First Drive: Can the Audi S3 Saloon continue to be the ideal everyday sports car?

What is it?

Audi S3 saloon
The S3 sits lower than the regular A3

The Audi S3 is arguably one of the smash hits of practical performance cars in the UK. It’s immensely popular, owing to its everyday practicality and well-made interior, as well as its variety of the used market, too.

But now, there’s a new one. With an updated platform, more power and even greater technology than before, it’s certainly well-equipped to make as many waves as its predecessor did. We’ve been behind the wheel to find out.

What’s new?

Audi S3 saloon
The S3’s large grille is hard to miss

Off the bat, things look quite, well, familiar. We’ve got the must-have quattro all-wheel-drive system, as well as a lowered ride height over the standard A3 and a smattering of go-faster design touches. The trademark quad exhaust outlets have been retained from the old S3, too.

We’re driving it in saloon specification – as opposed to the traditional hatchback (or Sportback, in Audi-lingo) which means that it does look a little longer and a little sleeker than usual.

But the power across the S3 range has been beefed up – more on that in a moment – while the car’s ride has been revised to make it easier to live with on a daily basis.

What’s under the bonnet?

Audi S3 saloon
The S3 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine

The Audi S3 is powered by a familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine which has seen much use across the wider Volkswagen Group, as well as in the previous-generation car. Power, however, has been stoked up to 306bhp while torque rests at 400Nm. Driven through a seven-speed automatic gearbox to all four wheels, it’s enough shove to send the S3 from 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds before settling at a top speed of 155mph.

What’s it like to drive?

Audi S3 saloon
The S3 corners with minimal fuss

In classic S3 fashion, this latest model is well-judged for use on a day to day basis. The ride, it must be said, sits on the firm side and over broken surfaces translates a fair bit of jostle through to the cabin.

The engine, meanwhile, sits below the radar when you’re pootling around town; there’s little murmur from the exhaust, while the gears slip along undetected. All in, this is as easy to drive as a standard A3.

The seating position is slightly odd, with this tester finding the front section of the seat to be tilted slightly more upwards than you might expect.

But throw some pace into the mix and the S3 is very impressive. There’s some lag initially as the turbo spools up, but once it’s up to speed the 2.0-litre engine deals some serious performance out. And of, course, there’s that added security brought as a result of the all-wheel-drive system. The whole driving experience feels very assured and composed, if not the most exciting.

How does it look?

Audi S3 saloon
Silver elements help brighten up the car’s look

Our car, in saloon layout, brings the classic Audi ‘less is more’ approach to performance-car styling. Yes, you’ve got those standout exhaust pipes and some mildly flared arches, but this is one understated package overall.

Our test car’s bright red exterior paint colour certainly helped to liven up things up a bit, but pick a more subtle shade and this could be the ideal undercover performance car.

We still think the hatchback bodystyle suits the S3 the best – but that’s just our opinion. Those who prefer a sleeker, more coupe-style way of getting from A to B will likely find the saloon variant the more appealing option.

What’s it like inside?

Audi S3 interior
The S3’s interior is made up of high-quality materials

The interior of the S3 is designed around a new architecture – one we’ve already seen applied to the regular A3 and the Volkswagen Golf, too. We’re not huge fans of the stubby gear selector – which appears on all of these models – but a by-product of its fitment is that the central area of the car feels spacious and de-cluttered.

This feeling continues upwards where there’s minimal use of physical buttons. Most of the controls are centred around the main infotainment system – though we’ll look at that in a little more depth later.

Audi S3 saloon
The saloon’s boot offers a decent amount of space

The build quality is excellent, however, with wide use of tip-top materials which combine to create a well-balanced and high-quality feeling interior. When it comes to boot space, there are 325 litres of seats-up space to play with. Again, if you’re after a more practical option then we’d lean towards the Sportback variant as its hatchback opening gives you easier access to the boot compared with this saloon.

What’s the spec like?

Audi S3 saloon
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display comes as standard on the S3

The S3 is a car which really does seem like excellent value when it comes to on-board technology, with the car’s sub-£40,000 starting price brings a whole host of additions to keep even the keenest of tech fans happy.

The bulk of it is centred around the new infotainment display, which is now your main access point for many of the car’s key controls. It’s clear and easy to use, while retaining the clear fonts that we’ve seen on other recent Audi models like the A6 and e-tron.

Audi S3 saloon
The touch-sensitive volume dial isn’t as intuitive as the old physical dial

But thankfully, the S3 has kept physical controls for the heating and ventilation, which makes them far easier to adjust than with a touchscreen-controlled setup. It might not be as high-tech as other models in this respect, but we think that this is one area of a car’s cabin which is worth keeping old-school. In contrast, the old volume knob has been replaced by a new touch-sensitive circle which adjusts the audio; it’s less effective than the older control, so why change it?

Verdict

The new S3 brings just what you’d want from this type of Audi; solid, secure performance which is wrapped up in a package which is both pleasing to the eye and well-built throughout.

However, the driving experience it delivers isn’t the most exciting nor the most involving. It feels much like a go-faster A3 rather than a dedicated performance model. That said, as a car to bring a touch more zip to your daily drive then the S3 does remarkably well, while thanks to a spacious interior and a well-sized boot, it’s more than up to the task of being used each and every day.

  • Model: Audi S3
  • Model as tested: S3 Saloon
  • Price: £41,475
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 306bhp
  • Torque: 400Nm
  • Max speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.6 seconds
  • MPG: 36.2
  • Emissions: 179g/km CO2
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