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Driven: Audi S3 Saloon. Image by Audi UK.

Driven: Audi S3 Saloon
Installing the Audi S3ís running gear in the Saloonís body produces another entertaining four-door rocket. But is it truly brilliant too?

   



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Audi S3 Saloon

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: seems to handle - and ride - a little better than the 310hp Sportback

Not so good: for all its expense, it's still not the last word in driver thrills

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi S3 Saloon
Price: Audi A3 Saloon range from £26,335; S3 from £38,465, car as tested £41,475
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic, quattro all-wheel drive with electronically controlled multi-plate clutch
Body style: four-door performance saloon
CO2 emissions: 178g/km (VED Band 171-190: £895 in year one, then £490 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 36.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Power: 310hp at 5,450-6,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 2,000-5,450rpm
Boot space: 325 litres

Our view:

Merging the attributes of the latest Audi S3 Sportback with the body of the tidy Saloon derivative, this is the expected four-door version of the German company's 310hp sub-RS performance car.

And it's a model that historically we've liked. There's something about the crisper, leaner form of the Saloon which suits the subtle Audi S visual treatment, including the de rigueur quad exhausts, big air intakes and silver detailing. Although that subtlety is somewhat lost by painting the car in the vivid yet magnificent Turbo Blue metallic (£575) and then upsizing the S3's standard 18s to a set of five-arm trapezoid 19-inch alloys in titanium matte (£770). Regardless, there's no doubt the S3 Saloon looks splendid and purposeful on the outside, while the cabin is every bit as good as the Sportback's interior and continues to have the Saloon merits of plenty of space in the second row, as well as a decent boot. Weirdly, the S3 Saloon is claimed to have the same 325 litres of capacity as the S3 Sportback, when the regular A3 Saloon has 425 litres, which is in excess of the 380 litres of the regular A3 Sportback; so, presumably, those rear driveshafts for the quattro system require greater packaging solutions in the Saloon when compared to the Sportback.

No matter - this is still a practical and, in the main, peerless model. We say peerless because, apart from two of the three rivals listed at the bottom of this piece - both of which are obvious German alternatives but both of which are also marketed as four-door 'coupes', rather than saloons like the Audi - there really is nothing quite like the S3 Saloon. It has the sort of searing performance and quality air to it of big supersaloons costing 50 per cent extra on top of its already-robust asking price, and it does look the part too.

Oddly enough, it also drives in a more engaging and yet also comfortable fashion than the Sportback. Years ago, when we owned a Ford Mondeo ST220 Estate, we used to go on the forums and the owners of the rarer four-door Saloon model of the V6 machine claimed it was better to drive than its two five-door stablemates, because it had an extra rear bulkhead behind the back seats to improve its torsional rigidity. It sounded like daft, intra-forum bolshiness at the time, and of course everyone knows that 'estates > saloons' in all corners of the motoring world, but we've got no better explanation for why, here in 2021, the S3 Saloon is our preferred car out of it and its Sportback sibling.

Across 393 miles, far, far longer than we drove the Python Yellow Sportback at the turn of the year, we never once found the Saloon's ride to be overly firm or crashy, something we experienced with the hatchback version on more than one occasion during a 50-mile loop of the Cotswolds on a frigid December morning. And yet the Saloon didn't feel any less alert or agile than the Sportback, turning in keenly, summoning up massive grip and impeccable traction, offering decent albeit not fantastic steering and generally proving itself most capable. It's seriously quick, too, the S tronic-and-EA888 drivetrain always ready to fire forward at a moment's notice. And the refinement means that doing long distances in the S3 feels like doing long distances in a pseudo-S8. On one motorway run, we got 41.3mpg from the S3 Saloon and its weekly average of 33.6mpg was none too shabby, considering how we drove it when we were away from the bigger, faster yet more trafficked roads of our national network. As one of those deeply assured, competent and swift all-rounders Audi has a solid reputation for making, the S3 Saloon is one of the best.

But while it was undoubtedly more rewarding to drive than the S3 Sportback, the margin between the two 310hp Audis wasn't quite big enough for us to bump up the Saloon's overall mark for this review. It's still a rather buttoned-down, reserved car, one where some of the magic of owning a hot hatch (or hot saloon, we're not sure on the exact definition here) is diluted in favour of easily-accessible-to-all speed. In truth, what this S3 feels like is a model clearly demarcated to leave some headroom at the top of the range for an inevitable RS 3 Saloon. And because of that, the S3 doesn't quite feel like it is all it could be cracked up to be. So while we admire it and even like it, a lot, we can't quite bring ourselves to give the Audi S3 Saloon anything other than a somewhat predictable eight-out-of-ten. Which, er... translates to four stars in our rating system. Yes.

Alternatives:

BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe: you need your head testing if you think the lumpfish of a car that is this M235i looks even half as good as the S3 Saloon. And as the BMW doesn't drive any better than the Audi as compensation - in fact, it's probably worse - then we'd be having this S3 instead, all day long.

Honda Civic Type R: in the absence of any four-door rivals for the S3 Saloon, we revert to a Sportback alternative. Not all will like the Honda's looks. And the CTR's cabin is destroyed by the Audi's interior. But as an all-year-round performance car to thrill and soothe in equal measure? Incredibly enough, the Civic is the winner. It's quite mesmerically brilliant.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35: the '35'-badged AMGs seem to benefit from some of the glister of the bonkers '45 S' models reflecting onto them. The CLA 35 is, like its stablemates, very fast, hugely grippy and it looks smart enough, outside and in. But it doesn't reset any dynamic parameters with its foursquare handling.


Matt Robinson - 2 Mar 2021



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2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.

2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.2021 Audi S3 Saloon UK test. Image by Audi UK.








 

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