Big price, but big potential for Lotus’s little FIA-approved racecar
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The Top Gear car review:Audi S3/RS3
For:Flattering, safe at speed and it IS quick
Against:Numb steering, anonymous styling, not super-thrilling at medium speeds
S3 TFSI Quattro 3dr S Tronic
About as good as petrol hybrid hatches get right now.
A solid and pleasing hybrid car that thankfully doesn’t scream eco-warrior.
Petrol-electric hybrid hatchback is finally here, and it’s promising some Big Numbers
Audi’s superhatch gets roomier and more practical. Fast and flattering to the driver, but still oddly cold.
A fine, well damped, beautifully made and practical Audi. You’ll still yearn for an RS3, though.
Paul Horrell reports back on a new engineering dawn for the VW Group…
Efficient, economical and very frustrating to drive. Make the stop-start more intuitive and it’d be a very different story.
Drive it hard and you’ll really struggle to get the claimed 43.5mpg out of it. Still, petrol’s not quite dead yet.
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What we say:
The S3 has been on a diet and it’s more appealing as a result. The new RS3 adds speed, attitude and warble
What is it?
This is Audi’s latest version of the S3, with essentially the same recipe as before: front-biased all-wheel drive running gear and powerful turbocharged four-cylinder motor. But Audi has massaged virtually every aspect to make it more efficient, faster and, well, generally better all round. The 296bhp S3 may be innocuous-looking, but performance is blistering: it hits 62mph from rest in just 4.8 seconds with the S-tronic DSG ‘box. Even faster is the new RS3, whose familiar 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine produces 362bhp, 27bhp more than before. On paper, it’s probably the hottest production hot hatch on the planet. Mind you, at over £40k it’s also one of the most expensive…
The S3 used to be a quick-but-stodgy thing to drive, but Audi has dialled some of the heavy-handed chassis engineering out of this one. Literally, in this case – it’s 60kg lighter than it was. The front axle has been shunted forward 42mm, and the engine is both lighter and canted backwards by 12 degrees.
Sounds like minor stuff, but the S3 is keener to turn than it ever was, and remains neutral all the way up to serious speed, at which point it understeers gently. The steering’s a bit numb, but the ride is acceptable and you can rapidly cover ground with AWD surety, even when traction is tricky. It’s impressive rather than fun.
The RS3? Well, stung by criticism the old one was dull, Audi engineers have given this one more attitude, from the throbbing five-pot to the fact it will now drift (not like a Focus RS, but drift nonetheless). Chuck in mind-warping speed and you’ve a rocketship nothing short of mind-blowing in a straight line. Who’d have thought it?
On the inside
The S3 boasts Audi’s usual supremely well-executed interior quality, complete with flat-bottomed wheel, beautifully grippy, massively comfortable seats and a tiny boost gauge in the instrument cluster. But there’s not a lot else that plays up the S3’s schportiness. For that, you need the RS3: think S3 Plus, from the pleated leather seats to the red bits in the air vents (um… different). Both cars are lovely things to spend time in.
The fact that you could possibly get a smidge over 40mpg from a car with this amount of pace is faintly shocking. And 159g/km isn’t to be sniffed at. We can almost guarantee rock-solid residuals. It’s also got the kind of panel gaps that speak of attention to detail, a huge dealer network and a solid warranty.
As has the RS3, although that doesn’t have the S3’s economy. In this day and age, 34.8mpg and 189g/km CO2 are stiff. The Sportback-only list price of £40,805 is a jump over the S3 too. But hey, that optional 174mph speed limiter…