The Audi S3 is subtle, yet devastatingly quick

The new Audi A3 is a brilliant car -- it's comfy, full of tech, and as safe as you'd like. So the faster S3 promises to be pretty sweet.

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I like fast cars. That's a given being a "car guy," but sometimes it needs saying. I don't mind what shape they come in -- so long as they're quick there's a chance I'll be quite enamored with them. So throwing a 300 bhp motor in to one of the best hatches out there is sure to be a recipe for smiles.

The "S" badge that adorns certain Audis is a hint that it's no slouch. It's going to go very quickly and be a bit of a giggle. In this instance you get a 0 to 62 mph time of 5.0 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. There's a smile on my face just writing that; using the power was something else.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine surges the S3 forward with a wonderful urgency. Pop your foot on the throttle and the world gets a touch blurry as the rev counter's needle arcs nicely to the red zone. The manual car we had comes with a light, easy gearbox that admittedly feels a little too easy to use, but does its job wonderfully.

Picky drivers will like the S3's changeable driving modes, which allow you to change the car's ride on the fly. Personally, I preferred the "dynamic" mode, as it kept the car's suspension slightly harder as well as toughening up the steering and egging the engine on.

Thanks to Quattro four-wheel-drive, you can comfortably hustle it around any bend you choose without too much fear. It grips nicely and feels solid enough. I didn't find its steering too numb, either, which is an Audi trait of sorts.

Subtlety isn't something I usually praise in a car -- if your wagon's going to go at Mach 3 it may as well look the part, right? But in the case of the S3, its few subtle tweaks suit it. Audi has made a car that looks smart, but give it an excuse and it'll teach you how to roll. I like that.

Here's the rub: in the UK the VW Golf GTI has 220 bhp delivered through the front wheels and costs around 5,000 pounds less than the 300 bhp 4WD S3. They deliver similar economy, too, dropping about 40mpg. So...go for the nimble and classic GTI, or work harder and get more power with those four rings? Your call.

Specs
Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power 296 bhp
Torque 280 lb. ft.
0-62 mph 5.0 seconds
Top speed    155 mph
 

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