The S3's 265bhp puts it in the same league as the BMW 130i and close to the Subaru Impreza STi for power, and the whole package seems geared towards making rapid progress. The S3 always feels keen to pick up the pace when required while the short and slick gearchange makes it easy to keep the engine in the optimum power band. The S3 will sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds (5.8 seconds in the Sportback) and is capable of 155mph flat out.
The exhaust note has been tuned for acoustic pleasure, but the engine note doesn't really offer the same level of excitement - it's also not as charismatic as the V6 engine available in the Audi A3. An automatic S tronic gearbox with six speeds is available as an optional extra (from late 2008) and uses two clutches to provide swift shifts. It's so quick in fact, it brings the 0-62mph time down to 5.5 seconds (5.6 seconds in the Sportback).
It's easy to drive the S3 with complete confidence. The steering is quick-witted and seems to respond intuitively on the road, although it lacks a little in feel. But the quattro all-wheel drive system ensures the S3 doesn't suffer the same wheelspin problems of front-wheel drive high-performance hatchbacks and traction out of corners is superb. The stiff suspension does a great job of eliminating body roll and helping the car feel responsive on flat roads, however it is rather too harsh on bumpy surfaces when travelling quickly.
It actually fares better when dealing with speed humps, level crossings or potholes at lower speeds. Despite being exceptionally fast for a compact hatchback, the S3 lacks the involvement and feelgood factor of some alternatives.