Audi S3 (8V) | PH Used Buying Guide

The latest S3 is not especially memorable; the one launched in 2013 nailed the allrounder brief

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, May 9, 2021 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available for £12,000
  • 2.0-litre inline four petrol turbo, all-wheel drive
  • 2013-on 8V model benefits from lighter MQB body
  • Variable ratio steering takes a little getting used to
  • Great quality and reliability
  • Four body formats on pre-2017 cars
  • Big choice on the used market

Search for an Audi S3 here

OVERVIEW

When the first Audi S3 was revealed in 1999 it found itself somewhat in the shadow of the also new and far more daringly styled TT. That was a shame for UK Audi fans because in many ways the quattro all-wheel drive S3 was a perfect machine for British drivers, delivering not only grin-inducing performance and planted grip on the worst roads the authorities could create, but also offering the potential to transport four full-sized people and their luggage in comfort at the same time.

The S3 never felt too big or too unwieldy from the driver’s seat. You couldn’t fail to find the right model either. Few performance cars came with such a wide choice of bodies and drivetrains. In this buyer’s guide we’re looking at the third-generation ‘8V’ S3 built on the MQB-platform-debuting A3 launched at the 2012 Geneva show. That could be had as a two-door cabriolet, a three-door hatchback, a four-door saloon (or ‘Limousine’ in the US) or a five-door Sportback estate, which was 30kg heavier than the 3-door.

The new S3’s direct-injection TFSI 2.0 engine punched out 296hp, which was a near-50 percent increase on the first-generation 8L S3 of 1999 that was largely responsible for opening up this new premium hot hatch category. The 8Vs 35hp gain on the 261hp 8P gen-two S3 wasn’t quite so shocking, but to be fair that 2006 8P was the most powerful hot hatch you could buy at the time so it was unreasonable to expect a massive jump. The important thing was that the gen-three 8V we’re focusing on today had enough of a bump not just to make it Audi’s fastest ever four-cylinder production car but also to allow it to compete with serious rivals in the same 300hp bracket – principally BMW’s M135i and Mercedes’ A45 AMG.

Power alone wouldn’t have been enough to keep the gen-three S3 competitive, but the engine upgrade came with full integration of the car’s dynamic control systems. For the first time that allowed the dampers, quattro all-wheel drive and brake torque vectoring to work together in combatting undesirable effects like understeer.

All four 8V S3 variants were available from the start in 2013 with a choice of a 6-speed manual (which was discontinued at the end of 2017) or S tronic direct shift auto gearboxes. The S tronic began as a DQ250 6-speed and graduated to an S3 standard fitment DQ381 7-speeder in a 2017 model year facelift, when the S3’s output was hoisted to 306hp/295lb ft (outside the US market at any rate, where the 6-speed DSG box hung on until 2018 model year cars came on stream).

The DSG option added £1,480 to the price and around 20kg to the overall weight, but that was more than covered on the road where, armed with launch control and a new Haldex all-wheel drive unit, the 8V S tronic S3 knocked nearly half a second off the equivalent manual’s 0-62 time, with the additional bonus of a 20 percent cut in fuel consumption. 

Besides its boosted power and centralised dynamics, the 2017MY facelift S3 got its own specialised version of the new corporate grille, full LED lights at both ends and quite a few other bits and bobs to enhance its appeal. The 3-door S3 hatch was cut from the range at this time. Two years later, in 2019, all A3 Cabriolets including the S3 were axed on the grounds of slow sales. That left just two models in the S3 range, the Sportback and the saloon. Both of these continued in 2020 when the gen-four ‘8Y’ A3 replaced the gen-three 8V.

Today, on the road prices for gen-four 8Y S3s start at £38,990 for the Sportback and £39,555 for the (surprisingly?) still-available saloon. If you want a ‘Vorsprung’ version with 19in wheels, damper control and B&O audio, you’ll need to find the best part of £8k more that that. Yep, you read that right: over £47k for an S3 saloon.

Fear not though, dear readers, because a gen-three 8V S3 can be yours for just £12,000. Even in lower-powered pre-facelift guise you’ll still be just 10hp shy of the gen-four’s 306hp – and you won’t have to waste your life fighting through Audi UK’s new car website.

Fancy it? Let’s have a delve into what you might be letting yourself in for.

SPECIFICATION | AUDI S3 (2013-2020)

Engine: 1,984cc inline four 16v turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed man or S tronic auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],800-5,500rpm
0-62mph (secs): 5.2 (S tronic 4.9)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight (kg): 1,470 (Sportback 1,500, Sportback auto 1,520)
MPG (official combined): 40.4
CO2 (g/km): 162
Wheels (in): 7.5 x 18
Tyres: 225/40
On sale: 2013 – 2020
Price new: £31,000 (2013 manual)
Price now: from £12,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive. 


