This is the new Audi S3, a mid-tier hot hatchback and small saloon that plugs the gap between the new regular A3 and the forthcoming five-cylinder RS3. Like the standard A3 there are no three-door hatchback or cabriolet models this time around, instead it’s been designed to offer a very specific combination of premium hatchback with just enough performance to justify the S badge.
The new S3 hasn’t strayed far from the previous model mechanically, underpinned by a similar MQB platform, albeit significantly updated, and the tried-and-tested combination of an EA888 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, a Haldex-style all-wheel drive system and seven-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission. This builds on the new A3’s marginally bigger body (+30mm longer) fresh interior, tech and design language. There is no manual option for the new S3, which isn’t surprising given Audi hasn’t offered one since 2017.
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Unfortunately, the new S3 won’t be picking up the new EVO4 variant of the EA888 engine that will appear in the forthcoming Golf R, instead it makes do with the previous engine almost wholesale with figures rated at 306bhp and 295lb ft, a 10bhp rise over the previous S3. Another piece of VW tech that hasn’t been applied to the Audi is a torque-vectoring rear differential, instead the S3 utilises a centrally-mounted clutch pack ahead of the rear axle to vary power front-to-rear.
While the lack of progress on the S3 might seem disappointing, it’s typical of Audi’s model hierarchy to leave the big power gains and tech breakthroughs to its RS flagships. Instead, the S3 is carefully placed to appeal to the buyer it cultured with the first S3 back in 1998. So popular has the premium 300bhp hot hatchback become, it’s one that BMW and Mercedes now operate in with almost spooky levels of congruency.
Performance is on a par with these key rivals as a result, reaching 62mph in 4.8sec; identical to the BMW M135i and only 0.1sec behind the Mercedes-AMG A35. Both of the S3’s premium rivals have a 4bhp power deficiency, but it does share its torque figure with the A35 (295lb ft). The BMW’s 332lb ft outdoes both.
The new S3’s suspension has been re-tuned against standard A3 S-Line models, with a subtle 15mm drop in ride height and optional adaptive dampers that are selectable within the S3’s numerous Drive Select driver modes.
What has changed is the S3’s aesthetic, sharing its exterior design wholesale with lesser S-Line A3 models, save for the typical quad style exhaust pipes and bigger brakes. European-spec models will come with an 18-inch wheel and tyre package as standard although 19s will be optional, and a likely inclusion as standard on higher-specification UK models. Saloon models share the same aesthetic consistency, but do include a subtle rear lip spoiler.
Inside, new sports seats and Audi Sport’s flat-bottomed steering wheel are core identifiers of the S3, not forgetting the red-finish to the starter button placed on the centre console. While the interior is certainly a step up in tech, with the new high-resolution displays and glassy finishes, the distinction against its predecessor does shine a light on the shrinking gap between the S3’s perceived quality and its supposedly lesser Cupra Leon and Golf GTI cousins.
UK customers will pay £37,900 for the five-door Sportback and £38,465 for the saloon.