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The Top Gear car review:Audi S3
For:Classy to look at, effortlessly quick, plush interior
Against:Fun isn't as abundant here as in some rivals
What is it?
It’s effectively the creator of a genre, one which has since been swamped by rivals. The very first Audi S3 arrived back in 1999 – yep, a time when the Millennium Bug was as big a talking point as Brexit is now. We miss that time.
Back then, the hot hatchback market was still crawling out of its late-Nineties doldrums, when, Peugeot aside, no one was really turning out classics, as skyrocketing insurance premiums killed the genre for its youthful target audience.
The S3 approached from a classier, more mature angle, then. Big spoilers were replaced with restrained styling and yobbish performance made way for the less crash-y world of all-wheel drive. Imola Yellow paint option aside, it was a wallflower after decades of ASBO hatches, and surely one to angle the genre at older, more affluent buyers.
In the years that have followed – the last decade in particular – the rivals have come thick and fast. Some from within the VW Group walls (the Golf R) and others from Audi’s arch rivals, most recently in the shape of the Mercedes-AMG A35 and the newly all-wheel-drive BMW M135i. All have circa 300bhp being pushed through a paddleshift gearbox to all four wheels. Like the S3’s recipe or not, everyone’s copying it.
Time to appraise the latest version of the car that started a whole movement, then. Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo – as per the hot hatch norm – with a seven-speed automatic now your only option (earlier S3s of this shape had a six-speed manual, and it was a good ‘un). Peak outputs are 296bhp and 295lb ft, up around a third on its 1999 ancestor.
That yields a 4.7sec 0-62mph time and 155mph top speed, while the boring numbers are quoted at 34.4mpg and 185g/km on the more real world-representative WLTP cycle. Prices start at around £36,000 for the five-door Sportback – the proper hot hatch version – but you can also have a four-door saloon and a four-seat convertible should you wish. Anyone pining for the days when the Audi S4 wasn’t massive (or diesel) should probably get the saloon for nostalgia purposes.
Indeed, as Audi’s European S-badged range goes almost entirely diesel-only, here’s one of the last cars standing to use the traditional fuel of performance cars. One to savour perhaps, if the next-generation S3 is to follow a different path…