In my garage I have an Audi S3 of growing vintage. Growing because I cannot think of a car in my price bracket to replace it with. So this is a road test that I have been anticipating for some time. Maybe the new Audi S3 might fit the bill?
Yes, whereas the old Audi S3, when I bought mine, came in three-door hatchback or three-door-hatchback form, the new model can be bought in four body styles. In addition to the three-door hatchback, you can go for the five-door Sportback, a saloon, or a cabriolet.
My test car was the new Audi S3 saloon. A handsome car it is too, looking like the true executive sports saloon in its bright red livery.
Apart from the test car’s transition from hatch to saloon, those familiar with the current S3 will feel quite at home with the new car. It’s as if the designers had taken the exterior and interior of the previous S3 and just sharpened it up, creating a more hi-tech look.
This sharper more modern look is most noticeable in the interior and it is needed. If I am being brutally honest, my old S3 looks not up there with the Audi quality standards, so this new model is a big improvement. Part of the more technical look is the pop up display panel in the centre.
It is on this panel that you can adjust the settings of the new S3 to suit your particular desire. You can set the car for “comfort”, “efficiency”, or “dynamic”. You can even play race engineer and select “individual” to allow yourself to dial in your preferred settings. These changes give the S3 saloon a markedly different character. In dynamic the suspension tightens up noticeable, the throttle response is sharper and the steering is tauter and heavier.
That’s not all. You also get a more sporty exhaust note with the requisite bangs and pops on the overrun. My test car was fitted with the £1,480 S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, which adds a sporty automatic throttle blip on the downshift in dynamic mode.
It’s worth noting that this gearbox overturns the norms for an automatic, by being both quicker (4.9 seconds 0-62mph compared to 5.3 seconds on the manual) and more economical (40.9 combined mpg compared to 40.4 mpg).
I’ve always been impressed with the Volkswagen Group’s DSG gearbox, but I found this one a little slow to react in comfort or efficiency settings. Even in dynamic it wasn’t as responsive as I would like, so I was surprised how often I used the steering wheel paddles.
What is so impressive is the way that the Audi S3 saloon takes off when you press the accelerator. There is just a surge of power and a steady build up of speed. This is certainly a car that gives you maximum opportunities for overtaking. With a press of the “loud” pedal, the S3 will whisk you past and back to the safety of your own side of the road in double-quick time.
Helping to tame this power is the standard quattro four-wheel-drive system. This not only helps with traction, but sharing the power gives the Audi S3 a greater feeling of security and balance on corners. For me, this is one of the S3’s real strong points when compared with many other hot hatchbacks and saloons.
Being picky, though, as a lover of rear-wheel-drive, I would prefer the power to be more biased to the rear as it is on some of the bigger quattros. The steering is good, very good, but still not quite as communicative as I might ideally hope.
With the S3 saloon you get an extra pair of doors, which makes accessing the rear seats that much easier. But, despite the saloon having a 35 mm longer wheelbase, you will have to do some horse trading for knee room if the front seat passengers have their seats slid right back.
That ability to drive the S3 in the manner you want has been enhanced by the driving mode settings. In dynamic mode the new S3 feels considerably more sporty than my older model. The really taut suspension is good on good surfaces, but it can turn “jiggly” on more corrugated roads.
The exhaust note in dynamic is a particular joy. It’s a bit of theatre, but there is no doubt it creates an exciting soundtrack that adds to driving pleasure.
Now, all I have to do (apart from the small matter of finding the money) is to decide which model I want.
If I lived in the south of France, it might be the cabriolet. But, since I don’t, that leaves the two hatchbacks or the saloon.
The saloon has a very classy look and undoubtedly extends the appeal of the S3 into a new market. But, I think the practicality of the hatch might still win me over and, since I seldom carry more than one passenger, I’d probably stick with three-door and save £2,000 in the process.
Audi S3 Saloon S tronic 2.0 TSFi
Carbon dioxide emissions: 159 g/km
VED band n/a
Combined fuel economy 40.9 mpg
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62: 4.9 secs
Power 300 bhp
Engine size 1984cc diesel
Boot capacity 390 litres