Audi S3 (2013-2020) review – ride and handling
Grip levels are high on the S3, and the chassis balance is neutral, if more inclined to understeer than oversteer
Unimpeachable, that’s how we’d describe the S3. It’s fast, yet completely trustworthy as there’s so much grip and traction. The initial feeling is that the S3 has been engineered to be so dependable that no matter how communicative the car might be, it’d never have to feed back where the limits of grip were because you’d never actually reach them. However, the S3 doesn’t completely defy physics and once you’ve bullied it beyond its grip threshold you realise there still isn’t anything particularly useful being fed to you through the steering.
But there’s still loads of grip – more than enough for the road – and that means you can use all of the 306bhp to reach quite alarming speeds. The new wet, double clutch gearbox still delivers sharp, quick shifts. Apart from the R8’s telepathic-like transmission, the S3’s gearbox is one of the better paddle shift ‘boxes available in any car.
The S3, unlike Audis of old, rides with a lot of class. The well-padded seats take up a lot of the bumps, but still very few knocks or thuds enter the cabin thanks to being absorbed by the suspension. With Dynamic mode selected the ride becomes a little more nervous, but with that comes tighter body control and, most noticeably, less roll. The stiffness of the dampers changes depending on which driving mode the car is in, but they also adapt to the driver’s style and road conditions to retain as much ride quality as possible.
You can have the S3 with Audi’s optional magnetic ride suspension (standard on the Saloon). The oil in each damper has small magnetic particles circulating within it. When a voltage is applied through the oil, the particles orient themselves perpendicular to the flow and cause the oil to move through the valves in the damper at a slower rate. Switching the Drive Select system to its ‘Dynamic’ mode firms up the adjustable dampers – again fair enough if you can find a suitably smooth playground – but, in this mode, the S3 really struggles to make sense of typical UK roads. ‘Dynamic’ mode also adds extra weight to the steering, but does nothing to increase feel.
Turn-in always feels strong, and the S3 will change direction almost instantly. The small amounts of roll mean the Audi reacts immediately to any steering input. With such strong turn-in grip, the S3 encourages even faster corner entry and deals with anything but the most aggressive movements without any drama.
After you’ve shot into a fast corner, and you’ve started to apply some throttle as you’re exiting, the Audi's nose begins to push wide. The new S3 supposedly sends more torque to the rear axle than before. However, in long fast corners especially, it certainly doesn’t feel that way; you’re only ever trying to minimise understeer when you apply the throttle rather than manage any oversteer.
The S3 isn’t completely inert, though. On tighter corners with the traction in its loosest setting (it can’t be fully turned off), the S3 can feel quite playful. If you’re aggressive with both the brakes and steering on corner entry, you’ll initially you feel a touch of understeer. However, stay committed and the rear will start to slide wide. It can be immediately gathered up with some throttle, and the lack of body roll helps keep everything easily controllable.
The S3 isn't the most dramatic of cars; it goes very quickly in an almost faultless, hassle-free manner. The hints of frivolity it does show are, sadly, fleeting. Ultimately its lack of adjustability most of the time, and predisposition to understeer, deny the driver much fun.