ENGINE & GEARBOX

Beneath the aluminium alloy head of the gen-three S3’s direct-injection EA888 2.0 TFSI engine lay new pistons, rings and connecting rods and valvegear. The turbocharger was new too. Peak power of 296hp was produced at a relatively low 5,500rpm, the same point at which the 3,700rpm-wide peak torque plateau began tailing off. The red line was set at 6,500rpm. As mentioned in the overview, 2017MY facelift S3s went up to 306hp, but from 2019 a particulate filter mandated by new WLTP regs took max power figure back down below 300hp.

Although it was an inline four engine, the 2.0’s bulkhead speaker and exhaust valve flap sound trickeries gave it low-end harmonics that were more reminiscent of a normally aspirated six-cylinder car than a whooshy turbo four. There were five modes in the Drive Select system: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Efficiency or Individual. Driving through a tunnel in Dynamic mode was a laugh. The parping on upshifts never got old either unless you weren’t an S3 owner and your house was next to that tunnel.

Some early 8V S3s did have issues relating to coolant and oil levels. The coolant should, as logic dictates, register somewhere between min and max. If the level on a car you’re looking at is above the maximum mark when the engine is cold you should ask a few questions because overfilling was Audi’s advice for those owners who had had leakage problems with the thermostat housing on the front of the engine block. Fortunately the leakage was always very gradual and total failure of either thermostat or water pump as a direct result of this issue is very rare.

Water pumps can fail for a different reason though. The preceding 8P model’s EA113 engine had a cambelt, but the 8V’s cams were chain driven, which was good for longevity but not so good when it came to forgetting about the water pump which would of course be routinely changed with a cam belt. Forgotten water pumps have been known to register their displeasure by blowing.

Rustling from the engine under light loads and/or around 3,000rpm became a known thing not just on the S3 and Golf R 2.0 TFSI turbo engines but also on the 1.8 turbos. Some turbocharger units did suffer failure early on in their lives but you’d be unlucky to be affected by this sort of thing on any of today’s used S3s. Premature wear to the fuel pump cam follower could damage the camshaft on earlier model S3s and very occasional problems with mass air sensors, throttle bodies and coil packs were reported, but these were isolated incidents. In general this is a very decent engine reliability wise.

One thing that might give you an insight into how much the previous owner of the S3 you’re looking at loved their car is the cleanliness or otherwise of the inner two exhaust tips. They’re not as easy to get to as the outers.

If you’re the sort who likes twiddling keyboards, VAGCOM fault code tracing and/or modifications using a VCDS plug and software kit will fill many an empty hour. On the assumption that previous owners might have been similarly inclined, it’s worth asking what mods if any have been carried out. They’ll usually be harmless enough, along the lines of softening the chirp noise on the alarm or tweaking the exhaust valves a bit, but once you’ve broached the subject of meddling you can go on from there and ask about any ECU remaps. S3s can be taken to 400hp quite easily, so it’s tempting, but even good map jobs will come up on a dealer’s diagnostic check and that might adversely affect the apportioning of blame for any warranty work.

The DSG double-clutch automatic gearbox really did make a lot of sense for the S3. When pottering about, and depending on which mode the box was in, the 7-speeder could in some circumstances feel slightly lazier than the earlier 6-speed, but the wider view among most owners with experience of both transmissions was that the later box was a step in the right direction. As you might expect, the 7-speed’s ratios were lower through the box than the 6’s, its extra gear higher than the 6’s top ratio to provide more relaxed motorway cruising. Neither car would hit 60mph in second.

Used DSG cars are more expensive than manuals which reflects not just on their excellent functionality but also on their reliability. Shifts were well-nigh instant in manual mode and wonderfully damped in automatic mode at all speeds bar very low ones. Shifts in Dynamic mode will by definition feel a bit more aggressive. Don’t be too alarmed by any lumpiness before the unit is fully warmed up.

Rattling on deceleration in manual S3s can mean an impending gearbox rebuild. Clutches on standard manuals should last for up to 80,000 miles but you should be looking for paperwork showing that an uprated clutch has been fitted to a mapped car.

Both the DSG and the Haldex should last for the life of the car as long as they’re properly serviced. Having said that, early Haldex pumps weren’t great and could fail early on. If you booted the car hard from 0mph causing the traction control light to blink like a mole caught in a searchlight and the car to feel like it was holding back, most likely that was a dodgy Haldex pump.

