Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

There seems to be some divergence in opinion about ‘performance’. Some of us crave ever-lower acceleration times and rejoice in the absurdity of it all, while others long ago accepted that anything less than five seconds from 0-62mph was more than quick enough for anything road-legal.

Whichever way you see it, the S3’s 0-60mph time of 4.8sec – with two testers on board and the tank full of fuel – is objectively very quick and comfortably more so than even the most rabid front-driven alternatives’, such as the Honda Civic Type R. The Audi’s quarter-mile time of 13.4sec is also quicker than the efforts of the recently retired generation of four-wheel-drive mega-hatches such as the Ford Focus RS and original Mercedes-AMG A45. The Audi could have been faster, too, had the transmission not been subtly slipping – possibly in an effort to protect – the first of its two clutches during several 4000rpm launch-control starts. Elsewhere, traction and the car’s resistance pitch and squat were conspicuously good. Overall, the S3 comes across as a real operator.

It’s surprising that the new S3 has been allowed to leave the factory gates a slower-accelerating car than the model it replaces, if only by 0.3sec to 62mph. A tacit admission from Audi that these things don’t matter so much any more?

But exciting? Not so much. The manner in which the 2.0-litre turbo engine reliably pumps out those figures is better known to road testers than most, the Volkswagen Group (but Audi-designed) EA888 unit having appeared in various forms across the Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen brands for more than a decade now. The turbocharger wakes up abruptly at 2000rpm, after which the uniform delivery of power and torque feels endlessly broad and hugely effective but lacks much in the way of shape or crescendo. The gearbox is reliably slick but, again, not especially engaging, its paddles in particular lacking tactility.

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Elsewhere, the brakes, which benefit from the new electric booster, feel surprisingly natural and have an appreciable resistance to them that you might not expect to find in an Audi. However, they don’t bring the S3 to a halt as quickly as you’d achieve in lighter, solely front-driven alternatives. The engine’s sound actuator is also likely to split opinion.

In Comfort mode, the engine is perhaps too well isolated from the cabin, but in Dynamic the growl is a tad too pronounced and rounded to feel authentic. Plus ça change.

As for fuel economy, our car returned 39.0mpg on touring runs, which is reasonable but nothing special. Blame the fact that the S3 – all five doors, two clutches and four driveshafts of it – now weighs comfortably more than 1500kg.