New Audi S3 Saloon 2017 review

As a hot small car to drive on a daily basis, this Audi S3 Saloon ticks a lot of boxes

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

If excitement and entertainment is what you want from a hot hatch then the S3 may leave you a little cold. It won’t leave you grinning in the same way a Focus RS or Civic Type R will, but where they falter the Audi comes into its own: It’s beautifully finished, comfortable and very easy to get along with. As a hot hatch to use and live with everyday the S3 makes a strong case for itself.

If being a hot hatch is all about versatility, then, the Audi S3 must certainly finish on the podium. It ticks all the requisite hot hatch boxes: addictive performance, decent practicality and reasonable running costs, but as well as being available as a five-door hatchback – like its key rivals – you can have it as a three-door, a four-door saloon and even without a roof. 

This is the updated version of Audi’s junior performance car, tweaked to deliver more power and a sharper drive to help it compete with the likes of the Focus RS. As a saloon, which will cost you around £2,000 more than the five-door Sportback, it’s also a looker. Being an Audi it’s very understated, but it’s beautifully proportioned - the type of car that doesn’t look out of place in the corporate car park or the track day pit lane. 

Along with a few subtle exterior tweaks, Audi has also squeezed an extra 10bhp from the 2.0-litre turbo. Developing 306bhp and 380Nm of torque, the S3 cracks 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds if you spec the dual-clutch automatic gearbox; Audi predicts almost every buyer will.

Best hot hatchbacks

The engineers have also played around with the S3’s quattro all-wheel drive system, allowing 100 per cent of the power, Audi says, to be sent to the rear wheels in certain situations to boost agility. While it certainly feels more playful than the old model, the S3 is still a car that has been set-up with stability and safety engineered into its chassis.

Grip and composure is where the S3 excels, allowing you to exploit all of that performance at pretty much any time and in any place. It makes a good noise for a four-cylinder turbo, too; a raspy exhaust note with great pops as you flick through the gears on full-throttle upshifts. Above 2,500rpm is where the engine delivers the brunt of its power, but it keeps on pulling right up to just shy of the 7,000rpm limiter making for effortless and effective progress.

Part of the S3’s deceptively rapid nature, surprisingly, comes down to the ride quality. The S3 doesn’t throw you around the cabin or crash into potholes like a Civic Type R; instead there’s a very fluid nature to its body movements, helped by the supple damping.

Less of a surprise is the rather numb and lifeless steering, but the S3 reacts quickly to fast changes in direction using its unbreakable four-wheel drive traction. Push too hard and the nose will eventually being to push wide, even if there is now a greater sensation of power being sent to the rear wheels to help eradicate the understeer. It’s not a Focus RS but there is fun to be had.   

What can’t be faulted is the S3’s cabin, with the addition of the brilliant 12.3-inch virtual cockpit only elevating the Audi’s premium finish. It’s one of the reasons why if you plan to use the S3 saloon as your everyday car, there a fewer better options with this much performance on the market at this price. 

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