Audi S3 R-tronic

April 2009

picture of car from the front

New headlights add style and safety to revised S3


Overall Rating 7Overall rating

Value for money Rating 6Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 6Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 7Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 9Controls and display

Comfort Rating 7Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 8Car safety


  • Flexible and powerful engine gives excellent performance
  • Unflappable handling and grip
  • High quality interior
  • Superb build quality


  • Not as engaging as some rivals
  • High purchase price
  • Styling may be too subtle for some
  • Engine note lacks drama

Following a subtle refresh of the A3 range, Audi has also tweaked the flagship version of its premium compact hatch. The S3 gains the same improvements as the rest of the range as well as an enhanced range of options to broaden its appeal.

The S models in the Audi range have a long history, and have been amongst the most exciting products to come from the German manufacturer. Combining high output engines with the famous quattro four-wheel drive system, they are amongst the most usable performance cars on sale.

At the heart of the S3 is the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Using the T-FSI technology seen elsewhere in the Audi range, it uses direct injection to increase efficiency and power. The end result is a highly impressive output, making the S3 significantly more powerful than its predecessor, and one of the most powerful cars in the segment.

To cope with the high power output, the S3 features the quattro four-wheel drive system as standard. This layout is unusual in the hot hatchback sector and, as well as giving the necessary grip and traction to exploit the power in all conditions, it gives the S3 extra cache over its rivals. The S3 can also be specified with the magnetic ride option, used to good effect in the TT and R8 models, giving the driver the option of two settings depending on the road conditions.

As well as the mechanical enhancements, the S3 benefits from a number if styling changes to distinguish it from its stablemates. Now available in three and five-door form, the S3 has a chrome grille, extended spoilers and skirts all round. At the rear there is also a silver-coloured aerodynamic diffuser and twin exhausts pipes, plus subtle S3 badges front and rear. The S3 also gets Xenon-plus headlights as standard which feature the LED daytime running lights which have become something of an Audi feature.

Our verdict on the Audi S3 R-tronic

The S3 delivers on all its promises, offering rapid performance, secure handling and a high level of comfort. The subtle enhancements increase its appeal and it remains one of the most usable hot hatches currently on sale. The only possible downside is the purchase price, but it does offer a lot for the money.

Costs rating 6

Running costs for the S3 will be relatively high. The initial purchase price is high for this type of car, as is the insurance, although the fuel economy is quite good for the performance available.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 7

The S3 is just as practical as regular A3s, with a fair amount of room front and rear. The boot is also class competitive in terms of size and there are plenty of storage spaces within the cabin.

picture of car from the rear

Handsome alloy wheels and rear diffuser marks out S3

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 9

The interior layout of the S3 is excellent, with clear and attractive instruments and switches, all constructed from high quality materials. The control systems are good too, with a version of the Multi Media Interface controller making it easy to navigate through the systems.

Comfort Rating 7

Considering its performance, the S3 is impressively comfortable. The seats are excellent, providing a high level of support, and noise levels are well controlled. The ride quality is also good and the magnetic ride option, although expensive, allows the driver to firm up the suspension for enthusiastic driving.

Car security
Security Rating 7

A standard fit alarm and immobiliser comes with all A3 models and combined with remote central locking should ensure that the S3 remains secure.

Car safety
Safety Rating 8

A high level of safety comes as standard with the S3. Not only does it have a powerful engine, brakes and the security of four-wheel drive, it also has ESP and a host of other safety devices to help avoid accidents. Should the worst happen, a full complement of airbags including deactivation for the passenger seat will help.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 7

The S3's appeal comes from its ability to deliver high performance and handling whilst remaining civilised in normal use. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is impressively flexible and accelerates hard up to the red line. The dual-clutch gearbox is exceptionally quick and easy to use, and adds to the impressive driving experience. The steering is accurate although not suffused with feel, it does it feel secure. When driven at normal speeds it is comfortable and undemanding.

picture of car interior

High quality interior is an Audi trademark

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 7

The S3 can provide decent family transport given its decent space inside. The five-door model is obviously better in this respect and, although its no people-carrier, the S3 remains as practical as the hatchback on which it is based.

First car appeal
First car Rating 3

The S3 is likely to be outside the reach of most new drivers, given its price and insurance costs. It is however easy enough to drive for the inexperienced to cope with easily.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 7

The quality of the S3 is very impressive. Inside and out there is a strong feeling of robustness and high quality and all the controls operate with impressive solidity. The S3's image is strong, building on the reputation of Audi and the S series models, although it might be seen as being outside of the regular hot hatch market due to its price.

Accessibility Rating

Gaining access to the S3 is no problem at all, with wide opening front doors and good access to the rear seats for a three-door car. The five-door version is even better, while the boot also opens to give a large aperture for loading. A minor irritant is the automatic locking which requires the boot to be unlocked every time.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

With the optional Bose stereo upgrade fitted, the S3's stereo system is impressive. As well as a CD/tuner it can also accept MP3 discs and offers excellent sound reproduction. The options list also offers luxuries such as TV reception.

picture of car in detail

Five-door option increases practicality

Colours and trim

To emphasise its sporty nature, the S3 is available in a handful of colours that are not available on regular A3 models. The brighter hues such as yellow and orange do help the looks, which may be too understated for some. Inside the same is also true for, although the cabin plastic is black, aluminium or piano black inlays are available as are bright hues for the fabrics.


The S3 is no more difficult to park than a regular A3, with good all-round visibility and parking sensors available as an option. The only possible demerit is the large alloy wheels, which could easily be kerbed.

Spare wheel

Space saver spare wheel fitted beneath the boot floor.


Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.4-litre (123bhp); 1.6-litre (102bhp and 115bhp); 1.8-litre (160bhp); 2.0-litre (200bhp and 256bhp); 3.2-litre (250bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.9-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (140bhp and 170bhp). Transmission options: five-speed manual gearbox, six-speed manual gearbox, S-tronic dual clutch automated manual gearbox. Trim levels: A3, SE, Sport, S-Line and S3.


Alternative cars

Ford Focus ST Superb driving experience, humdrum cabin

Honda Civic Type-R Attractive and good to drive but not class best

Vauxhall Astra VXR Strong performance, entertaining but lacks a quality feel

Volkswagen Golf R32 Similar layout and performance but with characterful V6 engine

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April 2009