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Audi S3 Saloon review

New Audi S3 Saloon proves to be a great all-rounder for performance fans

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Never one to let a niche go untapped, building this Audi S3 Saloon is an obvious step for the firm. It’s a welcome one, too, as it makes gives the Saloon the performance to match its sharp, understated looks. It’s not a hardcore baby super-saloon like a Mercedes CLA45 AMG, but thankfully its price, subtle styling and the impressively capable all-rounder driving dynamics reflect that.

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Although Audi’s hottest models wear the RS badge, the uninvolving drive of its top-drawer cars can be disappointing. But the S models, like this new Audi S3 Saloon, are more reliable – subtle, stylish and still devastatingly quick, they’re often more fun and better real-world choices.

• Audi A3 Saloon review

• Audi S3 review

And while there isn’t an RS version of the latest A3, it’ll have to be quite a big leap forward from the old RS3 to build on what the latest Audi S3 offers.

The saloon drives in a very similar way to the S3 hatch. Under the bonnet is the VW Group’s potent long stroke 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine. If you’re not on the turbo, there’s not much in the way of response, but as soon as you’ve built a few revs, the power and performance it offers, particularly in the mid-range, makes the S3 a very quick road car.

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It’s similar in size to other hot hatches, but the S3’s chassis doesn’t feel alive and mobile in the bends like the Renault Megane RS 265. Instead, it offers limpet-levels of grip when cornering hard and feels like it’ll never lose traction, even when accelerating out of the hairpins on our alpine test route.

The driving experience is best described as binary: press the accelerator and you shoot forwards with impressive urge, turn the wheel, the car scythes round a corner – no messing around. And while these traits are less desirable on an RS model, which should involve the driver more, they suit the S3’s ‘all-rounder’ brief.

There isn’t much feel from the steering wheel, but you soon learn to trust that the car’s nose with turn in sharply, almost regardless of the speed you’re doing. Likewise, the brake pedal doesn’t tell you much, but the firm initial bite gives you confidence, although a harder push of the pedal doesn’t yield brush off speed quite as quickly as the initial response implies.

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If you’re a keen driver, we’d recommend the manual gearbox option. Although it doesn’t have the on-paper potential of the S tronic automatic version, the six-speed manual is much more engaging thanks to its slick shift and knurled R8-style gearknob that feels just right in your hand. The clutch is quite heavy, and you have to be careful to match the inertia of the transmission with the engine speed for a smooth start, but once you’re off and running, the change is excellent.

The Audi S3 Saloon is devastatingly quick when you get the chance to put your foot down, but this doesn’t come at the cost of the ride quality. The suspension is 25mm lower than the regular car and is quite firm, but it still easily rounds off the edges of lumps and bumps in the road. The cabin is really nicely built from some very solid materials, and the flat-bottomed wheel and supportive sports seats add just the right amount of extra bling to set the S3 apart from its siblings in the A3 range.

The S3 Saloon is a welcome addition to Audi’s ‘warm’ range of performance cars. It's quiet, docile and practical when you’re pottering about, but the potent engine and sophisticated chassis mean this is a real all-round, everyday performance car. The next Audi RS3 has a high bar to aim at.

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