Fluids are important on these cars. A degree of engine oil consumption is not unusual, but you should worry more if the oil is dirty, not only because that’s bad for a performance engine but also because it suggests lazy maintenance. Some S3s came out of the factory on a long-life service schedule (19-20,000 miles between services), but in an ideal world the oil needs changing every year at least. Servicing costs will be the same as any all-wheel drive A3 at between £320 and £370 depending to some extent on where you live.

Dirt in the various transmission-related fluids can drastically shorten component life expectancy. The manual boxes were supposed to be sealed for life but the DSG 6-speeder’s oil and filter should be changed every 40,000 miles at the very outside. For facelift cars with the 7-speed DSG the official line is 75,000 miles but you may have your own thoughts on that.

For the Haldex the intervals are 20,000 miles/two years if you’re cautious, or 3 years irrespective of mileage if you aren’t. Dealers might ask £250 for the DSG service but independents will be somewhat cheaper. The Haldex service shouldn’t be more than £100. Diff oil is traditionally described as a lifetime fluid by VW/Audi, but again you may have other ideas for your own hard-earned S3.

Talking of independents, don’t assume that they all have brilliant reputations. Checking owners’ club forums for recommendations is free and could save you an awful lot of heartache. And talking of diff oil, popping that in the Haldex (as some garages have been known to do) is definitely not a good idea as the correct Haldex oil is non-lubricative and designed to promote friction rather than slip. Use it and you will end up with a 2WD S3 which is no good to man nor beast.

S3 fuel consumption figures in the 40s are easily achieved if you’re not pushing hard, and even if you are motoring along nicely on a mix of big and little roads you should still get low to mid 30s. Ruthless driving will knock it back to the mid 20s. They prefer top-spec petrol but will happily run on 95.

CHASSIS

Although S3 handling was more safe than sexy – an RS4 will likely feel more solid in a direct comparison – the gen-three S3 was lighter on its feet than the gen-two car. That was partly down to the thinner but stronger steels used in the MQB platform which chopped 60kg out of the S3’s weight. In addition to that, every gen-three A3 with more than 150PS under its bonnet had multi-link rear suspension rather than the lesser models’ torsion bar setup.

The S3 took things further by having an aluminium front suspension subframe and a lower ride height than humbler models. S3 springs and dampers were firmer, with Magnetic Ride as an option or as standard fitment on any cars that were sold with 19in wheels (ie the saloon and Cabriolet). Opinions on Mag Ride S3s vary. Some thought they were better than non-mags as long as you set the dynamics to Auto mode, as the Comfort setting can feel too bouncy and Dynamic too crashy. Rear end clunks were reported on some mag cars. Audi redesigned the top mounts and bump stops to address this but even with those in place you might still notice some knocking. The suspension and steering components were pretty tough though.

The S3’s variable ratio steering gave progressively sharper turning as you added more wheel angle, and more weight as you sported up through the modes. Though effective, the variable steering didn’t feel hugely inspiring, prompting the usual Audi calls for more feel at the wheel. Still, you couldn’t deny the S3’s ability to dig its talons into the exit of any corner and fire you out of it like a gun with no accompanying torque steer, a neat party trick that never failed to impress and/or petrify a first-time passenger.

Other clever Audi stuff included Adaptive Cruise Control and Traffic Jam Assist, which worked with ACC, Stop&Go and S tronic not only to keep your car away from the vehicle ahead of you in traffic but also to get it going again after a brief stop without any input from your good self. On smooth roads at speeds of up to 40mph TJA would even take over the steering for short spells. Cars with Parking system plus (a £700 option when it was with both front and rear parking sensors) informed the driver visually and audibly about obstacles in front of and behind the vehicle. For £875 you could have Park Assist which actually parked the car for you, a redundant kind of feature for the average S3 driver you would think. 

Standard S3 wheels kerbed easily and because they were diamond-cut that made them more expensive to refurb. Expect to pay at least £100 a corner. Hub rust can pop up on S3s but this is more cosmetic than worrying.

Not everyone was a big fan of the Conti Sport 5 tyres that were original equipment on the S3’s standard 18in twin-spoke ‘Spar’ wheels (three other 18in designs were offered). Michelin Pilot Sports were the usual suspects at tyre replacement time but some owners also had good experiences with Dunlop Sportmaxx and Goodyear Eagle F1s. Brake calipers were black with S3 logos but could be red at no extra cost. S3 brake consumables are reasonably priced.

BODYWORK

Distinguishing the S3 from other A3 models were its extended body panels (with bonnet and front wings made from aluminium), the usual S-style aluminium effect door mirrors, quad exhausts and 18-inch alloys, with 19s as an option. Xenon headlights were standard.

