What is it?
Back in 1999, the bright folks over at what was then known as Quattro GmbH lit something of a small fire when they launched the original Audi S3. Just as the regular A3 on which that car was based is now widely viewed as the first posh family hatchback, the original S3 is arguably the car that properly kick-started an entirely different and slightly wilder automotive genre: the mega-hatch.
With four-wheel drive, a manual gearbox, 207bhp, a compact hatchback body and some immaculate motorsport heritage that its maker could hark back to, the original S3 stoked the embers that were first set burning by the likes of the Lancia Delta Integrale and a small handful of other niche, low-volume rally-bred road cars.
In the years following the S3’s launch, a raft of compact, high-performance hatchbacks began to emerge with ever-increasing levels of performance and capability.
The current Mercedes-AMG A45 S, with its 416bhp 2.0-litre four-pot, is the most extreme example of the breed we’ve had so far and it’s mad to think that a power output this high can be squeezed from an engine displacing so few cubic centimetres. The next RS3 will no doubt present Neckarsulm with a chance to give the car from Affalterbach a bloody nose, but until then, this new S3 sits pretty at the top of Audi’s family hatch range. Regardless, it would seem the small fire started by Audi more than 20 years ago has turned into a full-on inferno.
But anyway, much is familiar about this new fourth-generation car – even down to its lightly revised exterior styling, which looks rather fantastic beneath that searing Python Yellow paint. As ever, the S3 makes use of an electrohydraulic clutch-based quattro four-wheel drive system and power continues to come from a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol motor.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the 2.0-litre EA888 powerplant, which appears in everything from Audi the previous S3 to the Volkswagen T-Roc R to the Skoda Octavia vRS. As before, power has been dialled up to 306bhp to give it a bit of an edge over its Volkswagen Group cousins, while torque remains at a hefty 295lb ft. The option of a manual gearbox has long been done away with, so the only transmission available on this latest S3 is Audi’s seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic – not that that’s a bad thing at all.
As with the latest versions of the Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia, the S3 is based on an evolved version of the VW Group’s MQB architecture. MacPherson struts comprise the front suspension and a multi-link arrangement is employed at the rear. Passive dampers are standard fare, and compared with the regular A3, it sits 15mm closer to the deck. Optional adaptive dampers are also available and were fitted to our test car.