Here's the new benchmark for hot hatch acceleration: the 261bhp Audi S3 quattro. Up there with the most powerful hot hatches – the 261bhp BMW 130i and Volkswagen's 250bhp Golf R32 – the S3 is due in the UK in January 2007. Audi claims it despatches the 0-62mph sprint in an impressive 5.7sec. While the BMW and VW run six-cylinder engines, Audi has opted for a high performance version of the Golf GTi's four-cylinder turbo, sending power to all four wheels. A beefy bodykit and 18-inch rims mark out the three-door S3, while the classy cockpit is kitted out with bucket seats, a Bose stereo and automatic air-con. But all that kit means it won't come cheap. Audi is predicting a list price around £27,000 – around £7k more than a Golf GTi.
Under the skin
The headline news is that Audi has overhauled the 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine, pictured here in the A4. A bigger turbocharger generates 1.2 bar of boost pressure, while a revised intercooler chills the air and makes it extra dense, so that more can be crammed into the cylinders. The results are explosive. Peak power is 265bhp at 6000rpm, with 258lb ft of torque delivered at 2500rpm. The block and internal components have been stiffened to cope with the extra grunt. Transmission is via a close ratio, six-speed manual gearbox and a Haldex clutch that typically splits power 50:50 between axles. The mods don't end with the engine. Stiffer suspension, a fractionally lowered body and a quicker rack should make the S3 feel taut and agile. And bigger, black painted callipers peep out through those multi-spoke alloys. The free-revving S3 hits 62mph from standstill in 5.7sec, almost half a second quicker than BMW's 130i. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
Design: hot hatch, Audi-style
Audi's designers clearly took inspiration from Hannibal Lecter’s face mask. As if the singleframe grille isn't intimidating enough, it's underlined by a secondary aperture and ground-stroking chin spoiler. The ducts around the driving lamps are super-sized, too, and those piercing xenon headlamps standard. At the back, there's a discrete wing, and twin pipes poking through the diffuser. The look is gentleman thug.
In the cockpit
There's a similar sporty makeover inside. The drilled aluminium fairy has been at the pedals, gear knob and vents, while the dials look handmade in Switzerland. Big bucket seats clamp you in place. And just in case you forget where you are, the S3 badge adorns the flat bottomed wheel, instrument pack, gearstick and kick plates.