From £30,535
The body is discreet; the engine isn't; the dynamics are still remote. On this first taste, the expensive S3 is a strange combination: raucous yet remote. A UK drive may clarify the situation.

Our Verdict

Audi S3

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

  • First Drive

    Audi S3 S Tronic

    Twin-clutch transmission suits S3's smooth character
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    Audi S3 Sportback

    Straight-line performance and practicality, but is it a true hot hatch?
30 August 2006

What is it?

It’s an A3 2.0 litre turbo Quattro on steroids.

The motor has had a thorough strengthening – new piston pins, connecting rods, bearings and a stiffened block – and there’s a new, highly heat resistant cylinder head. Bigger injectors and revised exhaust cam timing support the main news: a bigger turbocharger and intercooler combination.

The resultant power hike to 261bhp makes the new S3 the most powerful Audi hatchback ever and the current boss of the niche. The six-speed gearbox has had its ratios grouped closer together to aid acceleration and it’s been strengthened along with other driveline components.

On the chassis side, the springs and dampers have been stiffened, the ride height dropped 25mm and the power steering system recalibrated. Parts of the suspension are now made from alloy instead of steel, and there’s RS4 style 18” alloy wheels to transmit the power to the road. Inside them, lies a new high performance brake system especially designed for the S3.

Inside the usual high-quality cabin has a smattering of S3 design touches, and if you wish, RS4 style bucket seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel. 

What’s it like?

Fast, growling, surprising. The old S3 might not have been at the forefront of a petrol head’s ultimate drives wish list, but it found huge success through mixing real pace with stability, quality and meaty styling.

The new S3 doesn’t catch the eye in the same way – being bereft of any wide panelling – but once you’re sat behind the ‘wheel, it’s a genuinely rapid device. There’s more lag than the regular engine, but once the bigger blower ignites it punches with genuine vigour and breathes strongly right to the red line.

What many prospective owners won’t be expecting is the mixture of coarse growls, rumbles and whooshes that are ever present even on light throttle openings. Grip and traction levels are high, but the S3 feels more passive than its Golf GTi cousin, without that car's sense of fun in changing direction.

Neither is the steering quite as rewarding, feeling light and just a little vague about the straight-ahead. Up the pace and the weighting increases, and it’s accurate enough once into a corner. 

Should I buy one?

Hmmm, we’re undecided. This is a very expensive hot hatch, and unlike the old car, it doesn’t look special enough. Very much a Q car then, but with a surprisingly hardcore motor that all adds up to an odd mix. It’s hard to talk about the ride quality considering the almost polish-smooth roads on the German launch. One for further investigation.

Adam Towler

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