Audi S3 Review 2024

Lawrence Allan

Written by Lawrence Allan

8/10
heycar ratingClassy and composed, lacks fizz
  • 2020
  • Hot hatch
  • Petrol

Quick overview

Pros

  • Fast yet efficient at a cruise
  • Easy hot hatch to live with
  • Also available as a saloon

Cons

  • Hardly the most exciting hot hatch
  • Adaptive dampers only offered on Vorsprung
  • Golf R is a bit faster and cleverer

Overall verdict on the Audi S3

"The Audi S3 is an extremely popular premium hot hatch, and with good reason. It might not excite hardcore car enthusiasts as much as a Honda Civic Type R, but it's much classier to look at, has a nicer interior and is easier to live with. Our Audi S3 review will show why it's a great all-rounder, but not a thrill-a-minute driver's car."

Audi S3 Review 2023: front

If you were old enough to drive a car in the Max Power era of the 1990s and early 2000s, you may well have indulged in the enthusiast car scene of loud exhausts, massive spoilers and lurid paintjobs. 


Fast forward to 2022 and you'll be approaching - or in - middle age, perhaps with some children in tow, and those sort of outlandish hot hatchbacks are no longer appealing. You'd rather have something more subtle, more practical and easier to commute to work in, but (if you're reading this review) you'll probably want plenty of performance, too. That's where the Audi S3 comes in. 


To those that aren't in the know it looks like a high-spec version of a regular Audi A3. Forget the shouty vents, wings and scoops of something like a Honda Civic Type R. The Audi S3 only has lightly tweaked bumpers, a slightly lower ride height, larger wheels and quad tailpipes to mark it out. Unless you have it in the bold yellow paint in our pictures, it'll slip nicely under the radar - small wonder it's a firm favourite for undercover traffic cops. 


Inside, again, you get largely the same classy and solid cabin that the standard Audi A3 offers. No uncompromising bucket seats or stripped-out dashboard. You do get some nice diamond-stitched sports seats and some S3 logos, but that's all. So it's a practical, upmarket choice, whether you go for the S3 hatchback or the more business-like Audi S3 Saloon. In other words, a good small family car


The Audi S3 certainly isn't a cheap choice in the class, with prices starting at just over £40,000 and rising to nigh-on £50,000 in fully-loaded S3 Vorsprung form with one or two options. But it's faster than most thanks to its 310PS 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive system bringing rock-solid stability in all weather. Yet it'll be fairly economical if you take things gently.


Whether you're taking part in the traffic light grand prix or carving through some corners, the Audi S3 is rapid enough to keep some sports cars honest. But it isn't the most engaging or exciting way to go quickly, preferring sensible composure over a thrilling engine or playful handling. Want even more performance and sharpness? You'll want the 400PS Audi RS 3, but you'll pay a premium for it. 


There are definitely more fun cars about, then, but if you need one car that can do it all in reasonable comfort, while offering enough space for the family and not breaking the bank in terms of running costs, the S3 will give you all that in a classy package. 


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If ultimate smiles-per-mile and a hardcore, raw driving experience is the most important trait from your hot hatchback, the Audi S3 might not be your cup of tea. Certainly, you'll find the more focused (and compromised) front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane R.S will thrill you more. 


But if you want a hot hatchback with an upmarket look and feel, and one that has to act as your main commuter car or family wagon, the Audi S3 is a very good choice. It'll handle long motorway journeys and weekends away with the minimum of fuss, and you won't come away wishing you'd just bought a normal hatchback to get rid of the headaches. 

As has been the case for a while in the Audi S3, you can only choose from one engine mated to a dual-clutch (DSG) automatic gearbox. The automatic makes it an easy car to live with, but if you want some control you can quickly shift gears via the paddle shifters on the wheel. 


The only choice you actually need to make is whether you go for the hatchback or the saloon. Most people go for the former, meaning the latter might be considered a bit cooler and rarer, but there's no real difference in the way they drive. 

The biggest thorn in the side of the Audi S3 is the latest Volkswagen Golf R. Both use the same engine, but the Golf gets a bit more power and torque and accelerates faster. It also has a bit more standard kit and a cleverer all-wheel drive system, but unusually for a VW it is a bit more expensive than the S3. 


Other than the Golf, the Audi S3's key rivals are the BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35. Both are nearly identical in performance and price terms and have similarly posh interiors. 


