For junior performance, the S3 saloon is a very compelling and accomplished choice

What is it?

This is the new Audi S3 saloon, the hottest and thus far most desirable incarnation of the A3 saloon, itself a recent addition to Audi's compact premium line-up, and one that's hoped to steal extra sales in the ever-more important but hatchback-phobic Chinese and US markets. 

This subtly muscular-looking performance version of the four-door is powered by a 296bhp, 280lb ft, 1984cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine driving through all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox or, as driven here, a six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic. 

The S3 saloon gets one of Audi’s smartly appointed premium-identikit interiors, finished to S-series spec with firm, sportily supportive seats in the front and compact accommodation for three (at a push) in the rear. There’s a good old-fashioned saloon boot, too, with 390 litres of luggage capacity.

Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 4.9sec for the 1525kg S3 saloon in S-tronic gearbox guise (it’s 5.3sec in 1505kg manual form), with a limited top speed of 155mph.

And should a hint of eco-concern weigh heavily on your compact performance saloon-driving conscience, Audi claims 40.9mpg combined and 159g/km of CO2. The S-tronic gearbox even features a fuel-saving coasting function when driven in Efficiency mode. 

What's it like?

An interesting mix, and certainly a good-looking one. The idea of a compact performance saloon might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this quick, capable four-door, as contemporary as it is, has a certain old-school appeal. 

It’s A3 based, of course, so many of the shapes and dimensions are shared with the hatch and sportback, but side-on the S3 is ostensibly similar to the larger S4 saloon. The S3 has a significantly shorter rear overhang and a compact, hunched boot, however, giving the new four-door a more coupé-like profile. Some mild wheelarch flaring and a bit of S-series badging and grille treatment complete the look, and it works well. Purposeful and sporty, but not too showy. 

It goes pretty well, too. The 296bhp 2.0-litre four-pot makes all the right noises on start-up, and throbs along with appropriate intent at low speeds. You get some low-rev turbo lag, but once spinning it there’s a free-revving, flexible delivery of useful, usable torque and healthy top-end poke. 

And it’s a tidy handler. Bad points first, though. The otherwise direct and responsive steering lacks much in the way of real feel, and weights up with excessive artificiality in Dynamic mode. The brakes, too, suffered surprising fade after a half-hour, multi-hairpin assault of the kind you tend not to get in the UK.

Otherwise, the S3 saloon is rapid, grippy and, well, quite a bit of fun and to throw around with a degree of measured abandon. Body control was excellent, there was barely a trace of understeer and throttle-pinned traction out of first and second-gear hairpins was superb. 

At a more sedate pace the S3 saloon rides acceptably well, at least with the drive mode set to Comfort, and could be tooled around at day-to-day speeds in a moderately relaxing, refined and compact-premium fashion.

Should I buy one?

You could, yes, if the S3’s understated looks, quattro four-wheel-drive security and decent poke appeal. 

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You could be tempted, however, by the marginally more powerful (at 312bhp), usefully more torquey (at 332lb ft) and attractively cheaper (by around £2000, depending on your choice of gearbox) rear-wheel-drive BMW M135i. Although it doesn’t come with as much standard kit as the Audi and it’s not a saloon, either. But whether the latter point is a good thing or not will depend on your point of view.

As it is, though, the S3 saloon is a convincing and not a little compelling junior performance four-door.

Audi S3 saloon S-tronic

Price £34,720; 0-62mph 4.9sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 40.9mpg; CO2 159g/km; Kerb weight 1525kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1800-5500rpm; Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch automatic

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madmac 30 November 2013

golf clubs

SteveB,try getting 4 normal sized golf bags and 4 people in the hatch and see how you do! That is why the sedan is better.Sure the hatch has good room if you fold down the seats but then the passengers are SOL.
neh321 21 November 2013

Love it

I've been waiting for this car. Practicalities of saloon versus hatch aside, I just prefer its 'grown-up' looks. But there is a price quoted and it seems to be available - yet Audi dealers know nothing about either prices or availability and there's nothing on Audi's official website either! Is this car available to order now or isn't it? I've read that the first cars aren't due until 1st April but if it can be ordered now I can't believe it's still 5 months away! Anyone able to answer this?
SteveB 20 November 2013

Nice, but ridiculous & pointless saloon

I love the A3/Golf, but one of the great mysteries of the world is why when an identical good looking hatch is on offer, anyone in their right mind would want to sacrifice so much useful practicality and opt for a boot lid. Saloons were deemed old fashioned & "had their time" 30 years ago, but now they're the reps favourite. An A3 saloon is effectively no different to a Jetta, which, because of the "boot" is considered an "old man's car". I've driven both the hatch and the saloon, and they are equally as quiet in the cabin, and the hatch has plenty of room for passengers in the back. The number of times I see people give up struggling to get stuff into a saloon's boot makes me laugh, and as for dog owners, well let's hope he's not been swimming in the lake, because guess where he's going to sit!