£32,790 - £35,850 Price range
40 - 44 MPG
The regular A3 has arguably the highest quality interior in its class. The S3 adds to that with subtle sporty touches like the steering wheel and the sport seats that are highly praised by reviewers. Passenger space is also good and the choice of body styles means you can increase its practicality by going for the Sportback or saloon.
Sporty Audis are more renowned for their straight line speed rather than driver engagement and the S3 is no different – it has huge amounts of grip, it’s very agile and the engine pulls strong from any speed, but the driver feels more like part of the audience rather being in charge. A Civic Type R or the rear-wheel-drive M135i are much more fun to drive.
The engine in the S3 is shared with the Golf R and is a very advanced 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol. The 306hp it develops are very usable and there is almost no turbo lag. The optional S-tronic DSG gearbox perfectly suits the character of the car and makes for some impressive traffic light launches.
Standard equipment is understandably good for a top of the range model with climate-control, xenon headlights, sports suspension as well as a 5.8-inch infotainment with an 8 speaker DAB digital radio.
No complaints here from reviewers – the S3′s cabin is as beautifully-trimmed as a standard A3, with even more goodies on offer. Those include heavily-bolstered, quilted leather sports front seats that one tester described as “stunning”, and a flat-bottomed S3 sport steering wheel.
Audi S3 passenger space
It’s also as practical as any other A3, with a cabin that can happily accept adults sitting in the back and a large boot. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of adjustment and good visibility. Even though, the three-door S3 isn’t cramped in the back, the four-door S3 Saloon is more spacious for rear seat passengers and provides better access.
Audi S3 boot space
The three-door S3 has a boot capacity of 325 litres with the seats up and 1,060 litres with them folded down. That is a bit less than A BMW 1 Series or a VW Golf but the useful shape and low loading lip means getting luggage in and out should be easy.
If the regular three-door S3 isn’t practical enough, then the five-door Sportback – with its two extra doors and subtly larger boot – may be of interest.
Audi ‘S’ models have traditionally offered plenty of speed but not much in the way of involvement. Sadly, most testers reckon this tradition continues with the S3. While dynamically extremely polished, the S3′s handling is more quick and secure rather than fun and involving.
There’s huge reserves of grip and good traction, but experts are less keen on the numb steering. It steers quickly, just without transmitting much information to the driver. Some testers complain of a hard ride too, though it’s better than the old car.
Audi S3 quattro
While the S3 might not offer the same levels of driver enjoyment as the BMW M135i, its four-wheel-drive system means it is extremely effective on wet and slippery UK roads. Unlike the BMW, which sends power only to its rear wheels, the Audi sends power through all-four for superb levels of grip and a safe feel.
Unlike the handling, there’s little to fault the S3′s engine. That begins with the sound, which one reviewer describes as “one of the best-sounding [four-cylinders]; it’s deep and cultured with a lovely hard edge to it”. Another is less keen, saying it lacks intensity, but reviews are more positive than not.
Audi S3 performance
And it’s quick – the 306hp unit is less peaky than before and faster to accelerate – its sub-five second 0-62 mph time takes half a second from the old car. It’s also more frugal judging by the official figures – combined fuel economy is more than 40mpg, and its CO2 output is lower too resulting in a road tax costs of £180 a year. All this, and you get a family car that’s faster accelerating than Ferraris and other supercars of 20 years ago. Impressive.
The S3 is competitively priced in it’s class – the BMW M135i is similarly-priced, and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG costs a lot more. However, being competitively priced doesn’t mean it’s cheap, but you do get plenty for your money – from the fantastic interior, through the grippy quattro system to the adaptive dampers – the S3 is well-equipped.
All S3 models also get heated leather-upholstered electrically adjustable sport seats, sports suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels and a DAB digital radio with eight speakers among other less significant things such as silver door mirror covers and climate control.
It’s easy to bump up the price of Audis, too – the DSG automatic gearbox, offering the best performance and economy, is a £1,480 option and the Technology Pack that adds an upgraded infotainment system with internet access costs £1,490.
It’s a shame the S3 isn’t more fun to drive, because Audi has got virtually every other aspect of it spot-on. It’s neatly styled, very fast and has cabin quality to shame cars many tens of thousands more expensive. It’s also comfortable and practical.
Had Audi given the S3 a little more steering feel, a more compliant ride and a more communicative chassis, it could be the ultimate ultra-hot hatch. As it is, many testers agree it’s a very-well made car, had a great engine but lacks that special feeling.
If that special feeling is what matters most to you, we’d recommend two alternatives: if badge prestige and rear-wheel drive matter most, buy a BMW M135i. If you want the ultimate in thrills while saving a few thousand pounds, buy the Renaultsport Megane.