What is it?
You don’t need much in the way of deductive powers here: it’s a saloon version of the Audi S3. After Audi’s recent decision to create a four-door A3, mostly for those regions of the world that still like boots, the company has made the next logical jump and commissioned an S3 variant. The S3 saloon is fitted with the same 297bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine that powers its hatchback sister. UK deliveries start in February 2014, and the S3 saloon will cost £33,240 in manual form, and £34,720 with Audi’s ‘S-Tronic’ branded version of VW’s familiar DSG twin-clutch gearbox.
Predictably, the S3 saloon is mechanically identical to its hatchback sister. That means the most powerful 297bhp version of VW’s 2-litre four-cylinder TFSI turbocharged engine, which will also power the forthcoming Volkswagen Golf R. This uses ‘dual injection’ – having both direct and indirect fuel injection systems to deliver performance as well as economy. Power is sent predominantly to the front wheels, with a Haldex clutch on the rear axle transferring torque rearwards when necessary.
The S3 saloon sits on the same wheelbase as the five-door S3 Sportback (the three-door is very slightly shorter), and it weighs 1430kg with the standard six-speed manual gearbox – 35kg more than the three-door hatch. The S-Tronic twin-clutch version weighs 20kg more. Yet despite the increase in mass, Audi claims the saloon is just a tenth of a second slower than the hatch, with the manual posting a 0-62mph time of 5.3-secs and the twin-clutch managing the same benchmark in just 4.9-secs.
How does it drive?
We’re sticking with the script here: very similarly to the S3 hatchback. Indeed, from the driver’s seat (and without a chance to glance in the rear-view mirror), we doubt you’d be able to tell the two cars apart.
The engine is a cracker – pulling hard and with a rorty soundtrack that encourages you to indulge its appetite for revs. It’s tractable when used gently, although there’s some lag below about 2000rpm if you try to wake it up too quickly. We tested a car with the optional S-Tronic, which delivered quick responses – even to requests for multiple downchanges – although the steering wheel paddles feel too light.
The big issue remains the steering, with the electrical assistance’s synthesised feedback giving little impression what the front end is really thinking. Grip levels are predictably high, and the chassis has a nice, neutral balance at higher speeds, but the S3 saloon shows no enthusiasm for exploring the area where adhesion starts to fade: the front end always seems to run out of grip first.
We tested the car it the south of France, where the super smooth road surfaces flattered the S3 saloon’s ride quality. Even so, switching the Drive Select system to its ‘Dynamic’ mode firmed up the adjustable dampers to an uncomfortable degree – and we know that the hatchback really struggles when asked to deal with UK roads. ‘Dynamic’ mode also adds extra weight to the steering, but does nothing to increase feel.
On the plus side, the S3 saloon is a real looker, with its shape, stance and proportions working far better than those of the dumpy Sportback. The well-finished cabin is a great place to spend time in, too.
How does it compare?
The S3 saloon pretty much has its part of the world to itself. Its closest competitor is the Mercedes CLA 45 AMG – although the Merc is both quicker and more expensive. BMW doesn’t have a direct rival at the moment, although it’s likely we’ll see a saloon spin-off from the forthcoming 2-series coupe.
The S3 saloon also seems set to cause headaches within the Audi family – it’s got nearly as much power as the S4 saloon, and actually posts a quicker 0-62mph time.
Anything else I should know?
Audi claims a 40.9mpg combined economy figure for the S-Tronic, although on our experience you’d have to be driving very gently to get anywhere near that. Low 30s is probably the best you could hope for in real world use.
Rear seat space is good, and the boot is larger than that of the S3 hatch.