16 Mar 2014

2014 Audi S3 Saloon Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the new Audi S3 quattro Saloon S-tronic, which hits dealers in April 2014

2014 Audi S3 Saloon

The Audi A3 is Audi's world car.  Us Brits like our hatchbacks but America, China and most other worldwide markets like their cars with a boot, or trunk.  The A3 saloon has been on sale in the UK for some time so it's no surprise a performance version came along.  Hence the S3.

The S3 saloon's underpinnings are largely the same as in the S3 hatch, although the front wings are steel rather than aluminium.  Americans like steel so we get steel too.  Happily this doesn't mean it weighs more than an elephant - the S3 saloon has a kerb weight of 1,450kg, which isn't too bad.

It's a handsome looking car, more striking than its bigger brothers.  The fore to aft crease along the top of the doors is pronounced as is the rising crease along the bottom of the doors.

The large Audi grille looks in proportion and the mean looking headlights suit the car.  The boot is integrated into the shape well and doesn't look grafted on as an after thought, as it does on some hatch to saloon conversions.

Overall the shape is rather pleasing.  It might well be my favourite Audi in terms of looks.
2014 Audi S3 Saloon

The interior is dark; think black leather and plastic with aluminium touches and red highlighting - including some bright red panels on the seats.

But as with the exterior the S3 saloon's insides are well designed and rather pleasant to look at.  The new air vents that resemble jet engines look great.

The S3 gets two info screens.  One is located between the dials and gives you tid bits of information about what's going on with the audio and satnav as well as all the trip information you could want.  For the record I managed 27mpg over a long run that consisted mainly of B-roads with the odd section of dual carriageway and motorway.

The other screen slides out of its hidey hole in the top of the dash when you start the car. It looks far classier than the iPad-alike unit stuck on the Merc CLA's dash.

This screen is operated by a dial and buttons just aft of the gear selector.  It's strictly limited to audio/media and satnav - climate buttons are to be found in a row on the dash itself.  The satnav works a treat and the audio gets bluetooth and digital radio as well as the usual FM and auxiliary.  I didn't lose the DAB signal once in over two hours of driving and the sound was crystal clear.
2014 Audi S3 Saloon interior

The manually adjustable seats are brilliant.  The pedals are a little too close for my liking so I pushed the seat right back and down, and pulled the steering wheel towards me.  Hey presto, sports car driving position.  After that I didn't need to fiddle with the seat once - which is a sign that Audi has got it right.

The seats look sporty but they are built more for comfort than razzing round race tracks.  They get electric lumbar adjustment too.  The saloon has a longer wheelbase than the hatch so with my driver's seat pushed almost as far back as it could go there was still a decent amount of knee room in the back.

The steering wheel is small, feels great and has a flat bottom.  This being the S-tronic version the gear lever is there just to adjust between drive, park and S or D mode - S being sport and D being drive.

The S-tronic gearbox is a 6-speed, twin clutch automatic. This means shifts are fast and precise.

The engine is a 2-litre, 4-cylinder TFSI unit.  The name may be the same as other VW group TFSI engines but it's completely new, pushes out 296bhp and 280lb ft of torque and apparently weighs 148kg.  Power is transmitted to the road via permanent four wheel drive.

You might imagine with nearly 300bhp and such a sporty look the S3 saloon would be a fire-breathing demon, but it isn't.
2014 Audi S3 Saloon

The ride is refined.  The whole driving experience is smooth.  The suspension is adjustable via magnetic elements in the dampers and can be set to soft, firm or in between.  Even on the firmest setting the ride is never harsh or brittle although it does jar when riding over speed bumps and potholes.

The gearbox can be set to sport or drive.  It's either fully automatic or manual, with wheel mounted flappy paddles.  Leaving it in drive is perfectly fine for most conditions.  Stick it in sport and the revs rise, and stay high - and it only changes gear when it really has to.  This is great and makes the powerful engine even more responsive most of the time but cruise through a town centre with the revs at 3,000rpm and you quickly slip it into drive.

The steering is also variable.  Previous Audis haven't always had terribly great steering feel.  The S3 saloon's is improved but it's still not up there with its rivals.

It's not that there isn't much feel, there is, but the power assistance feels a tad artificial. I drove the front wheel drive A3 cabriolet on the same day and whilst its steering was lighter it felt more natural.

You can cruise all day in the S3 saloon and it'll feel the model of refinement.  The controls are light and perfectly placed.  It'll waft around town, country and motorway with ease.  Don't push it too hard and you might get close to the claimed 40.9mpg.  The adaptive cruise control works a treat too.

But floor the throttle and it's devastatingly fast.  0 to 62mph takes 4.9 seconds.  That's almost supercar territory.

It's fast at all speeds.  Overtakes are accomplished in an instant. Peak torque kicks in at 1,800rpm so you get plenty of oomph when you want it.

And it makes a decent noise whilst you're at it.  A flap in the exhaust opens and the engine noise increases the further you push it.  Gearchanges are accompanied by an audible whump.

Grip levels around corners, and in a straight line, are fantastic.  Pushed hard it will understeer but otherwise it feels planted to the road.  Body roll is minimal and the suspension does a fine job of combing out the lumps and bumps of the road whilst feeding back just enough information to the driver.

If you've read any Discworld novels you'll know what I mean when I say the S3 saloon should be in the Guild of Assassins - quiet, unassuming, lethal when it wants to be.
2014 Audi S3 Saloon

This car is a world apart from shouty, rally-bred 4-pot chargers. The S3 is a precision instrument that only hints at its capabilities, until it demonstrates them with deadly accuracy.

But that's not to say it isn't a fun car to drive.  It absolutely is.  It has bags of joie de vivre.  It's also practical with decent rear seats, a large boot and comes with all the toys (a lot of which are options) from the rest of the Audi range.

The S3 saloon with the S-tronic gearbox costs £34,720.  With a 6-speed manual gearbox it costs £33,240.  I'd go for the S-tronic which keeps the driving experience just on the comfortable side of frantic, returns better mpg, emits less CO2 and costs less in company car tax.


Price - £34,720
Engine - 4-cylinder, 2-litre
Transmission - 6-speed, twin clutch automatic
0-62mph - 4.9 seconds
Top Speed - 155mph (limited)
Power - 296bhp
Torque - 280lb ft
Economy - 40.0mpg
CO2 - 159g/km
Kerb Weight - 1,450kg
2014 Audi S3 Saloon interior

2014 Audi S3 Saloon rear seats

2014 Audi S3 Saloon

Review by Matt Hubbard