Discreet but attractively sporty looks
Having launched the new A3 to critical acclaim Audi has wasted no time in expanding the range to broaden its appeal. The five-door Sportback arrived in quick succession and now the S3 has arrived to take it into the hot hatchback market. Previous versions have delivered quality and performance so much is expected from this latest offering.
Practical performance is the core requirement of a hot hatchback, even when it is a premium offering and previous generations of Audi S3 have always achieved this. Helped by the quality of the basic A3, an injection of performance and sharpening of handling have never diminished the quality feel that is an essential part of the brand.
Like any high performance Audi the S3 follows the tried and tested recipe: up front there is a four-cylinder turbocharged engine (as with previous S3s) with the additional power fed through a manual or S tronic dual-clutch gearbox to all four wheels. This latest S3 also benefits from the Audi Drive Select system which allows the throttle and steering response to be tweaked, as well as the gearshift speed on S tronic models.
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.
As well as revised suspension to put the car closer to the ground and reduce bodyroll, the S3 is visually enhanced by the addition of large alloy wheels, side skirts and a grille that is unique to the S3. New interior appointments include very supportive sports seats, detail trim finished in bright metals or piano black and a high specification.
The basic S3 template remains unchanged as it is quite clearly a successful one, and this latest generation offering merely refines the various elements. It is the most comfortable S3 to date by some margin yet the excellence of the chassis still delivers an invigorating drive. The turbocharged petrol engine is also more powerful yet more efficient and economical than before.
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.
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.
The S3 can provide decent family transport given its decent space inside. The lack of five doors is an issue, but the S3 remains as practical as the hatchback on which it is based.
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.
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.
With a three-door only configuration as present, getting into the front seats is obviously easier than getting into the rear. The long, single door on each side opens wide and even the tallest of occupants will have no trouble getting into the front seats. Although there is the usual tilt and slide mechanism there's no escaping that the aperture to the rear seats is smaller and could make it a little awkward for taller passengers. Conversely the boot is a breeze to use with a big tailgate and a sizeable boot aperture.
Raising the standard over the old car is a large 5.8-inch foldaway display screen sitting centrally in the dashboard, with audio information repeated in the panel between the instruments. Steering wheel controls also give further ease of use, and with a proper MP3 connector, Bluetooth and voice control as standard the specification is high.
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 remains a relatively compact hatchback and so parking will never present too much of a problem particularly with the option of parking sensors and even a reversing camera, although the rear pillars are relatively thick. Because of the large alloy wheels the S3 needs to be parked with care too to avoid any unsightly kerbing.
Space saver fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - 1.4-litre (122bhp, 140bhp); 1.8-litre (180bhp); 2.0-litre (296bhp) Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (150bhp). Transmissions: Six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch S tronic fitted as standard depending on engine. Trim levels are SE, Sport, S line and S.