Audi S3 Review
While not the most extrovert of hot hatches, this is one of the fastest: the Audi S3 is an upmarket hatch with secure and grippy handling
Strengths & weaknesses
If you want a smart, sophisticated hot hatch that will deliver sports car levels of performance combined with everyday usability, reasonable running costs and an upmarket feel, then the Audi S3 is likely to be the car for you.
The S3 is essentially the high-performance version of the regular Audi A3. As with the A3, the car is available in a choice of two body styles, the S3 Sportback five-door hatchback and the S3 Saloon.
Aside from some extra-bright paint options, the main visual differences between the S3 and the A3 are the four exhaust pipes at the rear, plus sporty-looking side sills, door mirror caps and parts of the larger front bumper finished in either a contrasting matt silver or black.
Both versions are powered by a 310hp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with four-wheel-drive and a seven-speed 'S tronic' automatic gearbox. This makes the S3 pretty rapid for a car of this size, though the four-wheel-drive enables you to make the most of the car's power without spinning the wheels.
The S3 uses essentially the same engine and four-wheel-drive technology as the VW Golf R and Cupra Formentor - these brands all being part of the same company. Although the Golf is slightly faster, it’s actually also slightly more expensive than the Audi when new - which is a bit of a surprise given the more upmarket billing of the Audi brand.
Inside, the S3 feels very driver-focused, and there’s plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and driver's seat, but you’ll have to stretch to the top-spec Vorsprung model to get electrically adjustable seats. Sporty visual touches are relatively limited - restricted to a flat-bottomed steering wheel and diamond-shaped stitching on the seats, but then that understated, restrained feel is one of the things Audi is best known for.
Should I get an Audi S3?
✔ Great performance compared with rivals
✔ Surprisingly impressive fuel economy
✔ Understated sense of classiness inside
✘ Touchscreeen media system can be fiddly to use
✘ Lack of some standard equipment due to trims
✘ Other hot hatches are more exhilarating to drive
If convenience and an upmarket feel are as important to you as driving fun in your hot hatch, then the Audi S3 should be a frontrunner on your shopping list. As a practical, everyday car with enough room for the family, it impresses - and official fuel economy figures suggest it could achieve almost 40mpg, which is very impressive for such a powerful car.
It can also turn on the fun when you find an empty country road to enjoy, courtesy of that punchy 310hp engine and the security of four-wheel-drive, which enables you to accelerate hard without spinning the wheels and to pick up speed around corners, without either end of the car sliding wide prematurely - should the mood take you.
If you like your hot hatches to feel more exciting and visceral, however, this won’t be the car for you. The more extroverted styling and intense driving thrills delivered by the Honda Civic Type R or smaller Toyota GR Yaris will more likely be up your street if that’s the case.
One other slight downside with the Audi is that, although still definitely a posh-feeling car, the latest S3 feels like it’s taken a bit of a backward step in terms of interior quality compared with the previous model. It has the edge on the VW Golf R, but the BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 both feel like more high-end products from inside.
- Models explained
- Trim levels
- Best S3 for
- Should I buy used?
- Boot space
Audi S3 Sportback
Aside from some striking exterior colours, the transformation of the regular A3 into the high-performance S3 is visually quite subtle. Most notable on the exterior are the four exhaust pipes, unique sport seats and a digital instrument dials that get Audi Sport Graphics
Under the skin, though, it’s quite a different beast. There’s four-wheel-drive, for a start. This does eat into boot space a little, but it also provides a tremendous amount of traction and grip - which is useful given that the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine delivers a substantial power output of 310hp and is capable of accelerating the S3 from 0-62mph in a rapid 4.8 seconds.
The four-wheel-drive system can also provide 100% of its power to the rear wheels when needed, plus clever 'torque vectoring' kit that can brake individual wheels. Both of these bits of technology help make the S3 feel more agile and lively than its predecessor around corners.
Audi S3 Saloon
The S3 Saloon is essentially identical to the hatchback S3 Sportback, except for its styling and the shape of the rear of the car. The more traditional saloon body shape is more conservative, but it may well appeal for its more balanced proportions and the fact that it will be a rarer sight on the road than the hatchback versions.
While the boot space is the same as in the S3 Sportback, you get a narrower opening to the boot with the saloon. The S3 Saloon is also a little more expensive than the hatchback model, but only by a few hundred pounds when new - so the real-world difference when it comes to monthly payments is likely to be negligible.
|Limited stock: As standard the S3 gets autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Nappa leather upholstery, built-in sat-nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
|Audi S3 Vorsprung
|Limited stock: Luxuriously appointed Vorspung models get larger 19-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable front seats, powerful matrix LED headlights, and LED rear lights. Adaptive cruise control comes as standard, as does a head-up display.
