• Dec 21st 2009 at 11:57AM
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2009 MTM Audi A3 Sportback – Click above for high-res image gallery

In the automotive world, price is increasingly a function of degrees. How's that? Dial in a faster windscreen angle, aggressively rake the rear glass and – voilà! – you've just padded your margins to the tune of a few thousand bucks. Take a plain-jane sedan, hire some stylists to turn it into a "four-door coupe" with a racy greenhouse, and you can use the same mechanicals and still charge a mint. The same goes for crossovers – just steepen the backlight and you're in the ducats. Not convinced? See the Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW X6 for field notes.

MTM is planning on selling only 15 of these in the U.S.
We note all of this because we're sure you're going to look at the upright profile of this MTM Audi A3 Sportback and dismissively turn up your nose when you learn its pricetag is around $55,000. But if we lopped off a couple of doors or gave it a less formal roofline, we'd be willing to bet that its price would suddenly look a lot more palatable. All of which is understandable, really, as $55k is a lot of coin to be shelling out – especially considering that at a few shekels over $27k, a base A3 starts at roughly half the money.

But shelve your bodystyle prejudices and bear with us for a moment. If you're like us, you've looked longingly at a lot of what the Four-Ringed Wunder has been kicking out on its home continent – models like the RS6 Avant, TT-RS and S3. And unless you've got some seriously deep pockets, an inside man on the gray market and a relative who owes you a favor at the local DMV, you haven't got a prayer of landing any such tasty treats here in the U.S. So while the folks at Motoren-Technik-Mayer (MTM) can't source you an assembly-line-fresh S3 for your middle-American driveway, they can build you a road-legal doppelganger, and as it turns out, that ain't half bad.

We've talked up the Audi A3's virtues and vices before, so we'll spare you the gab about how much we enjoy its well-resolved interior, grippy Quattro all-wheel drive, planted handling and surprising utility. We've also not been shy in mentioning how its price tag can get disastrously dear with just a brief once-over of Audi's options list – and that's before handing it over to a tuner like MTM. But enough with the apologies – ride along with us past the jump to see if this hot hatch is full of excuses... or full of win.

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

So, what's going on here – is this merely a North American-spec A3 swaddled in European couture? Not exactly. On the outside, MTM starts with an A3 2.0T S-Line, then fits genuine S3 aero addenda (bumpers, side skirts), along with brushed aluminum mirror covers, fog lamps, badges and – most importantly – the S3's 13.6-inch front rotors and monobloc calipers. Those new clampers are shrouded in a set of massive Pirelli PZero-clad MTM Bimoto alloys and the whole works has been dropped to within an inch of its life.

When we picked up this tester at MTM's offices in suburban Detroit, we were simultaneously excited about how great the Sportback's stance looked and nervous for the well-being of both its 19x8.5-inch wheels and our backsides. Seriously – it appeared we'd be shaving tread on the fender liners just negotiating the parking lot apron. Interestingly – and perhaps tellingly – the fair dinkum S3 runs around on 18s.

Of course, this isn't simply an appearance package. MTM has reflashed the 2.0-liter turbo's ECU and fitted a larger 70-mm stainless steel exhaust system, alterations that are ultimately good for 272 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque (+72 and +67, respectively). For those keeping score, those figures actually better this car's European inspiration by 11 additional horses and 16 torques.

Not enough petrochemical carbonation for you? If you've got the cash, MTM will burrow under the hood again until you've got as many as 380 ponies – but as fun as that sounds, we wouldn't bother with the extra parts (bigger turbo, downpipe, blowoff valve, etc.) or tweaking because the engine is plenty spirited as-is. MTM's codepushers haven't just liberated some extra fizz from the 2.0T, they've minimized a bit of the lagginess we've observed previously. As before, the six-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox wallpapers over any such shortcomings with lighting fast gearchanges when you man the paddleshifters.

The free-revving quattro-port (eh?) and the revoiced exhaust note combine to create the same sort of electric zizz soundtrack that we experienced earlier this year in the Audi TTS, albeit without that car's lag. We think it's an infectious and distinctive noise that's a breed apart from the typical can-of-bees four-cylinder import exhaust, but this still isn't the sort of tone that's likely to appeal to fans of big displacement bombast.

How about those stiffer lowering springs and watchstrap tires? We're happy to report that we never once pondered phoning our chiropractor – or a tow truck. Yes, the MTM's ride is markedly firmer than a garden-variety A3, but it's not so brittle as to wreak Jenga with one's vertebrae. The stiffer springs pay dividends in reduced role and quicker direction changes, and those stickier tires and bigger discs deliver feel-good halt in short order. That said, we'd still opt for a minus-one wheel/tire fitment to shave off a few bucks.

We've been a bit cavalier about money to this point, and yes, there are less expensive ways to get similar all-wheel drive performance (Subaru WRX STI, Mitsubishi Evolution X, not to mention Audi's own S4), but even MTM's officials admit that this example spec'd out at more than what they were hoping for. Our suggestion? Save a bit on the oversized rolling stock and ask if you can get a small discount for deleting the 'Sportback' rocker panel appliqués. With the money saved, you might even spring for the S3's flat-bottom wheel (it makes the rockin' world go round).

