Agile S3 saloon fills another niche in the market for Audi.
AUDI has arguably made filling every conceivable niche in the market an art form with a model line-up that has expanded at a rapid rate.
One of the more recent recruits to the range is a saloon version of the all-conquering A3.
One could be forgiven for thinking a saloon represents a superfluous addition to the range but having sampled its delights previously I concluded it made a lot of sense.
In reality it looks far more like an A4 saloon than an A3 hatchback and in truth isn't much smaller than the A4.
It also looks a lot nicer than the larger saloon, its more compact dimensions producing a car whose lines are more sleek and sculpted.
My previous A3 saloon experience was at the wheel of a 2.0-litre TDI model which was impressively sporty and agile.
Good as it was though the S3 model is a different beast altogether - and what a beast it is - rather like the TDI's irresponsible, anarchic and ever so slightly dangerous big brother.
This is a car that packs one hell of a performance punch in a relatively small package.
Think pocket-sized supercar rather than family saloon and you get close to just how much the S3 has to offer.
Even when idling its highly tuned 2-0-litre petrol engine emits a menacing purr but when you really put it through its paces it turns to an angry growl and eventually a full-on roar.
The engineers at Audi have managed to eke an incredible 295bhp out of the turbocharged TFSI unit and produced a car that delivers truly blistering performance.
Though it's happy pootling around town at lower speeds it's out on the open (and preferably empty) road where it comes into its own.
Put your foot to the floor and it genuinely takes your breath away.
In standard mode it delights but switch to sport mode and it thrills.
The S tronic twin-clutch automatic transmission works exceptionally well and is a smooth shifter that actually out-performs the manual in the acceleration stakes.
Combine this with sublime and assured handling, courtesy of the quattro four-wheel-drive system, and the end result is a truly consummate performer that really takes some beating.
It might be an unashamed thrill machine but it's also incredibly controlled and (when required) forgiving. Suffice to say, even when you think you're pushing the car it remains very much within the limits of its capabilities.
The ride may be firm but you'd kind of expect that with a car like this (S-sports suspension comes as standard), though owners can alter the set up through Audi's drive select to suit their individual taste, so there is a degree of flexibility.
One could probably eulogise about its performance and handling till the cows come home but there's more to this.
As a five-set saloon it's also a car that can serve as a great and practical family motor and amazingly it can return the sort of fuel economy that seems hard to believe.
A combined fuel economy of figure of more than 40mpg might be difficulty to achieve in real world motoring (particularly if you exploit the A3's prowess to the full) but it indicates this is a car that offers a blend of performance and economy that's impressive to say the least.
Looking at more mundane aspects the cabin is roomy and the whole interior oozes the sort of sophistication and attention to detail that has become an Audi trademark.
Some sporty design flourishes inside and out help to set the S3 apart from mainstream models and the twin exhausts indicate it's a car that means business.
Overall there's little one could find fault with, other than a concern that ownership over a prolonged period might perhaps lead to an unwelcome accumulation of penalty points.
FAST FACTS Audi S3 Saloon S tronic Price: PS34,720 Mechanical: 296bhp, 1,984cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving four wheels via 6-speed automatic gearbox Max speed: 155mph 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds Combined mpg: 40.9 Insurance group: 36 CO2 emissions: 159g/km BIK rating: 24% Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles
The Audi S3 Saloon looks a lot nicer than the larger saloon, its more compact dimensions producing a car whose lines are more sleek and sculpted