Our favourite petrol motor is a punchy 148bhp 1.5-litre turbo that can shut down two of its four cylinders to save fuel when you’re cruising along. It’s more refined than the entry-level 114bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit and feels more flexible across the rev range. The 2.0-litre TFSI with 187bhp proved quick in the A3 Sportback but high running costs count against it here.
The diesel options are more likely to attract company car users, though, and it’s a strong line-up. The entry-level 114bhp 1.6-litre engine isn’t as gutsy as the bigger units, but it seldom feels underpowered and has a smooth power delivery. The 148bhp 2.0-litre engine is strong across the rev range and we think it’s an absolute belter. So much so, in fact, that while we’d agree the pricier 181bhp version does have a more defined surge as the turbo kicks in, the 148bhp one is so effective that it makes the higher-powered diesel an unnecessary extravagance considering its added cost.
The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual that has a precise shift action and Audi’s S tronic automatic transmission is available on all engines. It offers super-fast shifts, but the 'box doesn’t always react quickly enough to your commands when you try to use it in manual mode.
Another feature is Audi’s four-wheel-drive system, quattro, that gets you off the line quickly in slippery conditions. It’s available in the 2.0 TFSI 190 petrol and both 2.0 TDI diesels, and is standard in the S3 and RS3 performance models.
Speaking of which, the S3 comes with a 306bhp turbocharged petrol engine and, combined with that four-wheel-drive system, is the real McCoy when it comes to high-performance saloons. As for the RS3, its 395bhp is enough for performance that would shame a supercar of yesteryear.