The S3’s not a cheap car to purchase - whichever body style or trim you choose, but the premium badge and image help contribute to relatively low PCP finance monthly payments (as these are affected by both the initial price and how much the car is worth at the end of the finance contract). As a result, monthly running costs should be manageable.
|Audi S3 Sportback: Although the A3 Saloon technically holds more luggage, the extra flexibility of the hatchback shape makes the S3 Sportback a more practical proposition on a daily basis.
|Audi S3 Saloon Vorsprung: Despite all the extra luxury touches available on the top-spec Vorsprung trim, the extra cost doesn’t feel justified - better to go for a car with carefully selected options packs. The fact that the Sportback hatch is cheaper than the Saloon is also a consideration here.
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
As a fast performance hatchback with a posh badge on the bonnet, the S3 Sportback’s main rivals are the BMW M135i and Mercedes A35 AMG, both of which offer four-wheel-drive and almost identical performance figures to the Audi S3.
The extremely accomplished VW Golf R gets a little more power (320hp) but is otherwise almost identical underneath, as is the Cupra Formentor VZ2/VZ3, which has more of an SUV/crossover body style.
If you want something a little more extreme - and complete with a manual gearbox - then the Honda Civic Type R or the Toyota GR Yaris could be worth considering. These offer a more analogue feel to the way they drive, though are less upmarket inside than the Audi.
The S3 Saloon has rather fewer rivals. There’s the M235i Gran Coupe and the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon, both of which are saloon-shaped versions of their hatchback equivalents, just like the S3 Saloon. Other than that, your options for a small, fast saloon car are limited.
As it’s a car from a desirable upmarket brand, the used value of the Audi S3 is likely to be high. However, while this means that cash buyers will need to pay more, it also means that monthly PCP finance payments can be surprisingly affordable, since these are worked out based on the difference between the car's initial price and what it's expected to be worth at the end of the contract.
Unless the deal is surprisingly good, it’s probably worth steering away from Vorsprung models as these are pricier and don’t offer any performance benefits over the regular S3s. If your heart is really set on larger alloy wheels and electrically adjustable seats then you may want to splash out, but there are better value S3s available.
It is worth looking out for cars fitted with certain options packs, however - adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition is standard on Vorsprung cars, but part of the Driver Assistance pack otherwise, for example. Likewise, the Comfort and Sound pack adds front parking sensors and a reversing camera, plus a top-notch Bang & Olufsen stereo, which makes it a desirable option to have.
Audi S3 practicality: dimensions and boot space
The Audi S3 Sportback is physically very similar to most other comparable cars in its dimensions. It’s just over 4.3 metres long, just under 2 metres wide and just under 1.5 metres tall. This makes it reasonably practical for narrow city streets without compromising interior space for a family of four. If anything, it’s slightly narrower than rival cars like the BMW M135i, but the difference is tiny in real-world terms.
At just under 4.5 metres long, the Audi S3 Saloon is around 20 centimetres longer than the Sportback hatchback, and is almost identical in its exterior dimensions to its two closest competitors - the Mercedes A35 AMG and the BMW M235i Gran Coupe.
All models - whether saloon and hatchback - get rear parking sensors, while higher-level trims add a 360-degree parking camera.
Audi S3 Sportback
Audi S3 Saloon
At 325 litres, the Audi S3 Sportback’s boot space is around what you'd expect from this sort of car. However, the boots in the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class measure 380 litres and 370 litres respectively, so if you need more space, it's well worth considering one of these.
The Saloon's boot measures the same 325 litres, but its smaller opening means it lacks the flexibility of the hatchback, which can be loaded to the roof when you remove the luggage cover.
Audi S3 Sportback
|Seats up 325 litres
|Seats down 1,145 litres
Audi S3 Saloon
|Boot space 325 litres
Perhaps a little disappointingly, Audi rarely posts stellar results in reliability or owner satisfaction surveys. In fact, the previous version of the A3 (sold up until 2020) came 55th out of 75 models in a recent Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. It scored below average for both reliability and build quality.
That said, you should find that no version of the A3 - and that includes the high-performance S3 - suffers from major issues, being based largely on tried and tested technology shared with the other members of the Volkswagen group of brands (including VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda).
You’ll get a standard warranty for three years or 60,000 miles with the Audi S3, plus a three-year roadside assistance deal. That’s pretty much what you’d expect from most manufacturers, though it’s not as good as the seven-year 100,000 mile cover offered by Kia or the potential 10 years worth of warranty cover provided by Toyota.
On the other hand, you can upgrade for a relatively small fee to an extended warranty, which will cover you for five years and 90,000 miles.
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £643
You may be better off steering away from top-spec Vorsprung models if you’re after an Audi S3 and want the best possible value. The larger wheels compromise the ride quality, and all the extra equipment is only worth the extra outlay if you really like your gadgets and luxuries.
If well-proportioned looks and a bit of rarity value are important, the Audi S3 Saloon is a smart choice. It offers stylish looks that are something a bit different from a normal hot hatchback.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example
|APR rates available
|Cash price £12,000
|Value of loan
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12
|Annual mileage of 8,000pa
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55
|Term 48 months
|Optional final payment £4,285.79
|Loan value £12,000
|Total amount payable £14,755.55
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.