Audi S3 Saloon
The Audi S3 saloon mixes blistering pace and superb quality with understated looks
The Audi S3 saloon aims to mix grown-up appeal, decent economy levels, (it achieves 26.2mpg) and compact executive class with blistering performance and agile handling. It achieves this and in doing so, it's one of the finest cars in the Audi range.
Despite its impressive on-paper spec, the Audi S3 saloon doesn’t shout about its huge performance potential. While you’d struggle to call the car’s three-box design exciting, many buyers will like the low-key approach, as it won’t attract unwanted attention.
Even so, look closely and you’ll quickly realise this is no ordinary Audi. The S3 has racy additions include eye-catching 19-inch alloy wheels, a subtle bodykit, menacing-looking quad-exit exhausts and, as with every S model, silver-finished door-mirror housings.
It’s even better news inside, where the design is bang up-to-date and the quality is superb. Upgrades such as flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel and bespoke dials with a distinctive light grey finish and S3 badges.
Standard kit includes dual-zone climate control and a multifunction leather steering wheel, while the 3.5-inch information screen rises serenely out of the dash at the touch of a button.
This provides access to the easy-to-use MMI cabin control system, while SD card-based navigation an extra of around £500.
There's no question that the Audi S3 is a quick car. The 0-62mph time stands at 5.6 seconds (this falls to 4.8 seconds with Audi's dual-clutch system), and the way the four-wheel-drive system instantly hooks up whenever you floor the throttle never fails to surprise. There’s a great noise from the exhausts and a bark on every full-throttle upshift, too.
With its muscular power delivery, grippy four-wheel-drive transmission, compact dimensions and supple suspension, the S3 is perfect for the UK’s twisty roads and unpredictable weather. Few cars are faster point-to-point.
For all its aggressive acceleration the S3 Saloon can also play the everyday car. It can be transformed into a relaxing executive car at the touch of a button. With the dampers set to Comfort mode, the Audi easily soaks up the bumps.
When it comes to tackling corners, the S3 Saloon demonstrates a seriously impressive amount of traction and unflappable grip. You can step on the brakes, floor the throttle or yank the steering wheel mid-corner and S3 refuses to be undone.
The latest Audi A3 has proven something of a Driver Power hit, finishing 16th in our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction customer satisfaction survey. Owners raved about the car’s top-notch finish, placing it second overall for build quality and in the top 30 for reliability.
Euro NCAP has yet to test the saloon, but the car should match the three-door’s five-star rating, as it comes with seven airbags, stability control and Isofix child-seat mountings as standard, plus four-wheel drive and upgraded brakes.
Optional active safety kit includes blind-spot and lane-keep warning, adaptive cruise control and a parking camera.
Audi's all-wheel-drive quattro transmission has cut boot space from 425 litres in the front-wheel-drive A3 Saloon to 390 litres in the S3. That's 80 litres less than the similarly powered Mercedes CLA 45 AMG.
Still, the Audi’s standard split-fold rear seats drop flat, and the cabin opening is wider than the CLA’s. Plus, with more headroom, wider doors and more legroom, rear passengers will be better off than in the Mercedes.
Up front, the driving position is excellent and there’s plenty of storage space. The £605 Comfort package adds an auto dimming rear view mirror, automatic lights and wipers, plus an acoustic windscreen for reduced road noise. Other practical options include a £65 reversible load floor mat or the £150 through-load hatch. Rear parking sensors are £345.
The S3 isn’t a cheap car, but our experts predict it will retain 55.9 per cent of its value over three years, which goes some way to offsetting the higher price.
That’s not all; its economy figures are quite respectable thanks to 26.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 162g/km. This is largely down to the car’s smooth-acting stop-start system and lower 1,430 kerbweight which comes as a result of its lightweight aluminium MQB chassis, which it shares with the Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia.
What's more, its muscular engine doesn’t need to be revved very hard to make rapid progress.