There's also the Cupra Leon, which is again related to the S3 underneath. The same applies Skoda Octavia vRS, which is less powerful but cheaper and more practical, as well as other front-wheel drive hot hatchbacks like the Hyundai i30 N and Ford Focus ST

Comfort and design: Audi S3 interior

"The Audi S3's cabin is a high quality environment with good levels of technology and a classy feel. Perhaps a bit more colour wouldn't go amiss, though."

Audi S3 Review 2023 dashboard

If you step out of a high-spec Audi A3 and jump into the S3 you might not notice at first glance that it's the sporty one. Look a little deeper, though, and there are some S-specific touches. 


The first is the seats, which have soft Nappa leather with diamond stitching and a sportier, more supportive shape. You also get a flat-bottomed steering wheel with perforated leather, smoked metal cabin trim and a few S badges dotted about the place to remind you.


In that respect it's a more pleasant place to sit than the VW Golf R, which has a less special-feeling cabin with standard cloth seats with a rather dated fabric pattern on them. You also get a better, easier-to-use infotainment system than the latest Golf, even if it's not the last word in user-friendliness compared to some efforts. 


In some areas, the Audi S3's cabin isn't quite as special-feeling as the previous version, which looked and felt head-and-shoulders above its competitors. The dash design isn't as elegant (it's a shame the smart metal-edged circular air vents have been replaced by plasticky square items), and we reckon the BMW M135i looks feels that bit posher, but it's still a nice environment.


There's a very comfortable and adjustable driving position, for starters, plus good all-round visibility. Rear parking sensors are standard, too, and the LED headlights give a great view ahead at night. It's disappointing that you don't get electric lumbar adjustment as standard, while fully electric seats are only available on the pricey S3 Vorsprung. The same applies to front parking sensors and a reversing camera, which cost extra on non-Vorsprung versions. 

Judged in isolation the Audi S3's cabin is a solid-feeling, generally upmarket place to sit for a (relatively) affordable hot hatchback. Items such as the Nappa leather seats feel vastly nicer than the cloth items in some rivals, while steering wheel is pleasing to hold and you'll be hard pushed to notice any creaks and rattles. There's enough soft-touch materials around, too. 


The upper part of the dash feels solid, too, but poke around a bit and you will find some cheaper plastics that aren't as nice as we'd come to expect from Audis of the past. The overall design isn't as attractive as the last A3, either. It feels more solid and built to last than the style-over-substance Mercedes-AMG A35, but the BMW M135i is a bit nicer overall. 

Gone are the days when Audi (like other brands) would make you pay extra for a higher grade of infotainment system. In the S3, and the Audi A3 for that matter, you get a 10.1-inch touchscreen display with sat-nav as standard regardless of which version you get. 


There's a variety of connected services, plus the usual connectivity including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen itself has a crisp display and is responsive to the touch, while if you'd prefer to not fiddle with a screen while driving there's voice control for various functions. It's not foolproof, but it works better than some systems. 


We also like the Audi has left in some physical controls for the climate functions and heated seats, plus proper buttons for the drive mode selector, traction control and volume knobs. Audi has also avoided the infuriating touch-sensitive steering wheel controls, although we like the rotary infotainment controller of the BMW M135i even more. 


What's more, the Audi S3 also gets a standard-fit 12.3-inch digital dial display. It remains one of the best on the market, with a crisp, clear screen, plenty of customisation and fantastic Google Maps navigation integration. 


The standard sound system does a decent enough job, but if you upgrade to the Comfort and Sound pack (or plump for the Vorsprung model) you get a deeply impressive Bang & Olufsen surround sound system to enjoy your tunes with. 

It won't surprise you to learn that the Audi S3 is just as spacious and practical as the A3 on which it's based, in the cabin at least. That means you get plenty of head and leg space in the front, with a driving position that's adjustable enough to suit the tallest and the smallest of drivers. Storage is good, too, and the centre armrest is nicely adjustable. 


The rear seats aren't as spacious as those in a Skoda Octavia vRS, but you'll still find decent head and leg space for six-footers to sit without too much of a grumble. It's pretty similar to its main rivals in this respect, although a Honda Civic Type R has more legroom still to increase tall passenger comfort. 


The cabin isn't the widest, so three abreast is only for short journeys, but you do get a proper centre armrest in the back too. Of course there are ISOFIX points along with top tether points for the outer two seats. 


Moving on to the boot, which is the only place that's different to the A3. The Audi S3 Sportback's boot capacity is 325 litres, and oddly Audi claims the same 325-litre capacity for the S3 Saloon. It's odd, because on the regular A3 saloon Audi claims 425 litres to the A3 Sportback's 380 litres.


