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Driving

What is it like to drive?

Audi’s 2024 facelift of the A3 range doesn’t feature too many headlines, but it’s clear that a lot of the effort has been put into making the S3 a stronger performer – especially with the likes of the Golf R nipping at its heels for less cash and a facelifted version of that car coming at the end of 2024.

The S3 is a great all-rounder, benign around town and economical at a cruise, but show it a decent strip of winding tarmac and it’ll cut loose with the best of them. The previous version of the car felt like it was more suited to being a perky long distance tourer, but the changes that Audi’s made (more power, perkier gearbox, borrowing the rear torque splitter from the RS3) have drastically improved the S3’s credentials. 

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You’ve got the poise and the balance of a four-wheel drive car, which makes it a great year-round option, but the tech that livens things up and makes the S3 behave more like a rear-driven car when you want it to. We’ve only driven it with adaptive dampers on German roads so far, which is the dream spec for the S3 on the roads it was born on. The ride was firm but supple, blending the stiffness of a sports car with something a bit more pliant. As before, those dampers are available on the Vorsprung version of the S3.

Give me some numbers.

The S3 produces 328bhp and 310lb ft of torque (23bhp up on the previous version), which makes it good for 0–62mph in 4.7 seconds  (only 0.9secs behind the RS3, which has 67bhp extra). The top speed has been electronically limited to 155mph, and the economy is rated at 32.5mpg and 198g/km CO2. 

What are the oily bits like? 

Volkswagen Group numbers fans will spot the similarity between the S3’s power figures and those from the Golf R 20 Years model that was launched in 2022. It gets the same ‘preloaded turbocharger’ setup that spins the thing up to minimise lag and get you straight on the boost. 

The other bit of borrowed tech is the rear torque splitter that’s been nabbed from the much racier RS3. You get electronically controlled clutches on each drive shaft to portion out torque between the rear wheels, directing power where it’s most needed. 

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Audi’s engineers have also done some solid work on the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox, halving shift times and allowing faster takeoffs thanks to higher starting torque. The S3 powers through gear changes with more assertiveness than before, adding to the theatre of the drive and helping you push on. 

What about the rest of the car?

The S3 sits on 18in alloys as standard, though there are 19s available as options. The suspension has been upgraded over the previous pre-facelift version of the S3, and is dropped 15mm over the standard A3.

There are six driving modes on the S3 – auto, efficiency, comfort, individual, dynamic and dynamic plus. The latter is new for the S3 and it dials down the ESC and sends more power to the outside rear wheel in a corner to dial in some oversteer characteristics for extra fun. It also ramps up the throttle response and gearbox for extra performance. It’s all the little details that are important here – the idle speed is increased by 200rpm to boost performance off the line.

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