Audi S3

Audi S3
Audi S3

Here's a little exercise. Grab a pen and paper and write down a list of new cars that cost £27,000.

Out of the list, which of these floats your boat? For a few pennies over, you could have a Lexus IS 250, or maybe a Lotus Exige. Mitsubishi Evo FQ300 perhaps? Quite a choice when you start to look isn’t it?

Enter Audi's new S3. The company believes that one day all sports hatches will be like this. In the past couple of years Audi designers have got the bit between their teeth. The A4, A6 and A8 have a definite and distinctive theme running through them. That’s real progress. If you’re anything like me you probably can't recall a single visual attribute of the previous 'S' range of A3s, other than they were too plain looking, and mostly painted Pukey Purple metallic.


New focus (!)

Today though Audi is focused. The S3 still has strong reliability, speed, and will keep its value way pass your 80th birthday. Yawn. But now it has visual impact too and an eyebrow-raising 261bhp.

On the press drive, journalists were given a butt-numbingly long speech about all of the differences from old to new -- trying not to nod off became impossible. I won't bore you with the detail, but it's impressive stuff once you get to drive it.

Having dropped my chin to the floor, it seems I'll need a few more years at this diet thing before I can fit the body-shape style of the S3 sports seats. At least the top of my knees won't be crushed every time I turn the wheel. Thankfully for us well-built individuals, your hands grip the S4's flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Although all Audi interiors are an extra special place to be, they're becoming a bit like a flat-packed chest of drawers from Ikea. You could be blindfolded, led into any Audi and guess which one you’re in with Derren Brown accuracy.

It’s still very top quality though. The driving position has improved slightly giving you plenty of movement to get the (ever so tight) seat and steering adjustment right without the hateful stretch to reach everything. Once you're ready to go, twist the fob and fire up the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, now found in every VW group hot-hatch.

As I take my turn driving the new car, an Audi bigwig towers over the front wing and leans through the window sternly mumblimg, "Don't crash it, will you?"

Well, there goes Plan A.

Replica car

Two things hit you as you catch a glimpse of the S3's outline driving around. Firstly, it’s an exact replica of the old car, but secondly it's still very familiar Audi. Obviously, there is the ludicrously oversized front spoiler, and mega-thin low profile tyres set around a car that shouts Pimp My Ride. But it's a crucial clue, whether you like it or not, you are driving an Audi S3. It's been given a nip and tuck overhaul making it more aggressive and purposeful which will certainly make it stand out amongst the competition.

More important is the S3's roadgoing ability. The car responds to the slightest input with anticipation that borders ESP. That's thanks to a complicated if boring explanation of the S3's sophisticated Haldex four-wheel drive system. Although it doesn't share any resemblance to permanent drive to all four wheels, it shifts power to the rear especially as you're about to skim a nicely trimmed hedge heading into a corner a tad too quickly.

This creates a balance that pays huge dividends, keeping the car poised and neutral at ever increasing speeds. The brakes are also superb, with plenty of feel and a graduation to the bite that optimises the S3's ability to stop not just quickly but smoothly.

Grunt shortfall

When you get to drive it, like me, you'll probably be disappointed with the shortfall in grunt despite having the high bhp figure to admire. It’s still quick enough and maintains a supreme level of stability as a rapid point-to-point car.

But if you want to show off, don't trouble the rev limiter. Its mid range punch is enough to pull the blood to the back of your head but gets silly and uncomposed if you keep nailing the throttle. The turbocharged engine sounds distressed and strained so stick to the more delightful background hum. If you want to mimic chauffeur dawdling, then the gear lever will press through the gate like an A2. It also keeps the momentum going when your shifting like mad and barely slips a cog crunching in despair. The clutch makes light work of your left leg.

However, the accelerator pedal is too sensitive even in light traffic. You'll look like a right Muppet kangarooing up the high street trying to keep your cool.

Driven in the manner intended, the S3 hurls over the crests with a hard yet forgiving ride and doesn't give you the injuries like some crazed sadistic whip mistress. It does have a tendency to bounce lightly on the motorway, but you don't have to cringe anymore and swerve 20 feet to miss a hole in the tarmac, or drive so slowly over a speed hump that you might as well get out and crawl using your chin.

What else could you buy?

Overall, the new S3 is certainly a step forward from the old one. However, go back to the beginning of my review and look down your list of cars for £27K. Now use another sheet of paper containing today’s best hot-hatches and suddenly the S3 looks distant.

Lets look at it once more just before the S3 sits in a list all on its own - 0-62 mph in 5.7 seconds, 155 mph, 261 bhp and the looks of a Rhinoceros. Maybe 31 mpg will wake you from the dead? No. Thought not. There are so many other cars to spend this type of money on.

