Audi S3 Sportback

Fast all-rounder with added practicality

8.6
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 9 reviews
  • Great engine
  • Decent ride
  • Grippy
  • A45 AMG faster
  • M135i more fun to drive
  • Expensive options
 

£32,950 - £36,010 Price range

 

5 Seats

 

39 - 41 MPG

Review

The Audi S3 Sportback is the five-door version of the three-door hatchback. Its rivals are the Mercedes A45 AMG, the BMW M135i and the VW Golf R.

You’d have to look hard to spot the differences between an S3 interior and a regular A3 S-Line one, but seeing how the similarities are quality materials and impeccable finish, that’s not a bad thing. The five-door body shape also liberates more passenger room in the rear as well as more space in the boot.

The S3 Sportback is extremely quick point to point. Partly because it’s lighter than its predecessor and partly because of the quattro four-wheel-drive system that makes it more manageable on slippery roads than the rear-wheel-drive BMW M135i. Admittedly the ride is still very firm, but just about comfortable for most.

Engine wise, the S3 Sportback is hard to fault – it has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol that gets very positive reviews. It packs 300hp and, with the help of the quattro 4WD, accelerates from 0-62mph in less than five seconds – faster than a Ferrari Testarossa supercar from the 90s. 

This being one of the most expensive version of the A3 Sportback means that it gets plenty of equipment that is optional on lesser models – 19-inch alloy wheels, heated leather-upholstered sport seats and a 5.8-inch screen for the infotainment that rises from the dashboard.

Testers liked the S3 Sportback’s cabin – it’s as well-made and beautifully appointed as the standard A3, but with added sports-car flair. Yes, the differences are subtle, mainly the body-hugging sport seats and the racy flat-bottomed steering wheel, but they only add to the appeal of the already premium feeling interior.

The 5.8-inch screen that controls most of the car’s systems is very easy to navigate with the rotary dial positioned between the front seats. It also makes many buttons and switchgear redundant and the S3 has an uncluttered and easy to learn dashboard layout as a result.

Audi S3 Sportback passenger space

Many buyers would opt for the Sportback over the other S3 body styles for the increased passenger space. According to reviewers it’s decently spacious in the front and the back seats are suitable for two six foot adults. The limited headroom problems of the saloon are not present here.

The front sport seats are supportive for fast driving and also comfortable enough for long motorway journeys. Visibility is better than in the saloon or convertible, but parking sensors are still highly recommended because of the small rear window.

Audi S3 Sportback boot space

Another reason buyers might prefer the Sportback over the three-door is the increase in boot capacity. The five-door packs 340 litres compared to the hatchback’s 325 litres. However, that is still behind rivals from Mercedes (341 litres) and BMW (360 litres). All three cars have around 1,100 litres of maximum capacity with the rear seats folded down, though.

Using a new platform shared with the VW Golf R, the S3 Sportback is actually 70kgs lighter than the old three-door model. This means better cornering and faster acceleration. Some testers go as far as saying this is the first S model with character that Audi has built in a long time. However, even with it’s better body control, the S3 is still more of an extremely quick point-to-point means of transport than something you take out for a fun Sunday drive.

Fitted as standard are Audi’s clever magnetic adaptive dampers. They can change their firmness in milliseconds and come with five driving modes: sport, auto, comfort, efficiency and individual. These modes are selected via the central rotary dial and displayed on the infotainment screen. They not only change the suspension settings but also alter throttle response and steering weight.

Sport mode is the most hardcore and is only really suitable for a race track or on a very,very smooth road as it finds and amplifies even the smallest pavement imperfections into the cabin. Comfort mode, on the other hand, remedies most of this by softening the suspension (not by much) and making the throttle response less immediate. Efficiency mode lightens the steering for navigating tight urban streets and also dulls the throttle response to increase fuel economy. Auto uses the car’s brain to figure out the best set-up for the current road conditions and testers reckon the S3 is best left in that mode.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the S3 Sportback (shared with the VW Golf R) grabs the headlines with 300hp, while most of its pulling power is available at a lowly 1,800rpm. If 4.9 seconds from 0-62mph isn’t enough proof of the engine’s ability then the 50-70mph in gear acceleration in 3.6 seconds might give you a better understanding of the linear power delivery and impressive overtaking ability.

Reviewers also liked the sound it makes and some even say it’s the one of the best sounding four-cylinder engines on sale. Drive it responsively and the S3 is quiet and refined, but floor the throttle  and the noise coming out of the quad exhaust pipes emulates a rally car, accompanied by a very satisfying pop when the optional DSG gearbox changes gear.

The seven-speed DSG gearbox (S-Tronic as Audi calls it) is faster than ever and the steering wheel mounted aluminium shift paddles offer manual control. This is an option on the S3 – as standard it comes with a precise six-speed manual.

Most performance cars go hand in hand with high running costs, but according to official figures the S3 shouldn’t be one of those cars. A combined fuel economy figure of 40mpg and road tax of £180 a year is commendable for a 155mph four-wheel-drive performance hatchback.

No S model Audi is cheap, but you do get the best interior in the class, arguably the best four-cylinder VW engine as well as adaptive dampers in a package that is understated and stylish.

All S3 Sportbacks get sports suspension, 19-inch alloy wheels, climate control and the signature S model matt silver door mirrors plus a voice activated sat-nav. Surprisingly, parking sensors and cruise control are optional extras costing £345 and £225 respectively.

Similarly to other Audi models there are a few equipment packs and the most worthwhile of them is the £1,495 Technology Pack that comes with the latest Audi MMI infotainment system with an upgraded 7-inch screen, internet connectivity, a touch pad for better control, and sat-nav with traffic information and 3D maps.

Conclusion

The old S3 was a good car that had little competition at the price. However, the new one faces more accomplished rivals such as the faster, but more expensive A45 AMG, the fun to drive, but less spacious M135i and the great all-rounder (and cheaper) VW Golf R. Get the S3 Sportback for it’s all-round performance and superb interior or choose the cheaper Golf R and spend the money you save on some nice optional extras. 

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