Anyway, the reason why the boot is smaller in both is that the S3's all-wheel-drive system takes up some of the underfloor capacity. It's a figure that's comparable with rivals, however, and the S3 is still capable of handling the weekly shop or a child's folded pram. 


In terms of exterior dimensions, the Audi S3 Sportback is 4351mm long, 1816mm wide and 1438mm tall. The makes it a bit longer, wider and lower than a VW Golf R. The S3 Saloon, meanwhile, is 4504mm long, the same 1816mm wide and 1415mm tall. 

Handling and ride quality: What is the Audi S3 like to drive?

"It's a shame that Audi makes you buy the Vorsprung model to get adaptive dampers, as they give the Audi S3 a real Jekyl and Hyde character."

Audi S3 Review 2021 rear dynamic

In our Volkswagen Golf R review we stated that speccing the adaptive dampers for a reasonable £800 is well worth doing, as it gives you a nice spread between comfort and sharp handling. We'd say exactly the same on the Audi S3, but sadly it isn't possible. 


Sure, Audi will sell you one with adaptive dampers ('S suspension with damper control' in Audi speak), but it's the fully-loaded Vorsprung model. For some reason you can't add it as an individual option on the normal S3, like you can on most rivals. This means the ride is on the firm side on the standard model.


It's never desperately uncomfortable as the Audi S3 manages to keep its composure on bumpy faster roads. But around town you do feel potholes and speed bumps more than you might like - the Vorsprung model rides much like a regular A3 in the softest setting. Once you're going quicker though, and especially on the motorway, the ride is pretty smooth and refined in both versions.


The S3 balances that firm but controlled ride with a tight feel in the bends - there's very little body lean and huge amounts of grip. You also get Audi's Progressive Steering as standard: this increases the speed at which you turn depending on how much you turn the wheel. It gives an accurate, confidence-boosting feel on twisty roads but also makes parking easier because you don't need to twiddle the wheel as much. 


Having said that, it doesn't quite manage to excite. The four-wheel drive system isn't as clever as it is on the Golf R because it can't send as much power to the rear wheels. The back will swing round a bit, but only off-power, so the Volkswagen feels a little more engaging. Neither cars have really feelsome steering or give you the same sensory excitement that you'll get in something like a Toyota GR Yaris or Honda Civic Type R, however. 


Having said that, the S3's good all-round visibility, smooth automatic gearbox and light Progressive steering makes it a doddle to drive in everyday, traffic-snarled situations. So trading a bit of fun for that daily driver ability might well be worth it. 

There's only one gearbox and engine choice with the Audi S3, and it's the family 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo unit found in the Golf R and many, many other hot VW Group cars. 


Here it puts out 320PS and 400Nm of torque. That's 10PS and 20Nm down on the Golf R, meaning the Audi takes one tenth of a second longer to reach 62mph from a standstill. Big deal, right? Well no, driven back-to-back you will notice the little extra pull the Golf offers. But the S3 is hardly slow. 


With the S3 in its sportiest drive mode you can activate Launch Control, which will fire it off the line without a hint of wheelspin. And although the Audi S3 will rev happily up to the maximum, its really the low-down punch that impresses most - you don't need to change down many gears to overtake. 


It's not a particularly exciting way to go quickly, though. While the DSG gearbox slurs changes nicely at low speed yet whips through them rapidly when you're on it, it robs you of some of the sensation of speed. Much like the Golf R, it's one of those cars where you don't realise quite how quickly you're going until you glance down at the speedo and gasp. 


Having said that, we do like that Audi has given the S3 a synthesised engine noise similar to that of the much pricier RS3. It gives the engine a bit more character than the droney noise it makes in the Golf R, and is more pronounced in Sport mode. You can also adjust it and other parameters to your liking and save them in an 'Individual' drive mode. 


The Audi S3 is reasonably refined for a hot hatchback - certainly more so than cars such as the Honda Civic Type R or Renault Megane R.S. 


Wind noise is well isolated, while the engine settles down to a quiet cruise when you're not summoning up all of its 310PS. The only issue is tyre roar, which is noticeable on poorer surfaces. We suspect it might be worse on the larger wheels than the smallest 18in wheel option. 

The Audi S3 comes with the same array of active safety kit as the regular A3. That means standard  Front Assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection and lane keep assist. You don't get adaptive cruise control as standard, however.


