The cooking versions of the new Audi A3 have already gone down well, with awards and reviews heaping accolades on its smart but conservative character. Par for the course, then. This being PH we've waited for the 300hp S3
before getting in on the new A3 party, all the while hopeful that the praise heaped on the dynamic ability of the new MQB platform
on which this and the new Golf GTI
are based live up to the hype. With the S3 going up against the BMW M135i
it's going to have to.
Smart but conservative. Par for the course, then...
So, the new S3, then. To look at, it's... well, as you might expect, really. Sharp in all the right places, with a hint of menace, but very much in-keeping with Audi's design language and a short step from the old car, rather than a huge leap. 'Implied' air vents in the front bumper, as Audi describes them, raised a chuckle, but the rest is a tad on the dour side - though it should be said that the M135i isn't the world's greatest looker either.
Inside, more of the same. The dash is nicely built and looks OK, but there's not much in here to distinguish S3 from A3, with the exception of some natty sports seats. The optional one-piece jobs are even better, mind, and look great with diamond-stitch quilting.
So far, so S3, then, but is it the same story out on the road? Well, in a word, yes. There's still the same plentiful grip from the Haldex style Quattro system, here set up with a 95:5 front/rear bias, making it to all intents and purposes a front driver under full-friction conditions. The system can divert up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear wheels, after which point the ESC starts to cut in and brake the front wheels.
Balance and grip are superb
That rarely happens, though, as the chassis balance is excellent with the standard suspension; remarkably neutral and exceptionally forgiving. It's utterly consistent and will perform faithfully in the exact same way, corner after corner, without any surprises. Same goes for the steering, which is a progressive system, but doesn't feel invasive with it. However, it is rather dull and wooden - it feels as though Audi has added weight to compensate for a lack of feel, giving it an appealingly solid meatiness but without much in the way of involvement. Audi does offer its Magnetic Ride Damper Control system as an option on the S3, and it can be adjusted through the Drive Select system; however, we're not sure it needs it.
The new from the ground up 2.0-litre TFSI engine doesn't quite tick all the boxes aurally - there's an electromechanical sound actuator in the bulkhead that feeds sound into the cabin, as well as a sound flap in the exhaust, but despite the additional volume the S3 doesn't snarl like a Focus ST or a Megane 265. That said, the new engine is a strong bit of kit, offering 300hp and 280lb ft. That means a 0-62 time of 5.2 seconds in the manual example we're testing here, though while it's punchy, it never feels quite as fast as it is.
Interior solid, but could be more special
That's actually a sentiment you can apply to much of the new S3. For many it'll be the perfect hot hatch, combining all-weather performance, balance, comfort, fuel economy and quality into a smart-looking package that's competitively priced. It's good to drive fast, too. And for that combination of talents, it should be applauded. However, it lacks that final layer of sparkle that'd make it a truly great hot hatch - and for that reason, those seeking truly exhilarating driving thrills will probably be better off elsewhere. No need yet for the M135i to be quaking in its boots.
Engine: 1,984cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual (6-speed S Tronic optional), four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,800-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.2 sec (S Tronic: 4.9 sec)
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
MPG: 40.4 (NEDC combined; S Tronic; 40.9)
Price: £30,500 (S Tronic: £31,980)