UK Drive: Is the new Audi S3 the all-rounder it has always been?

The S3 is seen as one of the best day-to-day performance hatchbacks. Have recent updates changed that? Jack Evans finds out.

Audi’s new logos are on the front of the S3
Audi S3 Audi’s new logos are on the front of the S3

What is it?

Audi has sharpened up the S3’s exterior
Audi has sharpened up the S3’s exterior

Audi’s S3 has always been seen as the kind of car to deliver in all types of situations. As a practical hatchback, it’s formed around a layout which can bring the boot space and interior roominess that you’d expect from a ‘normal’ day-to-day car, yet with a potent engine and four-wheel-drive it’s always had the kind of performance that could give supercar drivers a bit of a shock away from the lights.

But quite often, the S3 was criticised for being a little cold. Effective, yes, but not the kind of car that would keep a grin on your face. Audi is aiming to address that with this updated version which, alongside some key exterior changes, introduces some mechanical upgrades which should help elevate the overall driving experience.

What’s new?

The S3 has always been understated in design
The S3 has always been understated in design

From the outside, things are quite subtle. You may notice that the S3 now wears Audi’s new ‘flat’ logo – which is designed to be easier to read in digital formats – while across the car there’s a more blackened, undercover approach in the variety of badges and details. It’s much the same story inside, too, where it’s all rather similar to how it was before albeit with more extensive ambient lighting to help add some drama.

While the engine that the S3 is powered by may be largely similar to that of its predecessor – more on that shortly – Audi has equipped this car with bigger brakes and a torque-splitter at the rear differential, which helps to more accurately place the power where it is most useful.

What’s under the bonnet?

More power has been extracted from the 2.0-litre engine
More power has been extracted from the 2.0-litre engine

Look under the bonnet of the S3 and you’ll find the familiar 2.0-litre EA888 unit that has made such an impact across the entire Volkswagen Group. Power, however, has risen from 306bhp to 329bhp while torque increases from 400Nm to 420Nm. They’re both substantial increases and move the S3 even further away from ‘warm’ into the territory of ‘hot’. Audi has also fettled the turbocharger to improve its responsiveness and reduce lag, too.

As before, it’s driven to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and Audi’s famous quattro system, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. Efficiency isn’t too bad for such a high-out engine with a claim of 34mpg being a touch under what we saw during our time with the car, which ended up as close to 40mpg on a long motorway run.

What’s it like to drive?

The Sportback makes for a practical choice
The Sportback makes for a practical choice

The S3’s assured performance in day-to-day driving is just what we’d expect from this model. You can drive it in a sedate fashion and, slightly firm ride aside, it’s just as easy to get along with as a ‘regular’ A3 model. Visibility is good and the exhaust can be toned down to simply burble away in the background. It’s quite an understated model, too, so it doesn’t attract too much attention when you’re out and about.

Tweaks to the turbocharger and the engine’s mapping make the S3 far more urgent than before and alongside the extra power output means that this hatchback accelerates hard when you need it to. The steering is nicely weighted too and when combined with the security that all-wheel-drive brings makes the S3 confidence-inspiring in the bends. Thankfully, there’s some agility to go alongside it and with the new rear torque splitter the S3 feels a little keener in the corners than before.

How does it look?

The Matrix headlights are very powerful
The Matrix headlights are very powerful

As we’ve touched upon, the changes made to the S3’s exterior are quite subtle. The previous car was no ugly duckling, mind you, so we can’t blame Audi for keeping the rulebook intact. Tweaks here and there – including those ‘flat’ badges – do help to brighten things up.

As with other ‘S’ models, the S3 is quite understated in how it conveys its performance. In fact, when you look at some of the ‘regular’ versions of the A3 in S Line trim, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the two apart. It’s only the quad exhaust pipes on this quicker version that showcase it as something a little bit different.

What’s it like inside?

Extra performance makes the S3 even more appealing
Extra performance makes the S3 even more appealing

Inside the S3 you’ll find plenty of the high-quality materials that you’d expect from an Audi. The sports seats, with their quilted pattern, are well-shaped and nail a good balance between comfort and support – when you’re moving a little more quickly they do well to keep you held in place.

As a Sportback model – the S3 is also available as a saloon – the S3 is a practical option too. The 325-litre boot is square and easy to access, while you can lower the rear seats and expand that to a useful 1,145 litres. If you’re after a performance car that can really deliver when you need space, the S3 makes for a very viable option.

What’s the spec like?

The quilted seats are comfortable
The quilted seats are comfortable

Things kick off at £47,520 for the S3 which is a considerable amount more than the next-most-expensive A3 model which comes in at £33,460 for a well-equipped Black Edition model. Of course, what you’re paying for here is the extra performance and that’s something the S3 offers in spades.

But there’s plenty of equipment on-board, too. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit setup ahead of the driver is just as clear and easy to read as always, while the large central screen has plenty of functionality built-in – though it did glitch for us on more than one occasion. The Matrix LED headlights on our test car were really impressive, however, and provided a huge amount of illumination while bringing the ability to ‘split’ the high beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic.


The Audi S3 is an impressively rounded thing. In Sportback guise, as we’ve driven here, it’s got the practicality that you’d want from a ‘regular’ hatch alongside a robust sense of built quality and lots of high-end materials. It’s comfortable when it needs to be, too, and can deliver reasonable efficiency on those longer journeys.

While the exterior changes might be subtle, the tweaks that have been made underneath the S3 now mean it’s a little more engaging than before, plugging a gap that had been left for quite some time. The end result? A car that is even more compelling than ever.

  • Model as tested: Audi S3 Sportback
  • Price: £47,520
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
  • Power: 329bhp
  • Torque: 420Nm
  • Max speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
  • MPG: 34mpg
  • Emissions: 194g/km