The Audi S3 has all the makings of a great hot hatch. Based on the latest A3, it has a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and permanent four-wheel drive, along with lowered suspension and various other tweaks to help it go harder and corner faster.
It should be relatively affordable, too, with prices from 30,500 and average economy of 40.4mpg.
The new S3 comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, while an optional six-speed S tronic automatic gearbox is available for 1480.
Whats the 2013 Audi S3 like to drive?
Its exactly what it needs to be seriously rapid and confidence-inspiring, yet refined and comfortable with it.
Key to the S3s appeal is its all-new 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Forget the lofty 296bhp power figure, its the 280lb ft of torque available between 1800rpm and 5500rpm that gives the car such elastic, accessible performance.
Even with the standard manual gearbox model which is slightly slower from 0-62mph than the auto the S3 is crushingly rapid in a straight line.
It sounds great, too. A sound actuator treats occupants to a raspy engine note under hard acceleration, and the volume is turned up a notch if you select Dynamic mode from the Drive Select system. However, the noise disappears almost entirely when you settle down to a steady cruise.
Steering and throttle responses are also altered by the Drive Select system. However, the changes are fairly subtle in all but Dynamic mode, where the throttle becomes noticeably sharper and the steering heavier.
In Dynamic Mode the S3 is great for spirited driving, with quick, meaty steering and formidable traction from the four-wheel-drive system.
Regardless of which setting you choose, the S3 turns in sharply and can carry serious speeds through tight corners.
This impressive handling doesnt come at the expense of a mercilessly hard ride, though. Of course, the S3 is firm, but it's more than comfortable enough given how capable it is.
Adaptive Magnetic Ride suspension is available as a 995 option, but given how tightly controlled and generally comfortable the ride is with the standard set-up, we wouldnt spend the extra.
Perhaps the S3s only sin is being a little too competent. For all its remarkable abilities, it never quite delivers the sort of involvement that some enthusiasts will wish for.
It masks its speed so well, and delivers devastating pace and traction in such an offhand manner that the driver is left feeling like something of a spectator rather than the protagonist.
Whats the 2013 Audi S3 like inside?
The interior is one of the regular A3s greatest strengths, and the S3 adds to this with red highlights on the gearstick, an electronic boost gauge in the instrument binnacle and fantastic-looking sports seats.
The seat squabs are a touch flat, and a bit more side support for hard cornering would be welcome, but theres enough adjustment in the driving position to allow drivers of most shapes and sizes to get comfortable.
All the various infotainment functions are accessed via a high-definition colour screen, which is a simple to navigate using a rotary controller and shortcut keys on the centre control.
The switchgear is unchanged from the regular A3 range, meaning you get a well-damped and slick-looking set of buttons that are positioned within easy reach.
Theres also plenty of room in the back and a decent-sized boot.
Standard equipment includes heated leather sports seats, a flat-bottomed leather-leather steering wheel, climate control, Bluetooth and a USB socket.
Should I buy one?
If you want sports car pace and all-weather ability in a slick, desirable everyday car, the S3 delivers it all flawlessly.
Its competitively priced (if not cheap), and has surprisingly affordable running costs for something so fast.
In fact, only if youre expecting rip-roaring hot hatch drama might the S3 leave you feeling a little cold, in which case wed point you towards the BMW M135i.
What Car? says...
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from 30,500
Torque 280lb ft
0-62mph 5.2 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 40.4mpg
By Vicky Parrott