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Audi S3 (8L) Review

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Car: 2002 Audi S3 (8L) 225bhp

Mileage When Bought: 40000miles

Current Mileage: 46000miles

I have now owned my S3 for 9 months and covered just over 6k miles so I though I'd put a few of my thoughts down and give some advice to help anyone who wants to buy an S3 but doesn't have the £30k for a new one.

The car was bought from Teesside Audi for £14250 last July, I know you pay through the nose for buying from Audi but the 1 year warranty appealed to me and I've more than had me moneys worth out of it.

Exterior

I love the look of this car, it is the perfect blend of aggressive looks without attracting too much unwanted attention. Most people (who don't know anything about cars) have no idea what an S3 is, so if you want to show off to the ladies buy a TT instead. Personally I prefer the understated looks and this stops all the 'max power' boys wanting to race you everywhere.

Mine is fitted with the standard 17" Avus Alloys although I think the that optional 18" RSTT Alloys look much better.

One thing I can't stand is having a common car so the fact that the S3 is a relatively rare sight on UK roads is a bonus and the Ming Blue Pearlescent Paint looks fantastic when clean (but does shows every scratch, stone chip and swirl mark). As usual with Audi's the galvanised body is built to last and there is no sign of any rust on the car.

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Interior

This is what sold the car for me over the R32 which was also on my short list. The quality of materials used through the interior is leagues ahead of anything else you'll find in a hatchback of this age and the whole interior oozes a class and sophistication that others just can't match. Mine is fitted with the full leather Recaro seats which are the best I've ever experienced for comfort, the pull out thigh support is excellent making it easy to get into the perfect driving position.

I would advise anyone thinking about an S3 to find one with the full leather. In my experience the alcantara seats seem to wear and go 'bobbly' which doesn't look great (although being more grippy they do hold you in place better). The only regret I have is not having the heated seats as the leather can be cold in the winter (although I'm being picky).

Another must is the optional BOSE sound system. This includes upgraded speakers and a discrete sub in the side of the boot. I think this is a much better set up than the standard system and unless you start fitting aftermarket speakers and spoiling the OME look it can't be beat.

Mine is also fitted with the interior lighting pack which gives a lovely red glow to the cabin at night.

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Engine & Performance

The 1.8T engine is excellent and renowned for it's reliability and is easy to tune. Being a 4 cylinder turbo it isn't the most tuneful engine in the world but the rasp of the engine accompanied but the whoosh of the turbo has a character of it's own that becomes very addictive. Despite this the noise isn't intrusive, even when pushing things and is quite enough and relaxed at motorway speeds. As you would expect from a turbo engine, not mush happens until about 2500rpm when the turbo spools up but once it's away the power delivery is smooth with plenty of mid-range torque available making overtaking effortless.

The engine develops 225bhp (210bhp in the early cars) and I can't fault the performance, the car is more than quick enough in every gear and people have said the claimed top speed of 151mph is easily achievable. The 0-60 dash of 6.4 seconds seems just as easy to achieve with the grip available from the Haldex Quattro system, this makes using all the power possible on the all too common wet and greasy British roads in ways that 2WD cars just can't match. You don't realise just how much the Quattro system is working till you get back into a front wheel drive car again only to wonder where all the grip has gone.

The only criticism I have is the ESP (Electronic Stability Program). This is far to quick to interfere and often dips the power before the Haldex system has had time to transfer more torque to the rear wheels, why Audi can't develop a system that recognises this and works with the Haldex is beyond me. That said, the ESP it is capable of correcting the car from slides which would normally be impossible to save, something that become evident on the snow covered winter roads.

The 1.8T engine is mated to a 6 speed gear box (5 speed in the early cars) which is criticised by some as a little 'notchy' personally I think this is unfounded. I would describe it more as a positive shift rather than 'notchy'. Either way the 6 ratios are reasonably well spaced (although I sometimes feel 1st is a little short) and work well whether pottering round town, cruising on a motorway or blasting down B roads.

Ride & Handling

The ride quality is probably one of the S3's weakest points, as with most Audi Sport/S-line models the suspension is a little too firm. This certainly helps the handling and it's fine on smooth tarmac but can be crashy and fidgety on uneven surfaces, it seems to lack the control and finesse that it should. The steering has also come in for some criticism although I think it is well perfectly weighted it can lack feedback at times. One thing to remember is this isn't a light car, although for its weight and size it is still agile and great fun on any B road. The handling is tuned more towards safety with mild understeer and will suit the majority.

