RE: Audi S3: PH Buying Guide

RE: Audi S3: PH Buying Guide

Wednesday 17th October 2018

Audi S3: PH Buying Guide

The original S3 is now a true modern classic - here's how to buy the best

The original Audi S3 gave the hot hatch class a good kick up the exhaust when it arrived in 1999. Packing 210hp, making it the most powerful car in the sector, it also came with four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox to stand out even further from the herd.

While some fussed over the attachment of the word 'quattro' to the car - when it in fact used a Haldex system they though not worthy of the badge - the rest of us got on with enjoying this 150mph machine. It took care of 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds, later dropping to 6.4 seconds with the facelifted 225hp model.

Subtly flared wheel arches, 17-inch Avus alloys and deeper front and rear bumpers to aid aerodynamics all looked the part. Inside, there were comfy leather and Alcantara seats and all S3s of this generation were built with the three-door bodyshell.

The engine fitted to the S3 in 1999 was deliberately pegged to 210hp so it didn't steal the TT's thunder. Even so, the hot hatch proved very quick and able across country. The all-wheel drive gave it traction and stability only a Subaru Impreza could match, though the Audi's steering was not quite as full of feel as its Japanese rival.

No matter, the S3 made up for this with excellent build quality that has ensured a high survival rate of this 8L model. A facelift for 2002 came with revised one-piece headlights with the indicators incorporated and some other minor changes. The big difference came in the engine, which was uprated to 225hp, knocking 0.2 seconds off the 0-62mph sprint and marginally improving fuel economy. On the road, there's little between the two versions, so it's more important to buy on condition now.

Prices for early, high mileage S3s start as low as Β£1,500 for running, MoT'd examples. This is tricky territory; you could get lucky or end up with a money pit as there's quite a bit that can go wrong with this fast Audi. A better bet is a cared for, full history model from around Β£3,500 that should gently accrue value as more people cotton on to this S3 as a modern classic.

Buyer's checklist

Bodywork and interior
The S3 resists corrosion well, but check along the roof rails and gutters for signs of rust.
If the Xenon headlights don't point straight ahead, the sensor or motor has failed.
Plastic window clips on regulator fail and cause window to stick open. Many replace these clips with metal ones from the A6.
Concert Stereo system can lose volume when EPROM memory is full.
If the alarm battery stops keeping a charge and causes the siren to go off, a new siren is needed.
Glovebox hinges can become brittle and snap.
The rear washer jet gets easily clogged.
The digital dash display loses pixels, but can be fixed for around Β£300.

Engine and transmission
Service intervals are every 10,000 miles or 12 months, and the air pollen filter should be changed at 20,000 miles.
Every 40,000 miles, the spark plugs and Haldex coupling's oil require changing, and the cambelt and tensioner should be swapped at 60,000 miles along with the water pump.
The clutch slave cylinder can leak over the clutch plate, it's best to replace them as a pair.
Earlier water pumps used plastic impeller blades that could break up and damage the engine, but a newer version with metal impellers solves this.
The thermostat gives up with age and allows the engine to run hot. Check the engine temperature gauge doesn't go above 90-degrees during a test drive.
A lumpy engine idle points to a failed diverter valve. You can test for this by removing the valve and pushing up on the diaphragm with another finger covering the vacuum tube. The diaphragm should not move; if it does then its diverter valve needs replacing.
Poor engine running can also be due to a failed mass airflow meter. Whether you clean or replace the MAF, the ECU will need to be reset when it's refitted.
The oil pick-up pipe can become blocked and needs to be cleaned or replaced; this issue seems to affect later BAM 225 engines more.
Rusty heat shield bolts around the catalytic convertor let the shield rattle, though new bolts will fix this.
Failed coil packs will result in uneven running, but are easy to replace.
The fuel pump relay can stop working, causing multiple fault codes.

Suspension and steering
A knocking noise from the front is likely to be a snapped coil spring.
Front and rear anti-roll bar sheaths can break and cause a noise. Many owners use this as a reason to upgrade to a stiffer anti-roll bar to improve handling.
Track rod ends and wishbone bushes wear quickly but are easy and cheap to replace.

