2024 Audi S3 Review: No Longer A One-Trick Pony

2024 Audi S3 Review: No Longer A One-Trick Pony

The addition of a ‘torque splitter’ plus suspension geometry changes have transformed Audi’s fast but previously one-dimensional hot hatch

The VW Group brands might all rummage around the same box of bits to make their cars, but that doesn’t mean there’s a version of one particular thing under each of the core marques. This especially goes for the quick stuff – you can get a Skoda Octavia vRS estate, for example, but there’s no such thing as a VW Golf GTI wagon. And then there’s the Audi S3 – you might think it’s just a VW Golf R with different styling and four rings slapped on the bonnet, but there’s been one important detail separating the two. Until now.

For the 2024 facelift S3, Audi has fitted the ‘torque splitter’ that’s been conspicuously missing since the current-generation car went on sale back in 2020. It’s a key part in making the Golf R plus Audi’s own RS3 behave a little spicier on the limit, and without it, the outgoing S3 just felt a bit meh to drive.

Audi S3 - front, static

Audi S3 – front, static

Fast and capable? Of course, but as with all other Haldex clutch-based all-wheel drive cars, it’d just cling on before pushing on into safe, predictable and boring understeer when corner exit throttle demands got a bit too much. Audi will tell you the S3 did without, ensuring the RS3 had the tech first, but now it’s time for a facelift, it’s been belatedly added, but that’s not all.

Yes, there’s the usual exterior and interior nip and tuck, here involving a wider, flatter ‘Singleframe’ grille and new headlight clusters with different daytime running light signatures to choose from, plus new vents for the cabin and fabric door panels featuring 300 laser cuts. But while it would have been understandable for Audi to call it a day there, we also get new wishbone bearings that increase negative camber, tweaks to the variable-ratio-rack steering and thicker, larger-diameter brake discs.

Less surprising is a token uplift in power from 306bhp to 329bhp, knocking the 0-62mph time down by a tenth to 4.7 seconds, but there’s also a more responsive turbocharger that’s ‘preloaded’ at a constant RPM during medium load. Meanwhile, it’s kept spinning on the overrun in a sort of anti-lag manner, thanks to a throttle valve that stays open. Finally, tweaks to the seven-speed S Tronic halve shift times under full load.

Audi S3 - dynamic

Audi S3 – dynamic

The torque splitter is responsible for the biggest divergence in the way the S3 drives now, though. There’s no dedicated ‘drift mode’ here as found on the Golf R and RS3, but the system does have a “a tendency to oversteer,” Audi says. As a reminder, the device can send up to 100 per cent of the torque making its way to the rear axle (50 per cent of the total) to a single wheel.

The S3 hasn’t been turned into some tyre-smoking drift monster, but you do feel a noticeable nudge from the rear that wasn’t there before in some corners, helping rotate the car slightly for a better exit and, crucially, a more engaging attitude. It’s more interesting, more playful, and more satisfying, but without feeling contrived and ‘fake’ as some of these systems can do during power oversteer. It’s subtle, reminding me of Torsen diff-equipped fast Audi models of old with a 40/60 front/rear torque split.

You’d need to get old and new cars back-to-back to really get to the bottom of the changes to the front end and the steering, but in that regard, it does just seem that little bit sweeter than before. The test route on the car’s launch took in the Col du Turini in southern France, and being in an S3 didn’t feel like a bit of a waste, as it might have done in the old, more one-dimensional version. The steering still lacks feedback and could do with being a bit heavier.

Audi S3 - rear, static

Audi S3 – rear, static

We tried a car on the passive suspension (‘DCC’ adaptive dampers are available as an option), which feels pretty firm when you’re pootling around and bouncing over speed bumps, but the ride settles with speed. Body roll isn’t ever an issue.

There was never any hope of the power increase being obvious, but with all the turbo tweaks, the tried and tested EA888 inline-four does more eager than before. The tweaked dual-clutch gearbox further helps the S3’s newfound energetic vibe, and in a straight line, you’re never really left wanting for power. It’s an ideally suited amount of performance for the road.

There’s always a sense of familiarity when driving something with this engine, given how many cars the thing crops up in. That’s a good and a bad thing – you know you’re going to enjoy its smooth, refined nature, but that you’ll also be left a little cold by the engine note. It’s not what you’d call raucous, and modern regs mean it’s a much more ‘polite’ thing than earlier iterations of the 2.0-litre lump.

Audi S3 on the Col de Turini

Audi S3 on the Col de Turini

Actually, ‘polite’ is a good word with which to describe the 2024 Audi S3 on the whole. Yes, it’s taken a big leap forward in terms of engagement and entertainment, but don’t expect to have the kind of big grin slapped across your face as you might when driving a Toyota GR Yaris. Front-wheel drive rivals, too, are generally going to be more of a giggle.

But that’s never really been the point of the S3. It’s about blending speed and a bit of luxury in a compact package, something it’s still great at, even if the more angular cabin of the current car isn’t quite the interior design triumph of the previous-gen model. It’s a lovely car to spend time in and one you could easily daily and/or take on big trips, but now, when you are on a good road, it stands a much better chance of entertaining you.

Yes, £46,925 might sound like a lot for an entry-level Sportback, while the £52,965 charged for a kitted-out Vorsprung saloon is going to raise eyebrows. But when you consider the equivalent RS3 is the best part of £10,000 more (we can expect an increase once it has the facelift treatment) and the S3 isn’t all that far behind in terms of performance and the way it feels at the limit, that doesn’t seem bad value at all.

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