Audi’s blistering new S3 Saloon is a near-300bhp, four-wheel-drive rocket ship sent to Earth to add a shot of sex appeal to the usually staid saloon car market. If grandad mutters about how things “haven’t been the same since they stopped making the Lotus Cortina”, show him this.
With a sub-five-second 0-60 time and a top speed pegged back to 155mph, the S3 Saloon smoulders with intent. It looks the part too, with a ground-hugging body that rides 25mm lower than a standard A3 Saloon and spangly 19-inch wheels to catch the eye.
Power – quite a lot of it – comes from a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and noise – almost too much of it – comes from four exhaust pipes. A saunter round the New Forest (speed limit 40mph, beware of the ponies) resulted in a horse rider giving me the stern flappy arm signal which means “slow down, chump, you’re startling my steed”. Sorry, steed. In my defence, I was doing 32mph and had just been overtaken by an ancient Renault Megane, but the wuffle from the Audi’s exhausts made it sound like I was auditioning for a drive with a Touring Car Championship team.
Away from the restricted roads and, as long as there are no nervous horses in earshot, the bark of the exhausts between gearshifts is quite intoxicating.
The engine has bags of power on tap from just above tickover, but is quite happy to let you rev it to the roof. If you’re worried about blowing it to bits, be aware that there’s a 416bhp version of the same 2.0-litre motor fitted to one of Audi’s concept cars, and that hasn’t gone bang yet.
Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system makes getting off the line a cinch, and should be worth its weight in gold in the wet or snow. Good grip gives confidence in the corners, where it turns in sweetly. Rear-wheel-drive purists won’t care much for the car’s stubborn refusal to indulge in any of that tail-happy stuff, but it’s a blessing for those who want to get from A to B without a detour to the bodyshop/police station/hospital.
There’s a firm edge to the S3’s ride and you’ll learn to approach speed bumps and potholes with your face pre-winced. The car’s electromagnetic dampers can be adjusted to make it a little more supple, but you can’t escape the fact that the suspension is set up for cornering flat and firm.
Inside, the saloon’s long wheelbase means there’s more room for four than, say, in the cabrio. The 390-litre boot expands to 845 litres with the split-fold rear seats tucked away although you’ll struggle to fit wardrobes through the boot lid.
Prices start at £33,240 for the S3 with a six-speed manual gearbox. You’ll need to stump up another £1,500 for the six-speed automatic box with paddle shifters to let you wrest control of the revs. Its dual clutch set-up pre-selects the next gear and shifts between ratios far faster than your left arm can flick a gearstick. As a result, the 0-62 time is trimmed from the manual car’s 5.3 seconds to just 4.9, and there’s a tiny improvement in fuel economy too.
Like you’ll notice. The only way you’ll get near Audi’s quoted 41mpg economy is by chopping your right foot off and using a peacock’s tail feather to tickle the throttle. Give yourself a coconut if, by the time your S3 goes in for its first service, the trip computer’s average consumption read-out is showing above 28mpg.
Car Audi S3 Saloon 2.0TFSI quattro
Engine 2.0-litre petrol, 4 cyl, 296bhp, 280 lb ft
Performance Max speed 155mph; 0-62mph 4.9s
CO2 emissions 159g/km