The S4 starts at $46,000 and has a 340-horsepower engine, while the RS4 starts at $66,000 and kicks the horsepower up to 420.

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