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Practicality

When you consider the performance available this is a practical car, it's not as spacious as some hatchbacks and it is a little cramped in the back but it's the right choice if a two door couple isn't quite practical enough. The boot is also not as big as you might think and has a higher boot floor than the none Quattro A3 but it is adequate for most people. If you do need to carry anything big the seats fold down to create extra space.

Reliability

Mine hasn't faired too well in this department but I'm led to believe most examples will give you relatively trouble free motoring. The following parts have been replaced under warranty at Audi's expense:

Gearbox (2nd Gear Synchromesh failed)

Front Suspension Bushes

CD Changer

Headlight Switch

Glove Box Lid

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Running Costs

Don't buy an S3 if you want cheap motoring, it's not too expensive given the performance available but it certainly isn't cheap.

I currently average 25mpg, this is doing nearly all short journeys (<10 miles) to and from work but on a tour around Cornwall recently I managed to average 35mpg over 1000 miles doing only long runs. If you budget for 25-30mpg you won't be far wrong.

Servicing, my last service from Audi at 43k miles was £360 which included all the Haldex Oil Change etc. The next service should be cheaper. If you use your car sensibly the variable service should mean service intervals are well over 10k miles apart.

Tyres cost approx. £100/corner for a reasonable quality tyre.

Insurance is Group 18 although the quotes I have had in the past don't seem to reflect this, possibly due to the lack of boy racer image associated with this car. All the other cars with similar performance I've had quotes on seem significantly more expensive to insure.

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What Next?

A few mods are on the horizon to freshen things up. New alloys are a must so I think a set of 18" RS TT's will be the first thing, possibly combined with the Audi Gmbh sports springs and maybe a set of spacers.

Once the warranty expires I'll certainly consider a re-map. From what I've read on here the addition performance makes the £500 outlay look like a bargain.

Future Replacement

I certainly have no plans to change any time soon but when the time comes I think I'm going to struggle. Its hard to think of any credible alternatives that can match the practicality and quality with the performance and security of 4 wheel drive traction.

Conclusion

Arguably the best all round hot hatch you can by in this price range, and certainly one of the best cars Audi has ever built. If you want a fast, practical, premium hot hatch with the security of 4 wheel drive grip you won't go far wrong with an Audi S3, certain to be a future classic.

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A really excellent well written and informative review. Personally, I still prefer my GTI though.

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Excellent write up,makes me want to go and get my old S3 back!

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After 18 months I’ve sold my S3 so I thought I’d put an update on here. Unfortunately it has been the first casualty in a money saving scheme to allow me to move house so sadly it had to go.

The car had 49000miles on it when I sold it so I’ve only covered 9000 miles in my 18 months of ownership. My general thoughts on the car are still as mentioned above and if it wasn’t for the fact I needed the money I’d of kept the car. I still love the subtle styling and it is still a joy to drive day to day.

Despite saying that I’m still less than impressed with the reliability and had two further problems fixed under warranty by Audi. The first of these was a temperature sensor which caused the engine warning light to come on and the second was a fault with the interior light saying on, this was eventually traced to the driver’s door lock which was replaced. All in all it has left me feeling very disappointed with the reliability of my car and it certainly hasn't lived up to what I expected from a so called prestige brand.

Something else I’m less than impressed with is the prices Audi continue to charge for servicing and the intervals between the services. At the time I sold my car it was displaying 600 miles to the next service yet I had only covered 6000 miles since the last service. Admittedly I have only used it for short journey quite a bit of the time but I’m still less than impressed, especially as I’d been quoted another £340 for the next service, which isn’t supposed to be as involved as the last one which cost about the same. Maybe this is a ploy by Teesside Audi to recoup some of the £8 million the impressive new dealership has cost.

Since my last update I have fitted some OME 18” RSTT alloys which I picked up second hand and had reconditioned. I have to say that the car looked much better on these and there was no significant penalty to the already crashy ride quality. One other note I would add about the change of wheels is associated with the change in tyres. The tyres fitted to the alloys I got where Khomo branded tyres and wouldn’t have been my choice, despite this I was relatively impressed. Although there was a slight drop in the ultimate amount of grip this wasn’t significant, what impressed me most was how the cars ESP seemed to work much more smoothly and progressively compared to the abrupt way it would interfere on the Continentals previously fitted.

So would I buy another one? Well the 8L model is starting to look dated and good examples are becoming few and far between, but I’d certainly consider an 8P S3 in the future when my bank balance allows. I’m still a big fan of the Audi brand and despite my unreliability issues I know plenty of other people who own reliable Audi’s.

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