If you are after something fast and practical perhaps a four-door saloon holds all the answers? The junior supersaloon class has been a happy hunting ground for Audi with the S3 but if that is to continue it will have to beat the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon and BMW’s M235i Gran Coupe at their own game.
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AN EXERCISE IN EVOLUTION
This new-generation S3 looks broadly similar to the car it replaces – a theme common to other nameplates in the Audi line-up – and for good reason: the previous model still looked fresh when it was retired. So, the headlight profile is unchanged and the same applies to the two-piece tail-lights. New, however, is the ‘slotted’ leading edge of the long bonnet – an apparent nod to the Group B winning Audi Sport Quattro from the Eighties – a large honeycomb grille, lightweight alloys, four functional exhausts and the usual array of skirts, spoilers and vents. Plump for ‘Vorsprung’ trim at a cost of £7,750 and you get a black styling pack, meatier 19-inch alloys, Matrix LED lights and a sports suspension with adaptive dampers.
WHAT ABOUT UNDERNEATH THE CAR?
Like its 5-door Sportback brother, the S3 Saloon uses the same platform, engine and 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox as its predecessor, with minor changes applied to the steering and suspension. It does leave you wondering what is new on the S3 – a view no doubt galvanized by the fact the same 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol has been carried across. It does come with a bit more power – 10bhp more, to be precise – that bumps the headline figure to 306bhp. And as before, this is sent to all four corners through a Haldex system for superior traction and a rocketship 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. One new feature is ‘Modular Dynamic Handling Control’ – a computerised system that links the traction control system, adaptive dampers and torque distribution so this can be sent fully to the front, or rear, axle.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM ON OUR ROADS?
As a point and squirt car there are few better in this price range, helped along by that 2-litre engine that grows stronger as you rapidly approach the redline. Despite all that firepower, there isn’t a great deal of play to be had from the chassis in the wet or dry as the Quattro system keeps you planted to the road around a bend before the torque slings you out of it. On top of fulsome brakes and steering that is accurate if a little short on feedback, it all makes the S3 an easy car to drive safe and fast. You can toggle between four drive options, from ‘Efficiency’ to ‘Dynamic’, with ‘Individual’ allowing owners to fine tune the acceleration and active dampers. Choosing the more extreme programmes also ups the synthesised 5-cylinder warble that is pumped into the cabin. It’s a different story for the exhausts because the pops and crackles they blurt out on the overrun are all real and bring a smile to the face.
WILL I NEED A CHIROPRACTOR AFTER DRIVING IT?
Thankfully not. We found that even in the harshest setting the suspension was capable of mopping up cracks and crevices on country roads, with road noise not so much of an issue considering the low-profile tyres fitted to our test car. Sticking with ‘Dynamic’ for urban driving is probably best avoided as the car tends to fidget, so for ride quality that is a little bit more forgiving ‘Comfort’ solves this particular problem. The S3 Saloon also does the basics of everyday ownership well, too. It will swallow four average-sized adults and the longer load are of the boot – which can be opened via a button on the driver’s door, just below the grab handle – pushes total volume up to 340-litres. However, being a saloon, there is the age-old problem of not having the hatchback’s versatility of a full-height opening.
A FUNCTIONAL, ON SONG INTERIOR
The S3 Saloon’s interior is the biggest change over its predecessor. This time round you will find piano black plastics, carbon fibre inserts and metal accents instead of soft-touch materials. The heated and electrically adjustable sports seats are plush and really catch the eye with their yellow stitching; they ooze sophistication and the same applies to the sharp and easy-to-use 10.1-inch infotainment system. It works via touch inputs only but does provide haptic feedback to indicate you’ve made your desired selection from large, decipherable icons. A 10.25-inch digital driver instrument binnacle is standard but those after the full-size 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ can have that as part of the ‘Vorsprung’ pack. Thankfully, Audi has stuck with some buttons for functions such as the engine stop/start and traction control, turning on the heated seats, adjusting the fan speed and raising or lowering the temperature in the cabin. One novelty is the small circle on the passenger’s half of the lower console that allows them to turn the radio’s volume up or down by running their figure in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction.
PROS AND CONS
+ Refined and quick
+ Slick-shifting gearbox
+ Fantastic spec and tech
– Cabin quality is patchy
– Rivals are more rewarding
– Boot space takes a hit
S SUSPENSION: Relying on active dampers as opposed to traditional passive springs, the S3 Saloon’s Sport Suspension can be adjusted via the centre touchscreen to best suit the roads you are driving on. On the optional 19-inch rims the car still rides neatly on out-of-town roads when ‘Dynamic’ is chosen. Keep things in ‘Comfort’ and the sense of calm is even greater as the engine sound is dialled back a notch, too.
INTERIOR: If you opt for the regular S3 Saloon, the cabin still comes with all the technology and creature comforts you could wish for, including Audi’s configurable driver display. The near £8,000 commanded by ‘Vorsprung’ is off-set by a wireless smartphone charging pad, ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof and a Bang and Olufsen sound system. It also ups the number of driver safety devices considerably.
STYLING: Riding 15mm closer to the road than the everyday saloon, the S3 also has a more aggressive front-end design that features air vents, a honeycomb grille and a special three-slot arrangement just below the bonnet that harks back to the company’s S1 Group B rally car. The rear is defined by quad exhausts that play a sweet tune, and a boot-lid spoiler and diffuser for the lower half of the back bumper.
PRACTICALITY: Longer and wider before makes the S3 Saloon a more enjoyable experience for those travelling in the back, with the extra head and leg room in both rows sure to be appreciated. The rear bench is ideally suited for two people; introduce a third person and not only will they end up rubbing shoulders but foot space will be severely restricted due to the transmission tunnel’s height.
Price: £47,555 (as tested)
Engine: 2-litre, 4cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque: 306bhp/295lb ft
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph