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Road tests

New Audi S3 Sportback 2024 review: fast, fun and full of charisma

The updated Audi S3 now has some serious bite and new-found style

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

The last Audi S3 was little more than a mundane family hatchback with a bit of punch, but on the advice of customers this updated version is much more engaging. A little more power and the RS 3’s clever rear differential don’t tell the whole story, either. The new Audi S3 is fast, fun to drive, and even displays some new-found charisma. 

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Audi noted that feedback on the Audi S3 suggested the hot hatch was a little too mundane, so the brand has given this updated model a comprehensive technical overhaul that includes changes to the powertrain and chassis. 

These changes start with the carried-over turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that has been given a 22bhp increase to 328bhp. But beyond just extracting more power, Audi’s been busy working on making the engine more responsive and charismatic, too. 

With the new Dynamic Plus mode selected, the engine idles at higher revs and a new pre-load function for the turbocharger keeps the throttle valve open momentarily after you come off the pedal. Both of these features are designed purely to improve response and make the Audi S3 more exciting to drive. Audi’s also offering a new Akrapovic sports exhaust system for a serious £4,125 extra. This doesn’t just increase noise but looks the part, too, in its new bumper housings. 

Power runs through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and Haldex-style all-wheel drive system, as before, but new for the update is an addition of the same torque-vectoring differential as you’ll find in a VW Golf R or RS 3, known as the Torque Splitter.

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Beyond this, Audi’s been fiddling with the MacPherson-strut front suspension, introducing more aggressive geometry, with more negative camber and stiffer arm bearings. There are new springs and dampers front and rear, including Audi’s own set of adaptive dampers – not the fully-variable units you’ll find on the Golf R.

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Of course, these improvements come in addition to the same mid-life updates as fitted to the rest of the Audi A3 range. There are more aggressive styling elements outside, fresh wheel designs and new colour options. There are also some changes inside, with higher quality materials and new trim options including a real carbon fibre option for the dash. 

But the new Audi S3 is all about the driving experience, which putting it simply, is so much better than before. Pick a line down a challenging road and the Audi now genuinely feels like a well-sorted hot hatchback, with real capability to the chassis and powertrain. 

When in Dynamic Plus mode, the engine is now so much more responsive, and feels like it has some serious punch from low revs. This is thanks to the turbo’s new tricks, as well as the more urgent mapping for the throttle and transmission. The DSG’s shifts are faster and more decisively than before, and the gearbox responds better to the paddle inputs – if without the fireworks that you’ll find in a modern Mercedes-AMG A 35

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The larger brakes are also strong and have relatively good pedal feel. They didn’t have any issues consistently wiping off speed down our relatively challenging test route. However, a high-speed deceleration on a section of derestricted autobahn did reveal a slight shudder through the pedal. 

The expensive optional Sports Exhaust system as fitted to our test cars is also a welcome addition, as it gives the engine more of a distinct voice. It’s also worth noting that the sound augmentation from within the cabin is more natural, potentially even evoking the sound of the Subaru Impreza rally car saloon car made famous in the mid-90s. 

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But while the powertrain has definitely improved, it’s the chassis that makes the most difference. The suspension finds a particularly nice balance between suppleness and body-control, making the S3 feel more like a baby RS model than the over-sprung TDI that the previous model called to mind. The steering is more accurate and positive, and thanks to the more aggressive front suspension the front axle is capable of generating more grip. 

This is balanced out by the rear differential that has its own unique calibration, different to those in the Golf R and RS 3. Instead of targeting more overt oversteer, the S3’s diff is there more to help the nose turn into a corner. We’re told this is why there’s no Drift mode, as you’ll find on the S3’s sportier relatives. This also helps it feel more natural than the Golf R, and less lurid than the RS 3. 

Combine this with the refreshed interior which feels more upmarket, a more expressive exterior design and good levels of space and practicality, and well, the S3 has just become a serious player in the premium hot hatchback space. Compared to the underwhelming BMW M135i and slightly synthetic-feeling Mercedes-AMG A 35, we think the Audi S3 now has more sophistication and capability. 

Looking at less premium options: it feels more resolved than the VW Golf R –which in its latest Mk8 form just doesn’t quite deliver – and is both slicker and better calibrated than the Cupra Leon 300. Which leaves the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Yaris, both of which are much more focused, and therefore more entertaining to drive, yet unlikely to be cross-shopped by the more badge-aware Audi buyer.

Model:Audi S3 Sportback Black Edition
Price:From £47,520
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque:238bhp/420Nm
Transmission:Seven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
0-62mph:4.7 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Economy/CO2:33.2mpg/192g/km
Size (L/W/H):4,343/1,816/1,449
On sale:Now
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Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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