Audi S3 review 2021

The S3 is Audi’s baby S model, combining everyday usability with strong performance

£24,027
Average price
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2
Out of 5

Pros

  • Great performance
  • High-quality interior
  • Classy exterior

Cons

  • Some rivals are more fun to drive
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Engine isn’t the most inspiring
  • MPG

    0 - 0

  • CO2

    0 - 0 g/km

Model review

Audi’s ‘S’ models have been fantastic at showcasing how performance cars can be brilliantly usable on a daily basis, with all full ‘S’ models also coming with the firm’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system for maximum ability in all weather.

And arguably the model that has proven this best is the Audi S3 – a fun but grown-up hot hatchback that first arrived in 1999 as a racier version of the regular A3 hatchback. It’s continued to tread down that path ever since, getting more power as it went along, and subsequently stronger performance as well. 

Though the S3 might have begun to face stiffer competition in recent years – namely in the face of the BMW M135i and Mercedes-AMG A35 – it continues to be able hold its own. 

Latest model

The latest generation of Audi S3 reached showrooms towards the end of 2020 – just a few months on from the reveal of the regular A3. 

Debuting in both Saloon and five-door Sportback (hatchback) form – no three-door is now available – the A3 gets a more menacing design thanks to larger front air intakes and a more imposing front grille. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine also got a small 10bhp bump in power, while there’s now more technology than ever – including a large digital dial system and 10.1-inch touchscreen, both included as standard. 

Until the next Audi RS3 arrives, it remains the most powerful A3 available in the current generation. 

Value for money

The Audi S3 has always been one of the pricier hot hatchbacks on the market, as you pay a premium for the Audi design and also for the high-quality cabin. That’s no different today, with prices for the current car now starting from £38,475 for the Sportback and £39,040 for the Saloon. 

It’s certainly a steep amount of money for what is ultimately one of Audi’s most junior models, though you do get impressive performance and a long list of standard equipment included – highlights including nappa leather sports seats, a 10.1-inch touchscreen and 18-inch alloy wheels. 

If you’re looking at a used S3, prices start from as little as £3,000 for the first car, £6,000 for the second generation car and £14,000 for the third model. At the time of writing, the latest model had only been in showrooms for a few months, though with a six-month-old example available from around £35,000, it shows discounts can be found by choosing nearly-new models. 

Looks and image

The Audi S3 has always excelled at being a more upmarket and premium take on the hot hatch, and four generations later it still impresses in this area. Though the styling might now be sportier than before, it remains a classy and elegant-looking thing. Though the standard model might seem quite subtle – especially next to the regular A3 – it’s singled out thanks to its satin chrome door mirrors and quad exhausts at the rear. The top-spec Vorsprung also brings more muscular styling thanks to its gloss black design touches and larger 19-inch alloy wheels. 

While some have criticised the latest S3’s cabin for lacking the quality of its predecessor, it remains an upmarket cabin, with high-grade materials being used throughout. All models are also brimmed with technology, with a large digital dial system and touchscreen being included as standard. The main infotainment system can prove a bit fiddly to use on the move, though. 

As has been the case with its predecessors, the S3 remains a model that’s impressively easy to drive quickly. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system offers some incredible traction, with fantastic grip levels and strong performance allowing you to push on safely. But, like the previous car, it’s not as thrilling or exciting as other hot hatches – the Honda Civic Type R and Hyundai i30, for example. 

Space and practicality

With the choice of a hatchback or saloon, it means the S3 offers a body style to suit most. And though the four-door car might seem the roomiest on paper, in the real-world, it’s the Sportback that will prove to be the more versatile. 

Though the four-wheel-drive system does eat into the boot space (reducing it from 380 to 325 litres), it remains a decent shape, while individually folding rear seats are a useful addition. The increased dimensions on the latest S3 also make the rear seats more accommodating than before, too – with two adults being able to fit in the rear seats with relative ease. 

Engines

There’s just one engine available on the latest S3 – a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol unit. It produces 306bhp and 400Nm of torque, with that power being delivered to all four wheels through a seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox. 

It’s properly rapid, too, with 0-60mph taking just 4.6 seconds and the S3 able to hit a top speed limited to 155mph. Though Audi might offer the RS3, we reckon this S model offers all the performance most could ever ask for. 

Running costs

Though running costs are unlikely to be a top priority on the S3, it shouldn’t be too expensive to keep on the road, especially when compared to a sports car with similar power. 

Audi claims it will return up to 34.9mpg, while CO2 emissions of 183g/km aren’t bad for a petrol car with this level of performance. 

Just be aware that you’ll likely have to pay more for servicing and maintenance than other hot hatchbacks, given the Audi’s more premium status. 

Things to look out for

Though the latest Audi S3 is still fairly new, a lot of its parts are those tried-and-tested widely by the Volkswagen Group, so there shouldn’t be too many concerns in this respect.

If you’re looking at used models, just make sure service has been thorough and regular, and also look out for any excessive signs of abuse, as these models are known to be driven quite enthusiastically. 

Rivals

If you’re looking at a premium hot hatch like the Audi S3, key options to consider include the Mercedes-AMG A35, BMW M135i and also the mechanically-identical Volkswagen Golf R

If you’re less fussed about the badge, the Renaultsport Megane, Hyundai i30 N, Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R are all fantastic options. 

Depreciation 

Though the S3 does depreciate quite heavily initially, if you’re considering keeping your car for a number of years, the S3 will likely be a far safer option when it comes to holding its value. That’s driven by strong used demand for the S3. For example, at six years old, models with around 50,000 miles on the clock are still worth around £20,000. 

Trims explained

Just two trim levels are available on the latest S3 – the regular model and a top-spec Vorsprung, which is packed with lots of high-end goodies. Equipment highlights and pricing are as follows.

S3 Sportback/Saloon

All S3 models get a very generous amount of standard kit, including 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, LED headlights and a full sports body kit with aluminium-look touches – the latter being an Audi ‘S’ model trademark. You also get Nappa leather sports seats, heated front seats, LED interior lighting, a 10.1-inch touchscreen and 10.25-inch digital cockpit system. In terms of driver assistance technology, the S3 comes with cruise control, rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist.

From £38,475/£39,040

Vorsprung

Upgrading to the Vorsprung brings a more menacing look thanks to its larger 19-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, and full black styling pack. You also get adaptive sports suspension, Matrix LED headlights, an electric boot, head-up display, Bang & Olufsen sound system, upgraded 12.3-inch digital dial system and a panoramic sunroof. Elsewhere, electric front seats, 30-colour LED interior lighting, keyless entry and carbon interior inlays are included. You also have plenty of extra safety technology, including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and lane change assist.

From £46,225

Summary

  1. Strong performance
  2. Great all-wheel-drive system
  3. Not as fun as other hot hatches
  4. High-quality interior
  5. Classy design
  6. Loads of standard kit
  7. Expensive to buy…
  8. But holds its value well
  9. Available as a five-door hatchback or saloon
  10. A solid all-round performance car

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