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.
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
What is it?