Notching it up! / #Audi-S3-Saloon
Our first drive of the highperformance #Audi-S3-Saloon
on British roads proves its prodigious performance and handling, but also its tractability and practicality…
Alongside the UK press launch of the new A3 Cabriolet, featured previously in these pages, we were also able to reacquaint ourselves with the very different dynamic ability of the new S3. Ironically, it was the Saloon version that we drove in the Spring sunshine of the New Forest while, only 24 hours later, we found ourselves cruising the Cabriolet S3 in the snowy wilderness of Sweden, but that’s another story…
While the mostly narrow and winding country roads of southern Hampshire were perfect for piloting the A3 Cabriolet around in the sunshine, they hardly provided the ideal environment to fully explore the considerable capabilities of the high-performance S3. Indeed, opening it up on one rare occasion, on a particularly long clear traffic-free stretch, soon saw the speedo hurtling past the legal limit towards three-figure speeds before we reined it in.
Hardly surprising, with more than twice the power of the 1.4 TFSI Cabriolet; propelled by the latest 300 PS version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged 16-valve four-cylinder TFSI engine, shared with Volkswagen’s new Golf R, the S3 clearly has the potential for prodigious performance. With the 6-speed twin-clutch S tronic auto transmission it is claimed to be capable of accelerating from 0-62 mph in just 4.9 seconds, with the 6-speed manual version only slightly slower at 5.3 seconds. The top speed of both is electronically limited to 155 mph. More relevant, though, is that the S3’s maximum power is developed at a modest 5500 rpm and holds up until 6200 rpm. Combined with considerable torque of 380 Nm between 1800 and 5500 rpm the power delivery is both broad and muscular, with no hint of lag, providing ready response throughout the rev range and pulling smoothly and strongly right up to the redline and just beyond. Needless to say, making a quick overtaking manoeuvre, or accelerating up to the speed of the traffic flow on the fast-moving A31 from virtual standstill on a short slip road was no problem at all.
But while the local roads didn’t lend themselves to exploiting the full performance, they did highlight the S3’s flexibility, able to cruise comfortably along and pull away cleanly from relatively low speeds. Aided by features such as cruise control, energy recuperation and stop/start, that sort of tractability is also a recipe for good fuel efficiency. Audi claims a combined economy figure of 40.4 for the manual and 40.9 mpg for the S tronic which also coasts when the driver lifts off the throttle, when running in the efficiency mode in the Drive Select menu. Needless to say, we didn’t see those sort of numbers on the trip computer, but figures in the top twenties were very welcome considering the type of predominantly point and squirt driving.
Fitted with 19-inch 5-twin-spoke Star alloys as standard, shod with 235/35 R19 Dunlop Sport Maxx on the cars we drove, the S3’s handling on lowered sports suspension (–25 mm) is very sharp and precise. With magnetic ride dampers as standard-fit, it can also be stiffened up further if required by switching Drive Select into the Sport mode. While this provides almost race car like handling on smooth main roads, hooking around roundabouts like a go-kart, we found this setting a bit too stiff and lively on some of the bumpy, choppy back roads.
On the other hand, switching into Comfort mode also makes the steering feel far too loose for the kind of control you need when threading the S3 down narrow lanes. The answer is the Individual setting where you can mix and match the different parameters; with the suspension set on Comfort to soak up the undulations and the steering on Sport to add reassuring weight, the S3 simply flowed through the switchbacks, providing a real rollercoaster of a ride, both comfortable and controlled.
Traction and braking are the S3’s other great fortés, with the latest generation of the electronically-controlled Haldex coupling four-wheel drive system shuffling power from front to rear and enabling the S3 to accelerate hard out of tight corners and to launch off the loose surface of a layby without wheelspin. With the traction and handling further enhanced by the torque vectoring via the ESC system, it provides very neutral, well balanced and agile handling, with barely a hint of understeer.
The S3 was also very stable and controlled under braking for the tight bends and steep descents, the powerful 340 mm front and 310 mm rear vented discs, with big black S3-logo’d front callipers, more than up to the task of pulling up promptly without being snatchy at low speeds when crawling in heavy traffic.
Considered overall, the S3 is the perfect all-rounder – capable of very high performance and almost race car like handling when driven in full Sport mode, but also civilised, tractable, economical and comfortable enough to serve as a full five-seater four-door family saloon. Indeed, the boot volume is actually larger than the load bay of the tailgated cars, with its capacity of 425 litres capable of absorbing 45 litres more luggage than the Sportback, and this can be increased still further by folding the split-folding rear seat backs forward. The boot lid also comes with remote-control opening from the key fob.
Particularly so perhaps with the Glacier white car we tested, the S3 has an ambivalent dynamic identity that is fully reflected in its appearance, with just the right balance of aggressive styling and mature understatement.
As well as the discreet S3 badges at front and rear, special distinguishing features are a front bumper with larger air intakes, the single-frame grille in platinum grey with horizontal twin chrome bars, Xenon plus headlights, LED running lights, mirror housings finished in matt aluminium, sill trims, a rear diffuser with two oval chrome tailpipes on each side, and the integrated boot-lid spoiler. Inside, aluminium sill trims and brushed matt aluminium inlays for the interior trim help set off the predominantly black interior with its embossed Fine Nappa leather heated front sports seats and flatbottomed three-spoke multifunction sports steering wheel.
Priced at £33,240 for the manual and £34,720 for the S tronic model, the real cost equation will depend on how far you delve into the options list, with features like the MMI Navigation Plus, lane assist and a Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker surround sound system available to tot up the bill. Indeed, the 6-speed manual test car we drove was worth nearly £40,000 by the time you’d totted up all the options fitted, including the metallic paint at £525, Technology package £1795, panoramic sunroof at £950, Bang & Olufsen sound system at £750 and various other upgrades…
Based on our experience of it so far, the S3 Saloon is a perfectly sensible and practical stylish four-door with a capacious boot, capable of potent performance and excellent driving dynamics along with reasonable fuel economy, but it will be interesting to see whether it can make its mark in a British market which traditionally tends to favour the tailgated cars. Ironically, though, its main sibling rival here in the UK may well be the forthcoming S3 Cabriolet, more of which in due course. We’ll be carrying out a comprehensive road test of the S3 Saloon shortly, for a full feature in Audi Driver.
‘The S3 Saloon is a perfectly sensible and practical stylish four-door with a capacious boot, capable of potent performance and excellent driving dynamics along with reasonable fuel economy...’
The power delivery is both broad and muscular, with no hint of lag, providing ready response throughout the rev range...’
Performance Notching it up – The S3 Saloon
0-62 mph Top speed Combined economy CO2 emissions
S3 Saloon 6-speed manual 5.3 sec 155 mph* 40.4mpg 162 g/km
S3 Saloon 6-speed S tronic 4.9 sec 155 mph* 40.9 mpg 159 g/km
* Top speed electronically limited
S3 Saloon 2.0 TFSI 300 PS 6-speed manual £33,240
S3 Saloon 2.0 TFSI 300 PS 6-speed S tronic £34,720