The second-generation Audi S3 (sold between 2006 and 2012) is a great option those who need a hot hatch that can double up as an express commuter in the week. So the fact that you can now get one for less than £8,000 is potentially very good news indeed.
The S3 is, of course, Audi’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, only with a bigger turbocharger and intercooler for the 2.0-litre engine in order to wind up the outputs to a storming 261bhp and 258lb ft of torque. That extra power also means the Golf’s front-wheel-drive setup has been replaced by a Haldex-based four-wheel-drive system. In normal driving this still sends power to the front wheels, but has the advantage of being able to fire drive rearwards as soon as any slip is detected.
At its launch in 2006, the S3 was only offered as a three-door with a manual gearbox, and these remain the cheapest of the second-generation S3s on the used market today. However, things became more family friendly in 2008 with the addition of a five-door Sportback model and the option of the company’s six-speed, dual-clutch S tronic automatic – just be aware that you’ll be looking at more like £10,000 if it’s one of these that takes your fancy.
Whatever S3 you opt for, there’s no denying that you’ll pay a premium over its Volkswagen equivalent. But in return you’ll not only have more power and all-wheel-drive capability, but also a plusher-feeling cabin and better re-sale values.
The Audi S3 is not a particularly tactile hot hatch, and is not the one you buy if you want fingertip-tingling responses and breathless moments of daring lift-off oversteer. What it does offer, however, is rampant, unflappable all-season point-to-point pace in a car that’s also a quiet and unassuming daily driver. It’ll even do as much as 30mpg if you’re taking it easy, which isn’t at all bad for a family car that can also go from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds (5.7 sec for the sweet-shifting manual).
Even the ride comfort is just about acceptable. Because while the suspension (lowered by 25mm compared with a standard A3) is stiff, the S3 is still more composed and less tiring everyday than alternatives such as the Subaru Impreza STi and Renaultsport Megane.
Maybe the rather numb steering feel is underwhelming, and the engine less charismatic than the naturally aspirated 3.2-litre V6 in the Volkswagen Golf R32. But for easy-to-access, sports car-beating performance there are few better bets than the sure-footed and plush S3.
The Audi S3 was equipped with a decent array of comforts, including a Bose sound system and touchscreen, but you could still go to town with options including the spectacular bucket seats shared with the equally spectacular Audi RS4. Find a car with those, and it could be worth paying extra for. The 2008 facelift also brought the option of adaptive dampers, which are worth having if you can find them.
As for areas to check, the air-conditioning compressor is a common weak point, a cambelt change is due every 70,000 miles or five years (whichever is sooner), and clutches on the manuals don’t tend to last much more than 80,000 miles. If you go for the dual-clutch automatic make sure the oil and filter have been changed every 40,000 miles, as otherwise issues can arise. And on a test drive listen for a knocking that might suggest a new top-mount for the suspension is needed.
These relatively small considerations aside, the S3 has proven itself to be a solid bet in terms of mechanical reliability, bodywork and interior durability – all of which only adds to its appeal as an easily recommendable half price hot hatch.
Power: 261bhp @ 6,000rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
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