£32,500 - £34,500 Price range
The Audi S3 Saloon is the performance version of the A3 Saloon. It has a similar powertrain to the S3 hatchback and S3 Cabriolet but has more rear legroom and boot space. It’s quite a niche car but buyers might also consider the Mercedes CLA45 AMG, BMW M235i and to some extent the Subaru WRX STi.
The A3 Saloon’s interior is regarded as one of the best in class and the S3 is the same but with added flair. The sloping roofline eats away at rear headroom, meaning the saloon falls behind the hatchback in this respect.
It’s no Porsche in the corners, but the S3 Saloon is described as competent and confidence inspiring. It’s extremely fast point to point in any weather thanks to the grippy all-wheel-drive system. The Saloon’s longer wheelbase also results in a more comfortable ride than in the hatchback.
The engine powering the S3 Saloon is used throughout the Audi range in different power levels and testers agree it’s a responsive, powerful and fuel efficient unit. In the S3 Saloon it produces 306hp and makes very a nice sound on full-throttle gear changes if you opt for the DSG automatic gearbox.
Being at the top of the A3 Saloon range, the S3 gets all the juicy kit that is optional on lesser models. Things such as sports suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, a 5.8-inch screen for the infotainment system and heated leather sport seats.
The S3 Saloon’s interior is an example of style and ergonomics. Its clear instruments and simple layout are great for everyday use and the build quality is superb.
The differences between the S3 cabin and the standard car’s are subtle but enough to make it that bit more special. There’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel that can be found on more serious performance Audis such as the R8 and the dials are in signature grey colour as in other S models.
Audi S3 Saloon passenger space
The Nappa leather upholstered sport seats are another S upgrade and according to testers they are supportive and comfortable for long journeys. They are electrically adjustable and along with the perfectly positioned steering wheel and pedals make for a comfortable driving position.
However, rear visibility is poorer than in the hatchback, so the optional rear parking sensors are recommended. Furthermore, rear passengers will find their heads constantly touching the stylish low roof.
Audi S3 Saloon boot space
Another boon of the increased wheelbase is more luggage room. Admittedly the quattro four-wheel-drive system eats a bit of the maximum capacity, but at 380 litres it’s still more than what you get in the hatchback. However, both the BMW and Mercedes have bigger boots – in the case of the CLA45 AMG a whopping 100 litres more.
The S3 Saloon uses lightweight materials in its construction so it’s actually lighter than the old S3. That translates into better body control and it’s more composed in fast corners. However, testers tend to categorise the Audi as a very quick mini grand tourer, but not something that will bring a smile to your face on a winding road. The BMW M235i is more entertaining if that’s a priority for you.
The S3 Saloon gets adaptive dampers as standard. They are controlled by Audi’s Drive Select System – it changes the steering wheel weight, throttle response and ride firmness depending on which of the five modes you go for. You get sport, auto, comfort, efficiency and individual.
The sport mode makes the car more responsive, but the added steering wheel weight and firmness is not suitable for long journeys. Comfort mode is much better for that – testers say it really makes the S3 cosseting enough not to be tiring even after a four hour long drive. Efficiency brings a very spongy throttle response but that helps bring fuel consumption down and the light steering eases manoeuvring in the city. Auto is said to be the best option as it constantly adapts to the driving conditions, while individual lets you choose whatever combination you want.
Powering the S3 Saloon is a version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that can also be found in the VW Golf R, but the S3 has a faster 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds compared to the 4.9 seconds it takes the VW.
There are two very impressive characteristics of the 2.0-litre engine that most reviewers noted – the broad spread of pulling power and the noise. Almost all of the torque is available at a lowly 1800rpm providing huge in-gear and out of corner acceleration while each time you change gear at full throttle the exhaust lets out an aurally pleasing pop that reminds you you are in a performance car.
Fuel economy is another area where the engine in the S3 is hard to fault – 40mpg is possible with very light throttle inputs. Use it as intended and you can expect around 25-30mpg and CO2 emissions of 164g/km for a road tax of £180 a year.
Admittedly Audi asks for a lot of money for what is essentially a compact four-door saloon. However, for that you get one of the best engines in class, great adaptive dampers, a class-leading interior and the sort of standard equipment that is optional on lesser models.
All S3 Saloons get a voice-controlled infotainment system, sports suspension, silver door mirrors, large 19-inch alloy wheels and climate control, but surprisingly cruise control is a £225 extra and rear parking sensors a further £345.
In their mission to fill every existing niche with a car model, Audi has created one of their best S models. It’s understated, decently comfortable, blisteringly fast, not very expensive to run and nice to look at. It’s even faster from 0-62mph than it’s bigger brother the S4. The Mercedes A45 AMG is faster and a bit more premium, but also more expensive, while the more fun to drive Subaru WRX STi can’t match the premium atmosphere of the Audi. So if you are looking for a fast and stylish four-door that you can simply get into and drive, then the S3 Saloon is the car for you.