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Audi S3 Car Review | 22 September 2006

Driven September 2006

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Audi itself gave in to such temptation with the A3 3.2 V6, in practice a car with disappointingly nose-heavy handling, a joint-battering ride and a clonky gearshift, without the acceleration its tally of cubic inches would lead you to expect.

While the S3's TFSi powerplant can't claim to be a masterpiece of smooth-revving sophistication, it does have its advantages. Two fewer cylinders mean less weight, compensating for the added bulk of the S3's four-wheel-drive hardware; though doses of wheelspin form part of the Golf GTI's old-school appeal, 261bhp through the front wheels would have been pushing it way too far in the S3.

And as Audi happily reminds us, the UK is subjected to 184 damp days per year to slither and torque-steer our way through. Gits.

On the matter of bulk, further efforts have been made to trim kilos where it counts in the S3. The suspension's pivot bearings and wishbones are now made from aluminium, cutting unsprung weight.

This is the lightest, most disarmingly agile-feeling Audi since the all-aluminium A2 hit the can, sitting 25mm closer to the road surface and with stiffer suspension mounts than regular A3s.

The S3 tips into corners with much the same deftness and sharpness as its VW relative, with electro-mechanical steering fettled to give almost the same level of delicacy and feedback; almost, but not quite. Meanwhile there's little arguing with the power and abuse-resistance of its brakes.

Inside, the S3 moves the argument on. A mix of polished aluminium detailing on the surrounds for the door grab handles, circular dash vents and gearlever mix with standard-fit, soft leather seat trim to give a sense of upmarket quality on a down-sized scale.

You'll need to look to the accessories list to find a couple of essential options to finish it off though; a chunky £270 flat-bottomed steering wheel and some deeply winged, hip mangling bucket seats for a steep £1,685 investment. Both choices are inspired by what you'll find in the £50,000 RS4.

Cost could be the S3's one big downfall. The starting price is £26,995, before you begin to up the spec with such desirable extras. Think about it: that's £6,635 more than a Golf GTI, £7,875 more than an Astra VXR, and £9,500 more than a Focus ST.

We're back to the conflict of impulse over rationality. Logic says that, like a BMW 130i, the S3 is way over-priced. Instinct says that you still can't help but want one, especially if you get the chance to spend some time behind the wheel.

I may have lost you already. If not, there's one last big dilemma to ponder: which colour to go for. So, is it Eighties-comeback white, or an S3-special shade of Tango orange?

Peter Grunert

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