So the fast A3 returns. What’s the story this time?
It’s the same basic recipe: turbocharged four-pot motor and Haldex four-wheel drive system, a great cabin and a price that makes it appear suspiciously poor value beside a couple of other Volkswagen-group cars.
The old S3 was always aware of its place below the TT in the hierarchy. Presumably this one is too.
Actually this time the S3 has 265bhp, making it 65bhp beefier than the 2.0 TT and 15bhp harder than the V6. It now reaches 62mph in 5.7sec, nearly a second faster than the old 225bhp car.
But if the engine is basically the same as the one under the Golf GTi’s nose, where does the extra power come from?
The turbo and intercooler are bigger, the boost pressure has been cranked up to a lively 1.2 bar and the engine internals – stuff like the con rods and bolts – are beefed up to cope with the increased stress of 265bhp and 258lb ft.
What about this rear-drive bias we’re always hearing about these days?
Not applicable here. The rear-drive biased Quattro Audis – cars like the RS4 – all use the more basic Torsen four-wheel drive setup; the transverse-engined cars like the TT and A3 employ the more sophisticated Haldex system which is basically front-wheel drive but can throw its weight rearward when needed.
So is it fun?
That's probably not the word that we’d have used but the S3’s certainly not without merit. It’s grippy, very quick and the body control seems good, but it doesn’t exactly goad you into cranking up the pace. There’s no real point in bothering the rev limiter, so strong is the mid range pull. In fact the whole package is almost too refined, too subtle to match Audi's talk of it being a proper sports car. And it doesn’t sound particularly exciting, not like a V6 TT or Golf R32. In fact it drones a bit at motorway speeds. But then it is slightly more economical than either of those cars: it manages 31mpg on the combined cycle.
But surely it’s an appealing package
Of course, it’s an Audi. The cabin is gorgeous and you can order the optional RS flat-bottomed wheel and RS4 bucket seats, though neither the buckets, nor the standard Recaros can be dropped quite as low as those in the Golf GTi. Curious. Xenons, leather and 18-inch wheels are standard but the standard kit list isn’t exactly enormous and the exterior styling a little dull, aggressive nose aside. If there was an RS version on the way we could excuse the subtlety, but Audi says no, there are too many more important projects including the Q5 and A5 coupe.
A capable and competent fast hatch but not the barrel of laughs you might have been hoping for. The Audi’s biggest problem is its price and it’s in-house rivals: you’ll rarely miss the S3’s extra performance or four-wheel drive traction if you choose the brilliant Golf GTi instead, but you’ll certainly notice the £7k bulge in your pocket. Yes the GTi is slower and only two-wheel drive but if you do insist on more poke and the security of the Quattro drivetrain you can have Volkswagen’s equivalent, the Golf 4-Motion. It has the charismatic 3.2 V6, the option of five doors and the DSG gearbox, which can't be had on the S3, all for less than the price of the Audi. So while the S3 is a very likeable car, it's not the best way to spend £27K.