Audi S3 review
The Audi S3 offers excellent quality, a potent 296bhp engine, four-wheel drive and a sharp chassis
The ‘S’ versions of Audi’s cars have always been good at flying under the radar, and the latest S3 is no exception. That doesn’t mean it lacks the muscle we’ve come to expect from a hot hatch.
The Audi S3 is powered by a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged engine, putting out 296bhp and driven through Audi’s Quattro four-wheel drive system.
In terms of its output, the S3 sits in the middle of the well-stocked hot hatch stable, between the likes of the Ford Focus ST and VW Golf GTI at one end, and the BMW M135i and Mercedes A45 AMG at the other. In terms of Audi’s range, the S3 is one step below the ultimate A3 derivative – the 360bhp RS3.
The S3 will sprint from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds with the optional six-speed S Tronic gearbox fitted, and 5.2 seconds with the standard six-speed manual. The S3 will go on to reach a limited 155mph.
It’s fitted with lower and stiffer suspension to sharpen up the handling, but it’s worth selecting the softer damper setting so the S3 doesn’t crash over bumps and imperfections in the road. A sports exhaust and speaker in the bulkhead keeps the noise more throaty than standard A3s, but the steering could do with more feel.
Visual differences over lesser A3s are subtle, with slightly more aggressive bodywork than the S-Line, silver wing mirrors, quad exhausts and different alloy wheel designs, as well as the expected smattering of S3 badges.
The S3 offers a high-quality, potent alternative to the many other hot hatches on the market. It’s not the last word in performance and handling, and the styling won’t be exciting enough for some, but the S3 is a solid option. Its appeal is broadened by its availability in a range of bodystyles, too.
Our choice: S3 Saloon manual
The Audi S3 is a great hot hatch option if you’re not looking to attract attention. The styling tweaks over lesser A3s are subtle, including silver wing mirrors, quad exhausts, ever so slightly more aggressive bodywork than the A3 S-Line and some S3 badges dotted around the interior and exterior.
The interior of the A3 has always been one of its biggest selling points, and the S3 only adds to this. There’s a sense of occasion with quilted leather wingback sports seats, a flat-bottomed S3 steering wheel and a turbo boost gauge in the rev counter, just to remind you that you’re in the most potent car in the A3 range short of the RS3.
Fast Audis have long been focused on effortless speed than driver interaction, and the latest S3 sticks to this formula with an unflappable driving experience, but it remains somewhat lacking in enjoyment when compared to the likes of the 316bhp BMW M135i.
Fitted with 25mm-lower suspension than the standard A3 and Quattro four-wheel-drive, the S3 sticks like glue through the bends, and will only push wide with understeer if too much speed is carried through the corner.
All of that grip means you can get on the throttle early in the corners, while the throttle response is sharp and straight-line acceleration very impressive. The S3 is available with either a six-speed manual or S Tronic automatic gearbox. The manual will be the driver’s choice, but the S Tronic is well suited to the S3’s hi-tech character. It shifts incredibly quickly when you’re driving hard, but it can be jerky around town.
As well as a sports exhaust, Audi has fitted a speaker in the bulkhead to pump artificial engine noise into the cabin, with surprisingly good results. The tone is bassy as the revs rise, and you get some fizzes and pops from the exhaust if you spec the S Tronic gearbox.
The steering is less impressive though. This is due to the variable ratio system, which is direct and prevents the need for armfuls of lock, but as a result there’s next to no feel.
Being a high-performance hatch, it’s inevitable that the S3 will work its way through tyres and brakes more regularly than the standard A3 hatch. That’s no reason to believe the S3 will be any less reliable, though.
The Audi has a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, scoring 95 per cent in the adult occupant protection category and, as you’d expect from a premium brand, there’s a whole host of advanced safety systems available. Radar-controlled cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign detection and a self-parking function are just some of the systems available on the S3.
Audi trails rival manufacturers in our latest Driver Power survey in 12th place, but the standard A3 put in an impressive performance, ranking 16th out of 150 cars to give you some peace of mind.
Practicality is one of the major points of differentiation in the S3 range, due to the range of bodystyles available. Therefore, practicality is an important factor when buying an S3. In terms of boot space, the S3 three-door has 325 litres with the rear seats in place, and 1,060 litres with them folded.
This capacity trails the BMW 1 Series and VW Golf, but it’s a useful size and shape. The 5-door Sportback has more space thanks to a longer wheelbase, with 340 litres of boot space. The S3 Saloon is less practical with the seats folded, but it boasts the largest boot space with the rear seats in place, at 390 litres. As expected, the S3 Cabriolet has the smallest boot, with 285 litres.
The standard leather sports seats are supportive when you’re pushing hard, but comfortable enough for long journeys. Large door openings on the three-door mean access to the rear isn’t as tricky as expected, but it’s a little cramped for adults once you’re back there.
The 2.0 TFSI is more powerful than the engine it replaces in the old S3, but it’s cleaner, too. With the S Tronic gearbox, fuel economy is 40.4mpg and CO2 emissions are 162g/km. The six-speed manual ‘box is slightly cleaner, with economy figures of 40.9 on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 159g/km.
The S3 costs slightly more than its main rival – the BMW M135i, at £30,940, but this rises by £1,480 if you want the S Tronic gearbox. It’s easy to get carried away on the options list, too. However, residual values should be strong, and Audi offers a range of fixed-price servicing plans to help keep maintenance costs down.