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Given the Audi S3’s price, it’s difficult to think of a more entertaining, yet refined and rapid ownership proposition

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This is the Audi S3 and sister car to the Volkswagen Golf R. It’s the same 261bhp, four-wheel drive super-hatch that’s been around since 2006. But unlike the hatchback and for a time convertible Golf, the S3 is available as a three door hatchback and a hatch-cum-estate Sportback.

Like the VW, the four-wheel drive Audi S3 has always been more of a swift, surefooted express rather than a tearaway hot hatch or rival to the brutally fast Subaru WRX STI or Renaultsport Megane RenaultSport.

Civilised manners and fierce cross country pace make the S3 a winner

A six-speed manual is offered alongside Audi's S Tronic transmission. The latter 'box is essentially the older six-speed version of VW’s DSG gearbox rather than the latest seven-speed unit, but the shifts are smooth and rapid. And with the Audi’s relentless shove (258lb ft at 2500-5000rpm), the seventh forward cog is rarely missed.

Audi claims that the S Tronic-equipped S3 will crack the sprint to 62mph in 5.5 sec (0.2sec quicker than the manual transmission car). And we can well believe Audi; the smooth turbocharged four-pot motor barely has to pause between ratios, making for rapid, unrelenting progress. In terms of economy, you’ll see up to 34mpg in S Tronic guise and 33.2mpg when equipped with the standard six manual ‘box. CO2 emissions for the pricier auto option are 5g/km better than the manual at 193g/km CO2.

Driven with nuances of decorum, however, the Audi S3 is a perfectly civilised cruiser, thanks to a supple chassis and excellent refinement. Akin to the Golf R, we’d compare the Audi’s motorway cruising prowess to that of a VW Passat; high praise indeed.

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While the S3’s steering wheel features shift paddles in our test car, they’re all but redundant; prod the lever into ‘S’ and the upshifts and downchanges are so well timed that changing gear yourself can actually hinder rapid progress. But as good as the auto 'box is, the six-speed manual is still lovely to use and slightly more involving.

If you’re after a hot hatch that can cover ground rapidly, cruise effortlessly and embarrass most sports cars at the lights, then the S3 will be a fine companion.

Given its price, too, it’s hard to think of any car in its price range  that blends civilised manners and cross-country pace so effectively. It sounds ridiculous, but you would have to look at something like a Jaguar XK to find a superior blend of speed and comfort.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Audi S3 2006-2012 First drives