Audi S3 pictures and hands-on

There's very little doubt that the new A3 is an amazing car. Everything that could possible be said in a negative way about the old car - and there really isn't that much - has been tweaked and improved in the new car. And, then, along comes the S3 and improves everything else, making this a seriously hot hatchback.

First up, there's the engine, a 2-litre turbo that goes to 62mph in 4.8 seconds - that's properly quick for a car in this price range. Hardly surprising though, as it's 60kg lighter than the previous model and now has aluminium body panels - like the bonnet - to keep weight down. There's all-wheel drive here too, which should help make the car feel planted.

Our time in the car was spent on some country roads and fast German motorways. We had the manual car, and the left-hand drive meant we messed up several gearchanges, but it was still a brilliant drive. This car feels different from the old-model A3. We do like the change too, it feels a little bit more poised and the steering a bit more responsive, but the fun of the old car remains.

As with the old car, the best feature of the S3 is the engine. Audi puts a lot of love into these things, and while the cars can be accused of being "safe" and perhaps even lacking passion, the noise and fun that can be had from a really good engine outweighs those things enormously. The S3, like all the other A3s, is a driver's car first and foremost, and that's what any good petrolhead wants.

Our biggest complaint about the A3 of old was that the technology within was depressingly bad. Moving from a GT TDI Golf to the TDI Sport A3 meant losing leather seats, for example, and having to pay extra for parking sensors. Audi seems to be fixing these issues and the S3 is well-specified. That's not to say you don't have to spend money on extras, because you do.

The built-in navigation system is improved too, and has online services on offer - via 3G - and a 7-inch screen to give you a big view of both maps and the other car systems. We used it to avoid getting lost, and it didn't once drop the ball. The dashboard information is also much improved, moving away from the older, more basic system and gives loads of extra information.

At £30,500 for the manual, or about £1,500 more for the S-Tronic, we'd actually struggle to choose. More than likely we'd go for the manual, as it's still the best for having fun on country roads where there's excitement happening. The problem is, most cars these days spend half their lives sitting in traffic on the morning commute, and there it makes sense to have the flexible automatic. And one mindblowing fact, in official emissions ratings, the automatic is fractionally more efficient. There's very little benefit to this tiny boost, but it's a sign of good things to come.



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