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First drive: Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi S3 Saloon
Audi's accomplished S3 grows a boot - and in stature.

 



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| First Drive | Monte Carlo, Monaco | Audi S3 saloon |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Audi's quattro division bestows its 'entry-level' model with a separate boot and gives birth to the stylish S3 Saloon. The best news is that the dynamics match up to the exterior promise.

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi S3 Saloon
Pricing: £34,720 as tested with S tronic (£33,240 for the manual model)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed dual clutch automatic, quattro four-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: BMW M135i, Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, Volkswagen Golf R
CO2 emissions: 159g/km (162g/km manual)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg combined (40.4mpg manual)
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds (5.3 seconds manual)
Power: 300hp at 5,500- to 6,200rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1,800- to 5,500rpm

In the Metal: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

The S3 is well-proportioned and to some (including me) will be a preferable shape to the hatch/Sportback versions. It's very obviously a quattro GmbH production and looks truly premium - like a shrunken S8. With crisp swage lines, a subtle but effective body kit and a coupé-esque profile, it's a good-looking creation. It is equally appealing whether it is finished in a subtle colour like Daytona Grey or a more arresting shade such as Misano Red.

It might be obvious to say this by now, but the interior is beyond reproach. Audi's cabins remain at the top of the class compared to any rival creations and you'd need to get into something way up the scale, like a Bentley or Range Rover, to find better materials and ergonomics. In terms of the sportiness required for the S version, the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel couples with excellent front seats and a good driving position to make the S3 Saloon feel fit for purpose before you've even fired the engine into life.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

This is the best part of the package, as quattro GmbH has an infuriating tendency to drop the ball on dynamics from one hot Audi to the next. However, the S3 Saloon can definitely be filed under the 'hit' column, chiefly due to a supple ride. The S3 has magnetic dampers as standard and they work a treat at giving the Saloon both rigid body control and also the ability to filter out surface imperfections before they reach the cabin. There is a de facto 'drive select' button to adjust various settings (steering, damper rates, throttle response and gearshift speed) accordingly, but even in sportiest Dynamic mode, the S3 never becomes uncomfortable. It's also noticeably smoother in Comfort for motorway schlepping, which is excellent.

There is a manual gearbox for the S3 but we drove the S tronic dual-clutch automatic version and it remains a superb way of utilising the Audi's grip and power to deliver phenomenal drive out of bends. It was a bit dim-witted when exiting the tightest Alpine hairpins with a lot of throttle, but other than that was fine, with a neat little pop from the exhaust on full-bore upshifts. The sequential set-up on the gear-lever is the 'wrong' way round, though, as you have to push forward to go up a gear and pull back for down. There are decently-weighted paddles on the steering wheel to use as an alternative.

The brakes are exceptional, both in terms of pedal feel and bite, while there is little evidence of understeer, even through low- and medium-speed bends on the throttle. At 1,450kg in S tronic trim, and with a 59-41 front-rear weight bias, the S3's lack of nose-led antics is deeply impressive - although, in true quattro style, it's more about huge grip rather than neutral chassis balance, which might not please everyone.

It's not flawless, as the electromechanical steering feels oddly detached around dead centre; it's less noticeable in Dynamic mode but in the Comfort setting you can move the wheel from side to side quite markedly without the nose reacting at all. However, it's fair to say that the feedback and feel of hydraulic systems is something of the past, and judged against similar electrically-assisted systems from other manufacturers, the Audi's rack has a consistency and good amount of weighting to make it a pleasurable enough thing to use.

The other problem is the noise, as the S3 has an artificially augmented sound that is OK, but the general blare of a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is always present. Still, it's an exceptionally strong unit in terms of straight-line performance and you quickly forget it has forced induction, so linear is the power delivery. Overall, despite a few minor niggles, the S3 Saloon proved an entertaining companion over a challenging, twisty road in the Alps and there was a wonderful cohesion about all the major controls; we hope it can replicate this achievement on the UK B-roads.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

The S3 Saloon is well priced at £34,720 for an S tronic model, undercutting the similarly all-wheel drive, four-door Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 by more than £7,500, and for that you get leather, climate, 19-inch alloys, Bluetooth and DAB. As it's a German car, however, there are plenty of options you can spec, which will push the price up considerably, but even so, you can load it with such fripperies as MMI Navigation Plus, adaptive cruise control, lane assist and a Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker surround sound system, and you'd probably still not be at the Merc's list price. Admittedly, the CLA has even more power...

Worth Noting

The 'new-from-the-ground-up' long-stroke TFSI engine in this S3 weighs just 148kg, which is 5kg lighter than the old S3's less powerful engine - and naturally, it is cleaner and more efficient to boot, with a quoted 40.9mpg combined economy figure not to be sniffed at.

Summary

Although an extended period behind the wheel on the UK's variety of surfaces will reveal more facets to the Audi's character, on this early showing the S3 Saloon should win plenty of fans. It's one of the rarer S/RS Audis that genuinely satisfies a driver on many counts, albeit it is not going to be quite as exciting at the limit as a rear-wheel drive car might be. But with great looks inside and out, a decent slug of practicality and a reasonable price tag, the S3 Saloon is sure to be a deserved sales success.


Matt Robinson - 13 Nov 2013









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2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.

2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Paddy McGrath.



2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi S3 saloon. Image by Audi.
 






 

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