Just remember: When your friends chide you for spending over fifty grand on a lowly hatchback, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that genuine S3s run German customers upwards of $50k anyhow. Besides, MTM is planning on selling only 15 of these Stateside. And at least in our world, talent, versatility and exclusivity go a long way toward trumping fashionable silliness like faster windshields and compromised headroom – and not just by a few degrees.

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      TYPO - 20 years years.

      • 5 Years Ago
      The shortest review on Autoblog?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sharp car, sharp review, sharp photos. Unfortunately, sharp price, too.

      FWIW, I've got some MTM parts that I'm adding to my A4 piece-by-piece, and the quality so far has been outstanding. The way I see it is, we pay more for the price of an Audi to begin with for the extra quality and care of design. I'm not bolting on some cheap third-world parts onto my baby, I want performance pieces that are as well-conceived as the car itself, and MTM does the job.

      Oh, and no worries, guys, I'm keeping the stupid side script off my rockers.

      • 5 Years Ago
      2009 WRX, premium package, leather seats - $27,000 - 265hp
      Aftermarket downpipe, air filter and a tune - $800 - 360hp
      suspension upgrades, wider tires, sways - $2,000 - over 1g on the skidpad

      I will give it a strong win in the looks department, but anyone who values those looks at a $25k premium needs to have their head checked.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Having had an APR big turbo A3, I confirm that this MTM 'S3' is way too pricey. Modifying with top tier aftermarket parts, you can easily duplicate the same ride for about $45k, tops. Add in a big turbo for ~350 hp and you're still looking at $50k.

      That being said, MTM makes the best Audi tuner cars. Glad to see they're making things available here in the states.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As an owner of an A3 with APR software installed, I can't help but think that this is massively overpriced. Granted, it appears to be a loaded A3, but how about just buying one, installing the software of choice for around 600-800, and then if you want the handling chops you can get that for another 1-2K. That said, if you remove the tacky graphics and the ricer style S3 badges, this particular example is a hell of a car. It also makes more horsepower (exhaust probably helps there), though less torque (why?) than APR does. You are correct in talking about the interesting exhaust note. I describe mine as sounding a bit like a vacuum cleaner sucking up air.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was thinking the same thing. I could do without the genuine S3 bodykit and 19" wheels.

        Heck, for the difference, I'd just opt for the APR S3 K04 kit and pocket the $10K or so that I'd save over this MTM car. http://goapr.com/products/turbo_trans20t_k04.html

        I just spec'd-out an A3 on Audi's website with quattro and S-Tronic with a few options I'd want and I'm just under $34K. Add to that the kit above and include some cash for installation and I think I'd be right around $40k total. I'm good with that.

        But then again, MTM is never known for being the most affordable tuner. Note their $20K+ supercharger kits
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll assume the script down the side isn't going to be on production models. One would hope, anyway. Reminds me of Big '80s scare stickers on cars like Turismo 2.2 and IROC-Z. The '80s called. They want their stickers back!

      But seriously...the A3 is a fine ride. I agree with the overpriced [for most of us] comments. But if you've got money to burn, no worries. Enjoy.

        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm with you, yeah, it's overpriced as others pointed out but it's still a good deal since it has more hp than the S3 sportback version. Also, the stickers do look like were taken from an Iroc-Z... Too bad that they will only sell 15 of those over here.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Where is the S3 Steering wheel with the square bottom? For that price you would think it would be included....
      • 5 Years Ago
      Don't say "full of win". You what are you, 13?
        • 5 Years Ago
        He may or may not be 13, but he definitely doesn't have any shekels in his pocket. If he did, he'd know they aren't sheckles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Reminds me of the Automobile magazine I have on my desk that pretty much is the same review.....
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, lots of angst in here for a pretty thoughtful and comprehensive review. I've seen this car in other mags as well (I bet MTM only has 1 media car if they're building a total of 15), and this is the most readable and original take on it I've read yet. Having said that, $55k is a ton of money for this thing when you can get a factory-warranted S4 for less.

        By the way - I haven't heard anything about Audi canning the A4 Avant - it's still on their website: http://www.audiusa.com/us/brand/en/models/a4_avant.html (along with the A6 Avant) there's a charcoal one at my local dealer. Anyone got any sources or proof?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Look at all this hate.. *tsk tsk*
        • 5 Years Ago
        Probably. The author didn't even mention the RS2, Audi's legendary performance wagon. Why? Probably because he didn't know it existed.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, its got a very nice interior (but a bit too much like the old Audi "cave-interior"....too much black and drab), and has plenty of creature comforts....but expensive. I would be thinking that since this is bent towards sporty driving, it would be better to buy the initially higher-priced Evo X or Subaru STi. Not as many creature comforts or as nice exterior, but they both have fairly good appointments and ride.

      And you could upgrade them with the left-over cash.

      Ultimately, Audi could create something much more capable than MTM for the same price by finding a way to get the turbo-charged I5 from the Euro TT-RS in this thing.
      • 5 Years Ago

      You guys should remember that MTM is Audi's most established tuner.

      Sure you can choose to pay less for generic parts which are just bolted on to an Audi... or, you can pay more for genuine bespoke parts from a tuning company with 25 successful years of tuning hyper Audi's.

      Experience & quality costs more - if I had the cash I know which I'd choose.

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