Audi S3 Hatchback review (2003-2012)

Our Rating: 
2003-2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Audi S3 is a low-key but fast four-wheel drive premium hatch that offers grown up hot hatch enjoyment

Sure-footed handling, discreet looks, punchy performance
High price, numb handling, dated base model

The S3 is an upmarket and often overlooked hot hatch. Powered by a 261bhp version of the well-proven four-cylinder 2.0 TFSI engine it sets itself apart with all-wheel drive and a premium badge. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or dual clutch S tronic gearboxes. The S3 is getting a little long in the tooth but its still an accomplished discreet car that doesn’t shout about its performance.

Our choice: Audi S3 2.0 TFSI manual

Engines, performance and drive


Thanks to sports suspension the S3 has been lowered by 25mm over the standard A3 but its relatively well damped and the optional Magnetic Ride dampers deliver a compliant ride. Tuned to deliver 161bhp the 2.0-litre TFSI engine is punchy and smooth, while quattro all-wheel drive means there’s never an issue getting power onto the road. Accomplished rather than thrilling the handling is composed but the S3 lacks the fun factor of cheaper hot hatch rivals like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


Opt for the S tronic gearbox (which costs around £1,500 more) and the S3’s emissions are 193g/km, while the manual emits 198g/km. Combined economy hovers around the 30mpg mark, which isn’t bad given the all-wheel-drive and turbocharged petrol engine. Still, this isn’t the cheapest hot hatch and company car tax bills are big. Although, you’re getting a premium badge and fixed priced servicing is a plus for private buyers.

Interior, design and technology


Having made its debut in 2003 the second-generation Audi A3 is beginning to show its age but despite this familiarity the subtly enhanced S3 still stands out. The trademark silver door mirror housings, twin tailpipes, lowered suspension and gently beefed up bodykit all work nicely. More low-key than the RS3, it’s smart but slightly old-fashioned. It’s a similar story inside, where the cabin design is showing its age; although the flat-bottomed wheel and brushed aluminium inlays are smart touches.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


While it’s not as practical as the S3 Sportback the three-door S3 still scores well when it comes to luggage and passenger space. There’s room for a pair of adults in the back and the 281-litre load bay is decent, while the 60/40 folding rear seats expand capacity to a maximum of 1,011 litres. Cruise control and parking sensors are optional.

Reliability and Safety


There is no shortage of safety kit onboard the Audi S3. It gets stability control with driver, passenger and side airbags. Only the A3’s four-star Euro NCAP crash test result tells you it is getting on a bit. As for reliability, the A3 has been around long enough for problems to be sorted out while the quattro and S tronic components are well proven.

Last updated: 5 May, 2012