Compared to the previous model, the 8V’s MQB platform put 23mm on the wheelbase of the 3-door hatch and 12mm on the width, adding more space to the cabin generally and particularly improving leg room in the rear. Boot space in the 3-door was up by 15 litres to 365 litres or 1,100 litres with the split-folding rear bench down. The seat up/down litre counts were 380/1,220 in the Sportback, 390/845 in the saloon, and 320/678 in the Cabriolet.

Not every S3 owner will have looked after their car’s bodywork. You’re bound to find a few heavily carwashed examples with swirly paint, but a good S3 in the right colour and spec will still make its owner proud especially if £300-£400 is spent on a quality detail to bring a scratched-up car back to showroom glory. The ‘right’ colours by common consent are the darker ones, black, grey or blue, with Nardo Grey and Ara Blue being particularly sought after. A slightly darker Estoril Blue was one of the two exclusive crystal effect paints that, along with a more pronounced roof spoiler, differentiated the S3 from the rest of the A3 range (the other crystal paint being Panther Black). Rear wiper motors can fail.

INTERIOR

The cabin differences marking out an S3 were as well judged as they were beautifully integrated. Some manufacturers might have thrown an entire bucketful of logos and engraved plates at their performance flagship but all the S3 got apart from the odd quiet badge was a turbo boost gauge inset into the tachometer (albeit a rather nifty one with progressively segmented illumination), a luscious flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather wingback sports seats, all of which were heated. Nine out of ten of them were in anthracite, or dark grey in normal language. The tilt and slide panoramic sunroof was a very desirable option as it brought light into what could otherwise be a fairly murky cabin. Silver leather was a rare choice that could look amazing but only if you took good care of it. Rota grey interiors came along with the 2017MY facelift.

Quilted Super Sport seats have been widely praised by owners, and if you’re trying to sell an S3 to a dealer they may refuse to engage if it doesn’t have them. This seems a bit peculiar as the difference between these seats and the S3’s regular sports seats appears to be purely visual, with posh stitching but no obvious differences in the seat’s core construction, comfort or grip. SS seats in a B9 RS4 are a different matter, but even if you do have to pay some sort of premium for them in a used S3 you shouldn’t reject a car on comfort grounds simply because it doesn’t have them. If a car is described as having a ‘parade’ interior by the way that means it has red flashes in the seats.

The UK facelift in late 2016 changed the standard equipment list to include LED lights, an improved MMI screen and smartphone interface with Apple Car Play and Android Auto capability, and, crucially, a good satellite navigation system. Before, satnav took the form of an SD-card based MMI add-on using the standard screen. Satnav plus was a quicker hard drive based system using a bigger, higher resolution screen. The highly customisable Virtual Cockpit also became available in the S3 at this time.

The S3’s basic sound system was OK but you could notch up to the midpoint Audi Sound System with two extra speakers and a subwoofer, or go the whole hog with a Bang & Olufsen upgrade. Not much goes wrong with any of the electronics, a refreshing change in modern motoring. A3s generically might suffer from fragile parcel shelf fixings or rattling in the glovebox or driver’s side B pillar areas.

PH VERDICT

Backed by Audi’s reputation, the S3 was almost guaranteed to be a hit. It was pivotal in opening up new choices for those who wanted hot hatch performance without the cheap and cheerful aura that previously came with that class of vehicle. Other manufacturers are still struggling to replicate the Audi’s beguiling template of roaring performance, rally-car tenacity, everyday useability and, in the Sportback, pleasing versatility. Throw in excellent quality and economy and you’re looking at a powerful proposition.

Especially when you see the number of cars on the used market. At the time of writing there were around 250 S3s on PH Classifieds, so you really can afford to be picky. There has inevitably been some cheapening of the S3’s image as dropping values bring them into the clutches of less caring owners, but don’t turn your nose up at low priced cars just because they’re carrying higher mileages. The 8V’s robust reputation means that something like this 2014 3-door with 88,000 miles at £11,995 would be a very canny purchase. Somebody clearly thought so because that car was sold while this story was being written. All you really need with cars like this is evidence that the service requirements have been adhered to. Nothing too nasty should be lurking beneath the surface.

For the family user looking for an affordable Sportback we like this 306hp, 71,000 mile facelift car at £17,500. If you prefer the stubby four-door look, here’s a 59,000 mile saloon in red at £19,750. S3 Cabriolets are relatively rare but when you do find one they tend to be lightly used, like this 28,000 miler at a fiver under £20k. This full-power 2017 Black Edition Sportback in, er, white will nicely fill up the  rear-view mirror of anyone daft enough to get in your way at £22,995.


Search for an Audi S3 here

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