Another option that you may well find as standard on some rivals is Traffic Sign Recognition - it's either optional or standard on the top-spec Vorsprung model. Still, the Audi A3 received a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, with strong protection scores for both adult and child occupants. The S3 is only less safe because you might find yourself going faster in the event of an accident.

MPG and fuel costs: What does the Audi S3 cost to run?

"You can have your cake and eat it with the Audi S3, as that hearty performance is complimented by decent fuel economy."

Audi S3 Review 2023 front-three quarter

Alright, so it isn't exactly an electric car in terms of running costs, but the Audi S3 isn't as expensive to run as you might think. At least in fuel economy terms, and as long as you don't hoon it about all the time. 


Officially the Audi S3's WLTP combined fuel economy is 36.2mpg, or 35.3mpg for the higher-spec Vorsprung model. You may well get even more than that on a long motorway run. Of course, if you keep using launch control away from the lights and flex your right foot on every slip road expect that figure to plummet. 


As a brand Audi sits mid-table for reliability in the latest HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, right alongside BMW. It's not a brilliant score, but not disastrous either. 


Certainly, where the new A3 and S3 are concerned we haven't heard of any major issues. But beware that the dual-clutch gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive system do both need oil changes and increase the potential for expensive things to go wrong once the warranty is over. 

The Audi S3 isn't just popular with buyers, it's also popular with those who'd prefer not to pay for one. Car thieves love a fast, under-the-radar car, and the S3 is a favourite. It's also a popular choice with young car enthusiasts, and sadly that means many are crashed. 


Despite all this, the Audi S3's insurance groups aren't excessively high. The standard model sits in group 31, with the Vorsprung in group 34 - both on a par with similar rivals. 

The Audi S3 isn't the cheapest car to tax based on its emissions, particularly in the first year of ownership. Buy a brand new Audi S3 and you'll pay a hefty £945 in road tax (VED) in that first year, and on top of that you'll pay £355 a year for the first five years because the S3's list price is more than £40,000 - another car stung by the 'premium' car tax. 


That cost is noticeably more than a number of cheaper, front-wheel drive hot hatchbacks, but crucially it's no worse than the S3's closest rivals. And, if you're buying used and don't mind a few of the premium tax payments, the standard VED rate is £165 a year.

How much should you be paying for an Audi S3?

"The latest Audi S3 has been on sale for two years now, but the pandemic caused a supply shortage of many new cars. Used bargains are hard to come by as a result."

Audi S3 Review 2023 profile

If you're looking for a used Audi S3 in this latest generation prices start from around £35,000 for a 2020 model with 12,000 miles on the clock. That'll be easier to swallow with a finance deal, however. 


In terms of new prices the Audi S3 starts at £40,730. That's £1500 or so less than a Volkswagen Golf R, which might surprise you. It's worth bearing in mind that you'll probably want a few options that'll bump that price up. You'll only need another £500 or so for the saloon version if you'd prefer that, though. 


The Audi S3 Vorsprung throws in a host of additional equipment, but at £48,480 new (or just over £49,000 in saloon form)  it's not exactly the bargain of the century. Given how much those kit options might cost otherwise, though, it's not overpriced. 

If you go for the standard Audi S3 and avoid any options you'll get equipment such as 18-inch alloys, LED front and rear lights with dynamic headlight adjustment, LED logo projection, privacy glass, Nappa leather upholstery, heated front seat, an auto dimming frameless rear-view mirror, navigation, the Audi Virtual Cockpit, cruise control and rear parking sensors. 


Stepping up to the Audi S3 Vorsprung upgrades the allot wheel size to 19-inches with a unique design, while also bring Matrix LED headlights, adaptive dampers, black exterior detailing, a panoramic sunroof, auto dimming and electrically folding door mirrors, an electric tailgate, a 'Vorsprung' logo projection, electrically adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar support, extended ambient lighting, Carbon interior inlays, parking assist with parking system plus, an advanced key, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and traffic sign recognition. You also get a Bang & Olufsen sound system.  

Ask the heycar experts: common questions

Put simply, yes. It'll go from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, meaning it'll run with a number of sports cars, while the all-wheel drive grip means it'll put its power down everywhere without drama. Need to go even faster? There's always the Audi RS3.
It's a close run thing, but because the Volkswagen Golf R has a bit more power and torque it'll go from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, a tenth faster than the Audi S3. It'll keep on pulling a gap, too, but you won't notice a huge difference in the real world.
Used Audi S3s start from under £5,000 for a clean first-generation example, but if you're looking at a new Audi S3 Sportback you'll need at least £40,730.

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