From £30,3658
The Audi S3 is a quick and capable hot hatch, but has a much calmer everyday side than its rivals

Our Verdict

Audi S3

Audi Sport has given the A3 range a light going over in the shape of the S3, which is a consummate performer, but not a spirited one

  • First Drive

    2016 Audi S3 review

    The Audi S3 is a quick and capable hot hatch, but has a much calmer everyday side than its rivals
  • First Drive

    2016 Audi S3 Saloon review

    Hot four-door version of Audi's new A3 gains a new look, more equipment and more power for 2016. Does that also equal more fun?
Matt Prior
21 November 2016

What is it?

If you try to imagine what the Audi S3 Sportback is like, you’ve probably conjured up a pretty accurate picture. 

Audi has become rather adept at this fast hatchback and saloon malarkey over the years, having identified what people seem to want from a fast hatchback or saloon: it needs to be capable, secure, subtle and pretty fuss-free. What they apparently don’t want a lot of is involvement or engagement, just for the car to get them from place to place securely and briskly. 

The S3 received a minor update a few months ago, and this is our first drive of it in the UK. It comes off the back of a subtle revision of the whole A3 range, which was indeed so subtle you might even have missed it.

Updated to the S3 include a 10bhp power increase, so that the car gets a total of 306bhp, with a 15lb ft increase in torque to 295lb ft (with the automatic gearbox). The engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, and the same basic unit that makes 300bhp in the Volkswagen Golf R.  When coupled to the automatic transmission, its fuel economy improves too, up to an official average figure of 40.9mpg.

The four-wheel drive system gets some tweaks too, making it more willing to push power to the rear in some cornering conditions, so that the S3 is less prone to understeer than it was previously.

Inside, the most relevant change for most drivers is that the interior gets Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which replaces analogue dials with a 12.3in TFT digital screen.

What's it like?

If you’re accustomed to the way fast Audis have felt during the past few years, the S3 is pretty much exactly as you’d expect it to be. 

To sit in, it’s lovely. Fit, finish and perceived quality are big Audi traits, and the S3 certainly gets them. Its front seats and steering wheel are adjustable to a ludicrous degree, while the materials, switchgear and ergonomics are first rate 

Our test car was equipped with the S tronic seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, and with it the pedal positioning and weighting are spot on. 

The steering’s on the light side, which makes the S3 a doddle to drive at lower speeds, and the ride is sufficiently compliant, too. Gone are the days when fast Audis rode like boards, though this S3 had fairly modestly sized 18in wheels, shod with 225/40 tyres.

The variable-rate steering – which is slower around straight-ahead than it is once you’ve got some lock on – means that the S3 is plenty stable at motorway speeds. In that respect, it feels more like the Golf R than it does the Ford Focus RS. The RS is not meant to be an amiable, everyday fast Ford, but a car reserved for special occasions. The S3 is the kind of hot hatchback that you’re very happy to drive once the Ford gets out of its more hyperactive zones.

Don’t necessarily think of that as a downgrade, mind. There’s quite a lot to be said for a car that’s as capable and secure as the S3 is when it comes to regular everyday driving. The Audi doesn’t give you a lot back: the engine is never more exciting than smooth and powerful, and the steering never gives you any feedback other than it's quite capable of steering the wheels without reporting things back to you, but just in case you were wondering, the chassis is unflustered.

However, if you do find yourself on circuit or a great corner on a country road, the S3 puts in a decent shift. Body control is relatively tight. In extremes, you’d need a back-to-back test with an old S3 to be sure that you can feel the revisions to the software pushing power to where it does, but it corners keenly, neutrally, keeps its nose online and is always calm.

Should I buy one?

If you really value the fit and finish of an Audi, then an S3 isn’t a bad way of going about your business at all. Plus, compared to other 300bhp hot hatchbacks, it mostly offers something different. It’s calmer than a Ford Focus RS and a Honda Civic Type R, and there’s something quite appealing about that. 

Trouble is, there’s another hot hatch that does pretty much everything that the Audi S3 also does, but it steers more keenly and enjoyably and feels every inch as planted and stable. That car is the Volkswagen Golf R, which stays busy giving its Volkswagen Group stablemates, as well as cars from elsewhere, headaches.

Audi S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro 310 PS S tronic


Location Hertfordshire; On sale Now; Price  £34,460; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbo petrol; Power 306bhp at 5500-6500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000-5400rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual clutch auto; Kerb weight 1540kg; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 40.9mpg; CO2/tax band 159g/km / 28% Rivals Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R

Join the debate

Comments
26

21 November 2016
Quick as any car need to be, best interior with modern digital dash(I presume that's standard), safe 4 wheel drive so as to make use of 300+ bhp, 5 doors, doesn't look like it's driven though Halfords.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

21 November 2016
always liked the S3 for not being visually desperate to try and show off what it is. But how hard can it be to make it as engaging as the golf R? the R is so much more fun to drive. Thats what has always killed the S3 for me.
Red Devil

21 November 2016
Matt, you didn't mention whether the S Tronic auto gearbox is better than in previous A3s. In my year old model its ponderous and jerky.

21 November 2016
KeithE wrote:

Matt, you didn't mention whether the S Tronic auto gearbox is better than in previous A3s. In my year old model its ponderous and jerky.

and there you go!

Red Devil

21 November 2016
Problem is for me is image.. VAG performance cars are normally seen driven by people who hire them on PCH cheap deals then treat the the roads like their own personal race track driving dangerously. It's like Ford/Vauxhall were in the lates 90's early 2000's with performance cars.

VAG image has really become cheapened in my opinion.

22 November 2016
Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

Problem is for me is image.. VAG performance cars are normally seen driven by people who hire them on PCH cheap deals then treat the the roads like their own personal race track driving dangerously. It's like Ford/Vauxhall were in the lates 90's early 2000's with performance cars.

VAG image has really become cheapened in my opinion.

Myself I've never had the gift of being able to see a car drive by and instantly know how it is being financed. However I am sure that if someone is paying for their car personally, whatever the method, they are more likely to be caring towards it and drive it sensibly than if it is a company car.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

21 November 2016
I'd take the BMW 140i over this. It's obviously not as practical or good looking (depending on your point of view) but from a purely driving perspective, it's surely the more exciting proposition - especially with the aural delight of the 6 cylinder engine and the rear wheel drive set up.

21 November 2016
legohead wrote:

I'd take the BMW 140i over this. It's obviously not as practical or good looking (depending on your point of view) but from a purely driving perspective, it's surely the more exciting proposition - especially with the aural delight of the 6 cylinder engine and the rear wheel drive set up.

i would take the 140i over the S3 too. but would find it a much tougher decision between the R and 140i. Then there the new Cupra coming too...

Red Devil

21 November 2016
...who can't see the point of pics 9, 11, 13 and 16?

21 November 2016
beechie wrote:

...who can't see the point of pics 9, 11, 13 and 16?

A person who is actually considering buying an S3, is likely to be interested in such details.

Citroëniste.

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