What is it?
This is the facelifted Audi S3 saloon, which packs a more potent punch from a lightly fettled version of the German car maker’s widely used EA888 engine along with subtle changes to its four-wheel drive system that is claimed to provide it with more engaging driving traits.
Predictably, Ingolstadt’s junior four-door performance saloon also gets some subtle styling changes. Included are new-look bumpers, redesigned headlamps with optional matrix LED operation, a wider grille and more heavily structured LED tail-lamps.
The changes to the interior are even more restrained, although, given the excellence of the outgoing S3 saloon’s cabin, this comes as good news. Among the changes is an optional high-definition digital display that goes under the name Virtual Cockpit. Already available in the TT and A4, it is a worthy if somewhat pricey addition to an otherwise superb interior.
Audi isn't going into too much detail about the changes to the S3’s turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, suggesting only that the revisions are focused on improved combustion efficiency. But it confirms that the engine produces an extra 10bhp and 15lb ft of torque, taking its reserves up to 306bhp and 295lb ft.
Buyers can choose between a standard six-speed manual and an optional seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox – the latter an all-new development that has been brought in as a replacement for the previous six-speed S tronic.
With an added ratio allowing Audi to fit a lower 3.19:1 first gear in place of the previous 2.92:1, Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 4.6sec for the new S3 saloon in S tronic form - a 0.3sec improvement over its direct predecessor.
As before, top speed is limited to 155mph. And while it is unlikely anyone considering the rapid four-door will be overly concerned with fuel economy, its claimed combined figure has improved by 3.2mpg at 44.1mpg, providing it with average CO2 emissions of 148g/km in combination with the S3’s standard 18in wheel and tyre package.
What's it like?
The facelifted S3 saloon is highly capable, both as an everyday commuter and back-road charger. While it lacks the overall practicality of the S3 Sportback, it is a handsome car up close. Interestingly, it rides on a 35mm longer wheelbase than its hatchback sibling, providing it with more rear leg room and a generously dimensioned 390-litre boot.
The revised engine emits an appropriately sporting sound when you hit the start button and dial up Dynamic mode. Moving off, the delivery is smooth, if not quite as linear as you experience in less powerful versions of the 2.0 TFSI engine. Get it spinning above 2000rpm and the strong torque provides a nice, flexible delivery, making it a pleasing unit to operate in everyday driving conditions.
The real appeal, however, lays farther up the dial. Push it hard and the S3 saloon’s engine delivers a heady level of shove that combines with the closely spaced ratios of its new dual-clutch gearbox to provide it with truly rapid pace out on the open road. It can’t quite match the RS3 for overall explosiveness, but it's quick nevertheless.
Changes to the software controlling the Haldex multi-plate-clutch four-wheel drive system now allow it to send up to 100% of drive to the front or rear wheels, depending on prevailing traction. Audi also says it has programmed the system to provide a greater percentage of drive to the rear wheels during hard driving. This is claimed to provide the S3 with more neutral on-the-limit handling traits, with a reduced tendency towards understeer and a more tail-happy character than the old saloon model, which has been on sale in the UK since 2014.
The powered-up Audi is certainly an impressive handler when switched into Dynamic model, although it is not the last word in feedback. The steering is engagingly direct and nicely weighted, but it's short on ultimate communication and intimacy when you’re pushing hard. With the four-wheel drive system doling out the S3's heady reserves in a continuously variable split, it proves highly dependable when asked to carry high speeds into corners.
You can lean on it with great confidence without any lingering concerns about losing grip. The inherent traction is at the centre of its dynamic appeal, allowing you to load up the throttle and shoot out of slower corners with impressive pace. Body control is also excellent. There’s a degree of roll on turn-in, but it builds progressively and without any nasty surprises.
Given its haughty handling ability, the S3 saloon also rides quite well, at least when it is set to Comfort mode. There’s proper compliance from the variable damping control system that’s fitted as standard and road noise is nicely suppressed, making it a refined and desirable proposition in everyday driving conditions, at least on German roads.
Should I buy one?
Audi is yet to confirm pricing for the facelifted S3 saloon, but don’t expect much change from the £33,830 of the old model. It is an alluring proposition, no doubt: good looking, nicely appointed, high on perceived quality and genuinely rapid, with highly secure handling in both dry and wet conditions.
Audi S3 saloon
Location Germany; On sale Summer; Price £34,000 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol; Power 306bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1470kg; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 44.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 148g/km, 26%