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km : Tuned

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4 February 2010

What do you get an Audi enthusiast who has everything? How about a piece of gray market rareness — who wouldn’t want that? Except we wouldn’t exactly call the Audi “S3” you see here gray market. More like off-white, blended with a bit of whatever color represents the aftermarket. Allow us to explain.



German tuning firm MTM, whose headquarters sit a short drive from Audi’s own Ingolstadt home, must understand the feelings of American customers who crave any high-performance models not sold Stateside, because it has decided to pick up where Audi has left us wanting.



Unfortunately the company can’t work miracles like sneaking in the new RS 6 or even the S4 Avant we drove last month in Germany , but the S3, too, is a desirable machine. And it turns out, that one’s much easier to get here — you just have to ask MTM to build it for you.



The process is pretty simple, really. Order a basic 2.0-liter turbo A3 Quattro and request a European delivery. After grabbing the keys at the delivery center in Ingolstadt, drive the car up the road to MTM, where the company’s technicians will throw on S3 bumpers and skirts, a set of its own sport suspension, new 19-inch forged wheels, and a set of OEM S3 brakes, complete with badging painted on the calipers. To bring the engine up from the stock 200 horsepower to somewhere around the S3’s 265, the ECU is reflashed and a turbo-back stainless exhaust goes on. MTM claims a figure of 272 hp, along with 273 lb-ft of torque. While this number beats the S3’s output, keep in mind that it doesn’t have the same strengthened internals as Audi’s own more powerful 2.0T, or the same factory warranty. But compared to a stock A3, MTM claims a 0-62 mph acceleration time reduction of 1.1 seconds, from 7.1 to 6.0. With all the parts bolted on, plus a set of slick “Sportback” graphics stuck on the flanks, the car is ready to make its trip across the Atlantic, just as the white car you see here did. It was done as a demo car by Bill Young, who has just started operating a US arm of MTM in the north suburbs of Detroit.







Our initial impression of the car is that it doesn’t feel much like a tuner car at all—not because it’s slow or disappointing, but because it feels so well put together. The reflashed engine makes great power through the whole range, and it does indeed feel much like the 265-hp engine in the last TTS we drove. The exhaust is more bite than bark, sounding only slightly bassier and more aggressive than stock while freeing up a few extra horsepower. Audi’s six-speed dual-clutch transmission has no issues keeping up, either, but that shouldn’t surprise you.



Ride and handling are the same story. It’s surprising, because as you can see in these pictures, there isn’t much travel left in the springs. But over potholes and spotty chunks of snow and ice, the car is positively docile. It makes us want to head back to Germany for a run in a stock S3, just to see if Audi managed to somehow find a better balance of comfort and handling. The steering could be a bit sharper, but we aren’t blaming MTM for that. As a bonus, the suspension brings the body down to a perfect level visually, allowing the graphite-colored MTM wheels to beautifully fill out the wheel wells.



Like the rest of the mods, the upgraded brakes are mighty impressive. The larger rotors and calipers, along with the just-as-important Euro-spec pads, provide great feel and stopping power, feeling rather more like a BMW than what we’ve grown used to with US-spec Audis. We’re told a lot of this has to do with the low-dust organic pads Volkswagen and Audi use here to satisfy wheel-dirt whiners, and after exploring the difference in feel between US- and Euro-spec VW GTIs recently, we agree. Anyway, the S3 brakes are confident and responsive, but can be slightly grabby for someone just getting used to the car. Once acclimated, they’re one of this car’s best features.



Then there are the body parts. Those obviously look OEM, because they are original Audi parts. That means they’re also terribly expensive. Including the S3 brakes, MTM tells us there are approximately $10,000 worth of original Audi parts on this car. To us, the visual presence you get versus an A3 S-line isn’t enough to justify that sort of cash, but if you want something that evokes gray market lust among your fellow fanboys, there is no replacement.







Are you ready for the total price of this thing? MTM started with an A3 S-line equipped with a dual-clutch transmission but few options, which cost $38,000. Those German Audi parts bring the price up to $48,000, then $7000 of MTM parts (chip, exhaust, wheels, tires, springs) and labor are added on. That’s a $55,000 A3, in a world where the lovely new S4 costs ten grand less.



You’re probably thinking to yourself that there might be, at best, a few dozen serious Audi fans with that kind of money who’d be willing to throw it down on something so unique. And that’s fine with MTM, because they only hope to sell about 15 of them. They’re using the European Delivery system as way to keep costs down, but if a few interested parties group up on an order, we’re told it would be possible to ship a few sets of the necessary parts over. With that in mind, it would technically be possible to do this conversion on a pre-owned A3, bringing the price down below S4 levels. It all just depends on the level of interest customers show in the proposition.



More than anything, though, building a few of these cars is a great PR move for MTM. While the brand is well known in Europe, it’s a bit more of an unknown here in the States where companies like APR and Stasis rule the Audi aftermarket. Getting a few of these S3 conversions on US roads, featured in US publications, and shown at US shows will help MTM build the name recognition it needs. And by using this model – European Delivery and gray market parts – it shows MTM’s close relationship to Audi in Germany. The target for these full conversions might be modest, but there’s surely a hope inside the company that for every one S3 buyer, there will be 10, 20, or even 100 people who’ll come to MTM for chip tuning. Seems like a clever idea to us.




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