What is it?
This is Audi's lastest version of the S3, with essentially the same recipe as before: three-door or five-door hatchback shape, front-biased all-wheel-drive running gear, powerful turbocharged four-cylinder motor mounted up front. This time, though, Audi has massaged virtually every aspect to make it more efficient, faster, and, well, generally better all round.
Even though the engine is exactly the same 1,984cc capacity as before, it's actually all new and pushes out 296bhp (up 35bhp over the old 2.0-litre), with a very useful 280lb ft of torque to accompany it from 1,800rpm to 5,500rpm. That means this innocuous looking little Audi is blistering: it hits 0-62mph from rest in just 4.8 seconds with the S-tronic DSG 'box (0.4 more for the 6spd manual) and runs to 155mph before it headbutts a limiter.
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 before. The front axle has been shunted forward 42mm (thank the VW Group's modular transverse platform for that engineering solution), and the engine is both a fraction lighter and canted backwards by 12 degrees.
Sounds like minor stuff, but the S3 is keener to turn that 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.
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. Not that it's an issue, mind - the S3 feels nicely pared back, and the list of standard kit isn't exactly rubbish, so it never feels particularly poverty-spec. it's a lovely thing 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 either. We can also almost guarantee rock-solid residuals - the S3 blends a lot of fast, without the appeal to the kinds of people likely to modify or mount many trackday forays. It's also got the kind of panel gaps that speak of attention to detail, a huge dealer network and a solid warranty. In fact, the likelihood is that the S3 would be a real grower: very much a car for the longer term...