Wheels, tyres and brakes
The brake sensor behind the pedal can fail. Listen for the engine over-revving when the clutch is depressed as a warning sign of this.
The brake servo vacuum pipe can crack with age due to heat, however replacement parts are simple to fit.


Engine: 1,781cc, 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 210/225@/5,800/5,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 199/207@2,200rpm
MPG: 29/30
CO2: 223/226g/km
Price new: Β£27,250
Price now: Β£1,500 upwards





Original Poster:

5,991 posts

182 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Still a great looking car hot hatch. Quite heavy and hard on suspension and tyres.

Finding a nice unmodified, unabused one is tough.

Remember getting out of mine after a drive from Huntingdon to London to a burning smell and finding the brake discs glowing.

Great grip in the wet though.

Not mine but a great looking S3.

Edited by g7jhp on Wednesday 17th October 07:37

Gio G

2,118 posts

153 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
I had one as a company car for a brief spell, at the time it just felt so fast and stable, a real pocket rocket. The interior and build was so ahead of it's rivals.



202 posts

117 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Lovely cars but getting fragile now. Still have mine after many years and only comes out now and then. Says some that I won’t part with it I guess....


3,577 posts

133 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
They still look great and the Imola Yellow ones really stand out, even now some 20 years later.

This and the MK4 Golf have aged remarkably well.


526 posts

122 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
"Nice" but a bit dull.


340 posts

13 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Would be keen to see how much (if at all) good versions will be worth in 5/10 years.

Perhaps will be a good indication of how much the outgoing 3dr manual S1 will be grow in value in 15 years maybe given the similarity.


70 posts

86 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Funny timing on this article. I'm currently on a 300 mile round trip to pick up one of these up, a silver 2001 model.


1,065 posts

134 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Dull and irrelevant now surely...

"Nice" but that can be the ultimate put down.

Many Hot Hatches before and after have been better.


225 posts

112 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
"here's to by the best"



12,176 posts

124 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Always wanted one of these when they first came out, I didn't have the funds sadly though. I've always liked the way an Audi looks and love their design, like the current ones too.

Dr G

13,736 posts

186 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
theholygrail said:
"here's to by the best"

In the headline of the article on the front page no less; a particularly good showing today!

...but in trying not to sound too mean that's actually a fairly comprehensive writeup on what breaks with these; certainly enough to lend someone looking to buy the confidence to avoid a bad one.

Sadly once they became quite so cheap the taste/budget/ambitions/habits of their owners were a greater cause of concern than the quality of the cars wink

Edited by Dr G on Wednesday 17th October 09:05


33 posts

12 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Much of the buying advice applied to the Mk1 TT applies to these. They are competent cars, but there's lots to go wrong!

I had a 1999 model. It had been thoroughly modded and abused by a previous owner, but it was so painfully cheap, with a year's ticket, that I couldn't turn it down. It had AP coilovers (made it too low and too stiff, but never bothered to adjust them), a bonkers remap, some Forge goodies like a DV relocator and 3" TIP, and looked mean in Santorin Blue with dark grey wheels. It was an animal, and I think mine had the blue Haldex controller as it was fairly easy to get the back end to step out. Extremely competent in the snow and ice, even on fat 18" wheels.

The sills on these can rust, badly, under the plastic covers. Getting these off isn't that easy, and there may be horrors hidden underneath. If running on the cheap, these can be patched to be strong but ugly, as the covers hide the sins. They can also rust behind the door spats at the bottom of the door, and these often come off in pieces and are hard to replace.

Boost leaks are painfully common. Go through every high pressure pipe, and check the clips on the pipework from turbo to ICs to manifold. Mine had the N249 bypassed with the DV running from vacuum alone - a common mod and makes no great difference to performance, but removes some pipework. Coilpacks are weak, though I replaced one which turned out to be a dying sparkplug.

The dashpod is a known weakness with all of these mk4 based cars - if it's just the DIS that's playing up you can live with it but the faults can affect the other gauges too, so beware. The interior is fairly solid and some of the options like a sunroof, contrast seats etc are nice. The ashtray is weak and can give up, flopping about. Expect creaks from the dashboard.

