Express & Star

First Drive: Audi S3 Saloon – classy sports four-door returns with more bite

The old Audi S3 arguably wasn’t as thrilling as it should have been, but can more power and tech improve things? James Batchelor finds out.

Audi S3

What is it?

Audi S3
The quad exhaust pipes hint at the S3’s performance

Audi has been hotting up its A3 for 25 years now, and the recipe has always been simple. Add quattro four-wheel drive and some subtle sportier styling to an already appealingly posh package. The S3 has never been showy and was always happy to allow its more boisterous brother, the RS3, to take the limelight, along with rival hot hatches from BMW and Mercedes-AMG.

The most recent S3, though, drew criticism for looking the part but for being slightly dull to drive and for seeming to be poor value in comparison to its mechanically related twin, the Volkswagen Golf R. Along with updating the regular A3 for 2024, Audi has also taken the chance to add a little more spice to the S3 in its quarter-of-a-century birthday year. Here we’re driving it for the first time, in Saloon form.

What’s new?

Audi S3
The S3 has plenty of agility to offer in the bends

Most of the changes to the new-for-2024 model are shared with the A3, so the grille is flatter and wider, there are new front and rear bumpers, the colour palette has been updated, there are fresh designs for the alloy wheels, and the daytime running lights have four fancy configurable designs. The interior has had the lightest of once-overs, too, with ambient lighting adorning the door cards, centre console, and cupholders.

For the S3, though, something more substantial was needed, and that’s exactly what Audi has focussed on. There’s more power than before and larger brakes, but, crucially, more driver involvement is promised thanks to the fitment of a new torque-splitter on the rear axle.

What’s under the bonnet?

Audi S3
The S3 sports Audi’s new ‘flat’ logo

It’s the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (called ‘EA888’ in VW-speak) as before and one that’s used in a plethora of Volkswagen Group cars. Audi has fettled it to bump up power from 306bhp to 329bhp, torque has been turned up from 400Nm to 420Nm, and there are a few tweaks to the rev mapping and to the turbo – the latter now being pre-loaded at low rpm.

There’s still only the choice of a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox (although it can now decouple to allow the car to freewheel when the throttle is released to save fuel), while the 0-60mph sprint is dispatched in around 4.5 seconds – that’s quicker than quite a few hot hatches on sale, including the rabid Honda Civic Type R.

What’s it like to drive?

Audi S3
A new torque splitter rear differential gives the S3 sharper handling

Those tweaks to the turbo do give a greater sense of urgency to the engine at lower revs, but from then onwards it’s typical EA888 – by that we mean it’s hugely effective but lacking in character. The same can almost be levelled at the gearbox as it’s ruthlessly efficient on up-changes but a tad slow when going down the ‘box, while proper metal paddles behind the wheel instead of cheap plastic ones would help give a greater sense of connection.

If you pay attention, though, you can hear the odd turbo whoosh and flutter, and the new Akrapovic sports exhaust does give a fruitier tune, but the more important element here is the new torque splitter rear differential.

Taken from the RS3, it promises much – and happily, it delivers. To get technical for a moment, it now allows for torque vectoring between the back wheels, allowing the car to turn quicker and even let the rear end slide. You can really feel it working, and it gives the S3 a dynamic agility it has never really had.

How does it look?

Audi S3
The saloon S3 has been a part of the A3 range for a little while now

The changes to the way the S3 give it a slightly chintzy look that it really didn’t need, but you can blame the tweaks to the regular A3 for that which have sharpened up the normal car’s design.

In fact, park an A3 Saloon in S line trim alongside the more powerful version, and apart from the S3’s four exhausts and fussy diffuser-like rear bumper there’s very little to tell them apart. Choose the optional ‘Daytona Grey’ matte paint and the S3 loses the subtlety previous models have had, but that’s just a personal opinion. The spicier looks of the new car will likely win even more fans.

What’s it like inside?

Audi S3
The interior features lots of high-quality materials

It really is a case of spot the difference best played at night, because apart from some new ambient lighting and minor things like a new gear selector, the interior is pretty much the same as before. That’s really not a bad thing as the S3 has a plush feeling cabin, crisp screens and physical buttons for the climate control system. It’s a really comfortable place to spend time.

There’s plenty of space in the rear seats despite that sloping roofline, and the 325-litre boot is roomy enough. For more practicality, the hatchback S3 Sportback is the better option and will probably be the preferred option for most UK buyers.

What’s the spec like?

Audi S3
The digital dials can be configured to show different readouts

The S3 comes in two trims, Black Edition and top-run Vorsprung, with the former getting a Sonos sound system, high-backed front sports seats in leather, Progressive Steering, interior ambient lighting, and the exterior trim and 19-inch wheels painted in black.

Vorsprung adds extra luxuries such as configurable suspension, matrix headlights, electric seats, carbon fibre interior trim and a panoramic roof. Prices are predictably lofty at £47,490 for the Black Edition and £52,965 for the Vorsprung – the Sportback shaves £565 off the price.


While it’s not the last word in driver engagement, the S3 continues to nail the brief of a fast, comfortable and premium sports saloon (or hatchback), while also adding a much-needed dose of agility thanks to the new rear differential.

For some buyers, its classy sensibleness will be enough to make them look elsewhere, but there’s still much to like here. It’s a tremendously well-rounded package, now with a little extra spice.

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