What is it?
Audi has a veritable smorgasbord of performance-tuned products, many of which are faster, cleverer and quite a lot more expensive than the (relatively speaking) humble S3.
But quite often in a range there is a Goldilocks car; one that combines enough of the qualities of its more well-endowed siblings with the perfect blend of size, everyday usability and, crucially, price. The S3 could well qualify for this accolade, offering pretty much all of the performance you’d realistically need in the UK while not sacrificing the high overall competence of the standard A3.
The S3 also has some heritage - albeit limited to the past two decades or so. Although it’s by no means the genesis of four-wheel drive or even four-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks, the first-gen S3 of 1999 is credited with democratising the all-paw everyday fast hatch. Before that arrived, 4WD was largely the preserve of rare or uncompromising rally homologation specials - your Delta Integrales, Escort Cosworths and the like.
But that was then and this is now, and the S3 no longer has the game to itself. It’s also available as a saloon, which we have here. So since rivals have long caught up, is it still the best of the breed?
Well, let’s get it out up front: if you didn’t like the old S3, you probably won’t be too fussed by this one. The technical recipe is familiar: the 2.0-litre EA888 turbo petrol motor remains with some minor emissions-related updates and a modest power boost - up to 306bhp. It’s mated solely to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Like the base 2020 A3, the S3’s platform is an evolved version of the ubiquitous Volkswagen Group MQB underpinnings, with a 15mm-lower ride height than the standard model and a familiar MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear set-up. The Haldex-style clutch-based four-wheel drive system remains, with torque vectoring carried out via braking inputs.