► 2016 Audi S3 Saloon driven
► Claimed 0-62mph time of 4.6sec
► Small saloon with serious punch
Here’s a question for you. What if you really fancy a moderately fast and practical Audi but you don’t want a hatchback or cabriolet, and can’t afford an S4?
There can’t be many wandering into dealerships then posing that very same question. Regardless, Audi has an answer for them – in the shape of the S3 Saloon.
It’s a niche product for UK shores and, aimed more at the USA, Russia and China, but filling niches is what Audi does best. The sporting saloon has just been overhauled, too, so it’s time to revisit the S3 and see how it stacks up.
So what’s new?
Put the bodystyle aside for the moment. Despite Audi telling us that it doesn’t like the word ‘facelift’, the entire A3 range has just been facelifted. On the outside this means a slightly revised front and rear end, different headlights, and that’s about it. It does look a more refined design, but you’d need to line up before-and-after A3s to really notice the differences.
So, it’s an update for update’s sake rather than a notable revamp. It’s still quicker from 0-62mph than the upcoming S4, too, but the gap’s closed to 0.1 seconds now – because the bigger car is significantly quicker than its predecessor.
Is the S3 Saloon pretty much the same as before then?
Not exactly. Its flexible four-pot 2.0 now makes a better noise and has ten more horses, offering a total of 306bhp, but that doesn’t make much difference on the road. We didn’t notice the extra go while testing in-gear power delivery, but there is one other crucial upgrade in the updated S3: a new seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox.
Its primary function is to improve everyday drivability. It permits a smoother getaway than was possible with the previous six-cog ’box and delivers improved CO2 emissions and fuel economy thanks to the extra ratio.
Does it feel any different to drive?
The new S3 does feel different when compared to its predecessor. In an effort to distance the S3 from the rest of the range – to make it feel more special and justify some of the price hike - the new dual-clutch gearbox is coupled with a revised Audi-specific wet-clutch Haldex system that differs from every other Quattro in the S3’s line-up. It’s a derivation of the TT’s set-up and works with the stability control system to provide torque vectoring on both axles rather than just the front as before.
As a result, when driving quickly in Dynamic mode, the S3 can send more torque to the rear than ever – meaning you’re able to kick the tail out if you’re feeling particularly aggressive. Do so on a track, though: as ever the S3 has mighty levels of adhesion and you’ll need to be going very quickly to get it unstuck and have that tail wagging.
Isn’t the S3 an everyday performance car?
Yes, so at the other end of the scale there’s a new Efficiency mode that’ll allow the S3 to exclusively employ the front wheels at any time, rather than doing so only at motorway speeds.
Again, there are efficiency benefits here. Just keep the S3 out of Dynamic mode if you’re cruising – even on Germany’s well-kept Autobahns we found the ride just about tolerable in the adaptive dampers’ ‘Comfort’ setting. Firming them up further is a bad idea.
Nothing has been done to improve the lifeless progressive steering. The steering wheel itself has been changed, though. It now has to control the new-for-A3 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit (also found in the TT), so there are extra buttons to switch between sat-nav view and alter the size of the speedo and rev-counter.
What does this facelift update mean for the RS 3?
Audi’s development engineers wouldn’t be drawn into comment on whether the seven-speed 'box will make it all the way up to the RS, which is due for a nip-and-tuck of its own at some point soon.
They did let slip that it’s capable of dealing with more power and torque, however. We wonder whether it’ll be connected to that likeable old five-pot, or if gaining a gear will be countered by losing a cylinder in the name of economy and emissions. Hope not, because the 2.5 is probably the standout feature on Audi’s super-three.
It’s still a very likeable car, this S3 Saloon. There’s a certain Q-car appeal about a three-box car based on a hatchback, and under the skin we found genuine ability in many areas.
The new gearbox delivers a leap forward in terms of power delivery, the car’s handling has been improved and the already-smart cabin is further polished with the addition of the Virtual Cockpit.
It might be a bit smaller than most other fast saloons on sale, but it’s not much slower and it’s certainly not as common.
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