Audi has turned up the heat on the Audi S3 as it prepares to take the fight to the likes of the recently introduced BMW M135i and the upcoming Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and Volkswagen Golf R in what is set to become an intriguing battle among Germany's premium car makers.
The third-generation model, pictured here officially for the first time ahead of its public debut at the Paris motor show, is the first in a series of new performance cars from the Volkswagen Group to benefit from an advanced turbocharged 2.0-litre direct injection gasoline engine developed from scratch as part of Audi's EA888 engine family.
With a 296bhp at 5500rpm and 280lb ft of torque on a band of revs stretching from 1800 to 5500rpm, the new four-cylinder unit provides the new S3 with unprecedented levels of performance, delivering 35bhp and 22lb ft more than the older EA113 engine of the same capacity used by the second-generation S3 on sale since 2006.
Running 1.2 bar of turbocharger boost pressure, twin counter balancing rotation shafts, a two stage valve lift system with 30-degrees of camshaft adjustment on the inlet side and 60-degrees on the exhaust side, a new injection system that uses a combination of both in-direct and direct processes to deliver fuel to each cylinder depending on throttle load and a 6800rpm redline, the transversely mounted engine boasts a specific power output of 149bhp per litre.
While retaining an iron block, the S3's powerplant is also claimed to weigh 5kg less than before at 148kg. It is also more compact: length, width and height are put at 603mm, 678mm and 664mm respectively.
The 2.0-litre unit's heady reserves are channelled through either a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed double clutch S-tronic gearbox - the latter offering steering wheel mounted shift paddles and an automatic mode for hands-free shifting. As tradition dictates, drive is apportioned to all four wheels via a Haldex style multi-plate clutch mounted at the end of the prop shaft, in front of the rear differential.
Clothed in a body that uses an aluminium body and front guards, the new S3 is claimed to possess a kerb weight that undercuts the second-generation model it replaces by an impressive 60kg at 1395kg, providing it with a power-to-weight ratio of 141bhp per tonne. Audi quotes a 0-62mph time of 5.1sec with the optional six-speed S-tronic gearbox, with the standard six-speed manual equipped model requiring 5.4sec. This represents a respective 0.4sec and 0.3sec improvement on the old S3.
Top speed in each case is an electronically limited 155mph, or the same as before.
By way of comparison, the recently discontinued RS3, which ran a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder with 335bhp and 332lb ft of torque, possessed an official 0-62mph time of 4.5sec and the same 155km/h top speed.
The added performance is achieved with a reduction in fuel consumption; the new S3 returns an official 41mpg on the combined European consumption test cycle in six-speed S-tronic guise for average CO2 emissions of 159g/km.
Audi also claims to have provided its new performance hatchback with a more stirring sound through the adoption of an electromechanical actuator to amplify the resonance of the inlet manifold through the new car's body structure. The exhaust system also includes a flap that opens at certain engine speed ranges for what Audi describes as "a more sonorous sound".
The S3's engine sits within the Volkswagen Group's new modular transverse platform. Among its developments is new front end architecture, with the front axle moved 52mm further forward compared with the previous model and the engine titled by back by 12 degrees towards the bulkhead for improved weight distribution.
Up front is a new MacPherson strut suspension and front track that, at 1535mm, is 15mm longer than that used by the old S3. The rear receives a revised version of its predecessor's four link suspension with the same 1511mm track. The nominal ride height is reduced by 25mm over the A3, while the standard wheels are 18-inch in diameter and come shod with 225/40 profile tyres. Buyers will be able to option the new Audi with magnetic ride - an electromagnetic system providing constantly variable damping rates.
To cope with the sharpened performance, the S3 adopts an upgraded brake package with 340mm discs up front. The traditional cable operated handbrake has been replaced by an electro-mechanical device operated by a button on the centre console, in-line with lesser A3 models.
As with the previous S3, the new model receives a rather conservative appearance that eschews some of the more flamboyant touches of rival hot hatchbacks for a more function led approach.
Styling changes over the recently introduced third-generation A3, already previewed on the S-line styling package, include a beefed up grille with an aluminium look finish to the frame and a grey insert, larger front air ducts with honeycomb shaped inserts within a reshaped front bumper, aluminium look exterior mirror housings, widened sills, prominent spoiler atop the tailgate, deeper rear bumper with a grey diffuser element and a quartet of chromed oval tail pipes. Discreet S3 badges adorn the grille and tailgate.
The S3 will go on sale in early 2013 in three-door guise, with a more practical five-door model set to follow later in 2013.