Audi S3

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Strong on paper, but an extra fiver buys you a better BMW…

Factfile
Price: £30,500
Engine: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 296bhp @5500rpm
Torque: 398lb ft @6500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed paddle shift, four-wheel drive
—————-
0-62mph: 5.4sec
Top Speed: 155mph
Economy: 40.4mpg
CO2: 162g/km

Being a cook motivated more by enthusiasm than talent, I am often struck by how a seemingly delectable list of ingredients can turn out to be so unappetising once blended, fused and assembled in the way prescribed. I am more than aware how much of the responsibility for this lies in my inexpert hand, but even so, and for reasons unknown, some dishes just don’t taste as good as they look.

The new Audi S3 is the automotive equivalent. The car is gorgeous and based on the A3, a car already known to be lighter, quicker and more fuel efficient than rivals from BMW and Mercedes. Into that Audi has dropped a new 2-litre turbo engine with both direct and indirect fuel injection so it can produce almost 300bhp. With four-wheel drive as standard it will hit 62mph in 5.2sec via the standard manual transmission, a number cut to 4.8sec with flappy paddles. Both are limited to 155mph. And quite extraordinarily, Audi claims both will return more than 40mpg.

What’s not to like?

Very little upon first acquaintance. The car is very well built and, while some might find the interior rather tedious and derivative, there’s no doubting the first-class quality of its fittings. And it isn’t just fast, but effortlessly so. The old S3 needed winding up before it would do its best work, but this one is ready and raring at almost any speed in any gear, despite its outrageous 150bhp/litre specific output.

All Audi has forgotten to do, and this will be a familiar refrain to many who have followed the fortunes of most but by no means all brisk Audis of the last 20 years or so, is make the car fun to drive. It’s crazily quick from point to point, but the engine noise is uninteresting, the handling clearly favouring stability over agility. Also, the steering offers very little by way of feedback so you are once more relegated to the role of interested onlooker rather than true participant.

What makes matters so much worse is that you can buy a BMW M135i, a car far less attractive than the S3, with poorer fuel consumption and fractionally inferior performance, for an extra five pounds. But because it has a searing six-cylinder engine at one end and driven wheels only at the other, I’d barely notice the Audi in my struggle to get behind the wheel of the BMW.

Naturally Audi will have no problem selling the S3 — like all things related to the A3 it will dominate its sector. But I expect very few who buy it will do so because they’re genuinely interested in driving. If you are, choose the BMW: uglier, slower and five quid more expensive it might be, but when it comes to what should matter with such cars, it is in a class of its own right now.

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