Audis S3 is already available as a three-door hatchback and a five-door Sportback, which covers all the bases the European buyer demands. But the States and China find three doors too few and five doors too many and while we in the UK might think this is all a bit odd, its a niche and Audi loves nothing better than a unfilled niche – and when you’ve gone to the trouble of tooling up a left-hand-drive S3 saloon, it isn’t that much extra effort to pop the steering wheel on to the proper side…
So the S3 is available in the UK as a four-door saloon. We drove it – and discovered that those looking for an S3 Cabriolet might not have to wait too long either.
Its a pumped up A3 Saloon; what were you expecting? The changes are subtle but immediately noticeable and work brilliantly. The use of xenon headlights, a rear diffuser, quad exhausts, silver mirrors, and more pronounced side sills is a well-trodden path for fast Audis and they are as effective in this shape as in any other. I like stealthy inter-continental missiles and few work better than the S3 in saloon guise.
Our test car had a startling red and black leather interior but don’t worry, its a 895 optional extra and other, more discreet interiors are available. The rest of the interior is typically Audi; its beautifully finished, intuitive, and a joy to behold and use.
It might be a cliche, but Audi really is streets ahead of the competition when it comes to its interior fixtures and fittings.
Im tall, yet found no difficulty is getting perfectly positioned behind the reach-and-rake adjustable flat-bottomed steering wheel. Rear seat legroom is fine and boot space is perfectly acceptable. Its an A3; enough said.
The S3s raison d’tre is driving pleasure, so you’d expect it to deliver and it does. The chassis balance, the inter-play between steering and suspension, is perfectly judged and unobtrusively good. You just get in and drive, very fast.
Quattro all-wheel-drive adds stability under acceleration, especially under less than optimum conditions and adds a layer of safety that all but those who race cars professionally will appreciate. Forget all the nonsense about the superiority of rear-wheel-drive for high-performance cars; you and I will derive much more speed and a far wider safety margin from the use of all-wheel-drive than we ever will from the debatable tractive superiority of rear-wheel-drive. The S3 might not be the most engaging car to drive in its class but it is probably the fastest and the most sure-footed.
However, one quirk irritates and comes very close to spoiling the experience for me. As is becoming far-too-common (so common that even McLaren, normally the most conservative of engineers, has done it with the 650S) there is an intrusive and wholly artificial chatter to the exhaust note when changing gears, up and down. I don’t mind having it there in Sport mode but it really isn’t welcome when you are just pootling along in Drive. Having said that, it does sound fantastic from outside the car
Two-hundred-and-ninety-five bhp in a small saloon could be a recipe for automotive madness but Quattro drive and a well-sorted chassis make it all seem rather, well, sensible. Thanks to the lovely 6-speed S tronic transmission and the standard-fit Audi drive select the S3 can transform from school run shuffle to racetrack rage at the press of a button and the flex of an ankle.
If you opt for the auto box – and you should – youll hit 62mph in 4.9 seconds (5.3 seconds for those who think they can change gear faster than a computer) and run out of steam when you hit the limited top speed of 155mph. For those of us who grew up with VW Golf GTIs and Renault 5 Turbos this is an astonishing display of performance and control.
The reality of this level of performance is that you can reach any sane speed in far less time than you think it will take. This shrinks distances and gaps, which might take some getting used to; I was overtaking three cars when Id planned for a cautious one or a reckless two. Audi also suggests that 40mpg is possible with both auto and manual. It probably isn’t, not really.
Value for Money
The base model costs 33,240. I doubt anyone will buy a bare bones S3 though. Our car cost 41,500 and it didn’t feel especially loaded. Still, on a -per-mph basis it seems good value that the interior ambience is so good helps to take the sting out of the price, too.
No one really needs an Audi S3 and no one really needs this much performance on the road either. But it is a very nice way of going very fast, very safely, and if you choose wisely, its an understated way of doing so, too. Thank you America.