Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
While 306bhp might sound like a lot of power, it’s the masses of torque available from as little as 2000rpm that you notice more on the road. It doesn’t really matter what gear you’re in, the Audi S3 picks up speed very briskly indeed.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth revving the engine, though. It pulls strongly to 6500rpm and makes a pretty decent noise in the process. True, the sound is somewhat augmented by the stereo’s speakers, adding a warbly edge to the engine note that’s vaguely reminiscent of the more powerful Audi RS3, but it doesn't sound overly fake.
The S3 comes equipped with four-wheel drive as standard, so you can use all of the engine's power all of the time – even when it’s wet. If you use the launch control system, the S3 can catapult you from 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds – around a second quicker than the front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type R, and almost as quick as the more powerful Volkswagen Golf R.
The S3 certainly feels rapid from behind the wheel, yet it's never intimidating. That is partly down to the fact that there is always plenty of grip on offer, and partly because of the accuracy of the S3’s Progressive Steering system, which increases the speed of the steering the more you turn the wheel (mainly to save you a lot of arm-twirling at low speeds and when parking).
That said, you don't get masses of feedback, and the steering becomes unnaturally heavy and artificial-feeling when you select Dynamic mode. That's part of the reason the S3 doesn't deliver quite get the same assault on your senses that get from more hardcore rivals, including the Civic Type R and Toyota GR Yaris. The Golf R also offers slightly more playful handful, but the S3 is more capable and rewarding than the BMW M135i.
Range-topping Vorsprung models have adaptive suspension with settings that are wide-ranging enough to be soft and supple around town (in Comfort mode), or firm and focused when you'd prefer. Audi S3s without adjustable suspension are fairly firm, but not uncomfortably bumpy – even if you upgrade to 19in alloys (18s come as standard).
Cars without adjustable suspension get selectable drive modes too, and when Comfort mode is set the engine settles into a distant hum at a cruise while the gearbox swaps ratios intelligently and smoothly (you might think a little too smoothly for a hot hatch). There is a noticeable amount of tyre roar – especially on the motorway – but the S3 is still a far more peaceful cruise than a Type R or Renault Megane RS, and roughly on a par with the Golf R and BMW M135i.
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