Yes, the S3 is a very good car but, unfortunately, Audi's pricing strategy won't help it prove this.

© Steve Bell 2006

Comments (94) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Munkeyfeet 09 Sep 2009

    AMD can get this to 330bhp for under £2000 - remap and exhaust.

    Now pick one of these up after 12 months, add that and you have a bargain. Classy and quick!

    It will be my daily hack very soon!

  • Mr Whippy 09 Sep 2009

    I'd have the current S3 over anything else in the hot hatch sector I think.

    Just makes so much sense to put awd on something with near 300bhp of power, it doesn't have garish vents or quad exhausts or silly shoddy details that will date badly.
    It just makes good sense for what it is. If I went back to a hatch I'd be wanting one over anything else out there.


  • Beanoir 09 Sep 2009

    Oh children!! come on! Why bother even comparing a Ford to an Audi, I doubt many people walk about the dealerships having difficult decisions over whether to buy an S3 or Focus ST, they are 2 totally different cars! maybe an Focus RS, but still not really comparable to the S3 (and i'm not talking about performance before anybody pipes up with some figures).

    Once you've added not a silly amount of extras on the S3, there is nearly £10k difference between that and the Focus ST, but £10k worth spending if you are lucky enough to be able to do so.

  • JENNY7000 04 Jan 2008

    D1MAC said:
    JENNY7000 said:
    S3 Is far better than any of the competition by far, you can over take FORD focus ST'S Like they are stood still and i hit 155mph on a very short peice of road nearly every day, Also i raced a New BMW M3 up to 110mph and there was nothing in it, i have owned evos and a a TT 3.2 and the 3.2 engine feels dead compared to the 262bhp of the S3, It mite cost 27k but when you drive the compertition its worth the extra cash easy!

    ps, do not buy a Golf GTI!!!!! I had one for 3 months waiting for my S3 and it were really slow!!!! my mate could pass me in his old 100k 306 gti 6 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! haha
    That would be the 414ps M3 that's probably 4-5 seconds quicker to 110mph coffeeclap
    As for the ST - I would suggest that one that has seen a few hundred quids worth of tuning would be just as quick from a rolling start.

    Finally, if you hit 155mph on a UK road with any regularity and spend your time racing everything and anything that dares to be in the same ballpark as your precious S3 then you're a prize pcensoredk with serious little dick syndrome.
    Or maybe school had finished for the day?

    1- Yes it would be the 414ps M3 - and NO not 4-5 seconds just 3 seconds apparently 10 secs to 100 for m3 and 13 secs FOR S3

    2- FORD FOCUS ST'S are very slow compared to an S3 i never said anything about tuning one!!!! you can make anything quick with the right mods,

    3- I dont go round racing anything and everything just 1 ST AN 1 M3!!

    4- I dont think i have little dick syndrome because im a 27 year old girl ha!!

    5- and finally before you start tring to be clever get your facts right and sell your ST and buy a proper car insted of a chav one hahahahahahahaha - Thats guessing you have an ST - I think i must have offended u with my post

  • ScoobieWRX 30 Nov 2007

    digimeistter said:
    Well i've had my S3 for nearly a year now and it's been an absolute joy to own. The interior is classy and the build quality is 2nd to none. I have found it effortless to drive around town contrary to what the journo's have said.

    The progressive PASM makes it finger light at slow speeds but firms up nicely at speed. I don't feel the turbo lag is any worse than any other forced induction car i've driven and kicks in at around 2250 rpm and then delivers in spades between 3500- 6000 it is devastatingly fast and is a great handling car.

    When you consider the R32 specced with leather costs pretty much the same it was a simple choice.

    As for comparing it to a scooby - personally i would prefer to have my testacles removed with a blunt instrument than be seen in one, they aren't much quicker (if at all -FQ's aside) and the running costs for the S3 are far far lower.

    Each to their own - We buy the car that suits us as individuals and puts a smile on your face.

    The S3 still makes me grin like a teenager biggrin
    The S3 is a lovely car....very capable all rounder, better bolted together and way better looking out of the box than a Scooby. I had a 1.8 A3 for 6months and loved it bigtime for everyday driving and motorway work. Before i got my Scooby i took a long test drive in an S3 for comparison as i had the A3 and liked it so much.

    1. The S3 out of the box doesn't handle as well as a scooby, period!!
    2. The S3 out of the box isn't as quick as a Scooby, whether it's on a track or a B road!!
    3. I have just booked you in to be castrated at animal hospital.

    P.S. Can i have your leftover nadgers please as my cats will enjoy them boiled hehe

    Edited by ScoobieWRX on Friday 30th November 21:04

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