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Built to thrill.

Byline: a matter of OPINION By Alistair Coull and Val Jessop

F OUR-wheel-drive, powerful engines and top notch quality have made the Audi S3 a huge favourite among motoring enthusiasts.

The saloon on test is the third version to go on sale after three and five door hatchbacks. A cabriolet is imminent.

Each differs slightly in dimensions, practicality and target market but all are built to thrill.

The S3 saloon doesn''t shout about its sizzling performance - it doesn''t need to - but there are subtle changes over less potent A3 models - silver wing mirrors, quad exhausts, 18-inch alloys and deeper bodywork.

Audi cabins are always top class but the S3 adds to the sense of occasion with leather sports seats, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and a turbo boost gauge in the rev counter.

There is no doubt the S3 is very fast but it feels unflappable as you try to exploit its power to the limit. A combination of firmer, lowered suspension and four-wheel-drive means it sticks to the road like glue.

That grip also means you can push your right foot down early in corners with the sure-fire knowledge that throttle response will be immediate. Only if you carry ridiculous speeds into corners will you begin to feel understeer.

Both a six speed manual and a six-speed S-Tronic gearbox are offered. I personally prefer the S-tronic as it feels a better fit to the car''s high-tech character.

As well as a four-pipe sports exhaust, Audi has fitted a speaker to pump artificial engine noise into the cabin, giving a bass note as the revs rise. With the S-tronic box you even get to enjoy little burps on the upshifts. Childish enjoyment but who cares.

Performance may be expected but ride quality in such a sporty car may not be. Audi engineers have done a great job of giving the booted S3 a suspension system that is naturally on the firm side but one that is unlikely to cause any complaints from passengers. Only on the most uneven of surfaces does the car begin to feel a bit jittery.

The boot is longer than you might expect with no less space available than its hatchback cousins. Its letterbox aperture may be a drawback for some but in every other way the saloon is the jewel in the S3 crown.

Standard equipment includes sports suspension, roof spoiler, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, Bluetooth, LED Daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys, cruise control and parking sensors - and unlimited fun!

The S-Tronic test car came loaded with a further PS6,000-worth of optional equipment to take the price over the forty grand mark.

AUDI''S S3 compact executive saloon is a bit of a wolf in sheep''s clothing. It has a neat, good-looking body which sits on large wheels, with a large front bumper, wide wheel arches - and four tailpipes, no less. But there''s no real hint of the blistering pace it can achieve.

That, subtle, discreet profile doesn''t prepare you for the wickedly fast sprint that even puts a Porsche Cayman S in the shade.

This 2.0-litre TFSI quattro all-wheel drive saloon belts out almost 300bhp and here, linked to a six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, manages 0-62mph in an astonishing 4.7 seconds. That''s quick and beats the Porsche which takes a whole five seconds to do the same sprint.

You do pay an extra PS1,500 for the privilege of the S-Tronic transmission - Audi''s version of VW''s quicksilver DSG twin-clutch gearbox. With a manual gearbox the 0-62mph dart takes a little longer, registering 5.7 seconds - but still a rapid response.

This undercover performance machine is the booted, four-door saloon version from the A3 hatch and fastback stable and tears towards a limited 155mph top speed.

All this stonking performance and the S3 still swanks a combined fuel return of 41mpg, as near as damn it.

Anyone achieving near those figures, other than on a strict eco-run test, might be better suited to an eco-frugal Fiesta.

On test, the compact executive (it oozes premium) saloon returned nearer the 30mpg mark of so-called mixed driving, though I confess 90 per cent was probably pure, unadulterated driving enjoyment, the rest was restricted to urban, commuter crawl.

The quattro permanent all-wheel drive system gives sensational grip, further enhanced by traction and stability control, which inspires confidence to extract the last drop of power from the turbo-charged engine.

The petrol unit pulls hard with 290 lb/ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,500rpm at your disposal. You can''t help the grin spreading across your face as the S3 rapidly propels forward. It is unbelievably quick.

It handles supremely well and the electro mechanical steering - with speed dependent power assistance - is wonderfully precise and alert Against all this performance, the compact executive is still very much a user-friendly commuter car, offering reasonable space for five - though it isn''t overgenerous.

There are reasonable mpg figures for such an exciting performer - around the low 30s and a C02 of 159g/km is respectable enough, too.

Audi S3 2.0 TFSI Saloon ENGINE: 1984cc 4-cyl 16v DOHC 300bhp@5500rpm 280lb/ft@1800rpm PERFORMANCE: Top speed: 155mph (limited) 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds ECONOMY: Combined: 40.9mpg CO2 EMISSIONS: 159g/km INSURANCE: Group 36 PRICE: PS41,355 as tested
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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