The suspension is put under some fair amount of stress as standard, and knocking ARB drop links, top mounts, ARB bushes etc are common. Not too expensive to sort, nor hard to work on. Changing the Haldex filter and oil is a bit of a pig though, and the parts cost more than you'd think.

I would love another, but it'd need to be more looked after than mine (which recouped every penny I spent on it when selling, including tyres) so I'd be very wary of the budget ones!


32 posts

88 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
Such an underrated car...I had a 52 plate S3 for 5 years, had a Revo remap on and was definately faster than the 03 STI it replaced.

I believe mine was a 1 of 1 in Tourmaline green colour, google it and you'll see pics of before and after I crashed it!


2,793 posts

187 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
I had a Black 2000 Y plate one (With cream alacantra/black leather) a couple of years ago. The performance was bloody impressive for a standard car!

My problems with it were as follows :

- Ate sensors initially - calmed down after they were replaced
- Clutch pedal snapped whilst at traffic lights at a very fast off ramp on the m1 - that was scary. Had to start the car in gear to get out of the way. Common weakness on golfs also of that vintage i believe.
- Haldex control unit was playing up - difficult to spot but was a costly fix
- LCD display dropping pixels - again common problem

Would i have another one? Probably yes if it was a 2nd/3rd car. Build quality was excellent and a lovely car when in fettle! Understated coolness especially with the original S3 wheels in place.


967 posts

169 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
I had a 2001 51 plate 225bhp car from new.

Lot's of things to like about them but lots to hate.

The good:
- Looks were leagues above any hot hatch competitor of the day, you could describe the S3 as the first of a new breed of hot hatches
- Interior, those amazing Recaro leather seats!
- Traction was amazing

The bad:
- Understeer was terrible and it was predominantly FWD, with a maximum 50% torque to the rear wheels
- Gearchange, was like having a wooden spoon in a large jar of mayo, so much travel
- Running costs, expensive main dealer pricing for a 1.8T and it required a 20k haldex oil change too
- Engine sound was very gruff and it didn't like to be revved out

Overall a 6/10 car and there were much better out there. I cancelled a Civic Type R order for one of these and with hindsight it was a mistake as the CTR was so much more fun. In the end my wife took the car off me and I got a Honda S2000.

I still like the looks of them but it's certainly not a car that I dream of owning again. The version after this one was even worse.


2,187 posts

134 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
From a time when Audi were still cool....


158 posts

121 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
I'd echo nice and competent at the time, but ultimately not exciting...although I kept it for seven years so probably got a bit bored. Other than being a top of the range VAG I can't see it being a classic. Harsh ride with quite a lot of roll, plus fairly laggy traction control (hit a bump/pothole on a corner and wait, wait, wait...and finally go even at lowish speeds). Sub 20mpgs around London not great either.

Plus it put me off Audi dealers for life, >£400 for a first service in '01 and couldn't fix the Xenon adjusters.


3,419 posts

169 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
A very handsome car, that gen A3. Who in there right mind would get something so dull as a weekend car though? For me a classic has to be something you look forward to driving. If that's an S3, you need to expand your horizons.


4,254 posts

140 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
A true modern classic? Please FRO as you're over-egging the pudding.


2,453 posts

223 months

Wednesday 17th October 2018
quotequote all
I bought a T plate ex demo just after Audi reduced the RRP for the new cars, so at a substantial discount. Ran it for 2 years/30k then sold it for ~£1k less than I paid for it so it was good value if nothing else.

I always felt Audi should have launched a proper RS3 version of the mark 1 with substantially more power as the S3 always felt that it could take more power and was a bit boring stock compared to other similar cars of the era. When I was looking at S3s I had a go in a modified Golf GTI (was the dealer principles wife's car) that was similar power that felt much better to drive. Was put off because stock vs. modified for a nearly new car isn't my ideal scenario due to warranty concerns.

The interior and fit/finish was amazing for a small hatchback of the time. Big part of why I bought a TT and Golf R later on was because I did enjoy my S3. I'd buy a current RS3 if I didn't believe it would get stolen as my R did.