Audi S3 Sportback Review
The Audi S3 is a cool, classy and incredibly rapid hot hatch, but is it the sort of car to make you want to go for a blast? Not so much.
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Audi S3 Sportback: what would you like to read next?
The Audi S3 is a hot hatch with none of the rough edges that make some rivals more fun to live with, so it’s quick, comfortable and efficient.
In essence, the S3 is like the kid at school who excels at maths, can form a perfect dovetail joint in woodwork, and captains the football team, whereas rivals such as the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R are just as adept on the pitch – when they’re there, because you’ll often find them bunking off and having a cheeky tab behind the bike sheds. Whose gang would you rather run with?
Having the Audi A3 as a basis is a pretty good starting point for the S3, because it has an interior design that blows away those in alternatives such as the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. The only one that gets anywhere close is the new Golf, and that’s, well, a VW and not an Audi.
The Nappa leather sports seats are beautiful to sit in, and the S3’s steering wheel can be adjusted to just the right position. Interestingly, it has no flat bottom, which is unusual in fast Audis these days.
Ahead of the driver, the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ digital display can show S-specific dials should you wish, and this even incorporates a lap timer. The standard seven-speed DSG gearbox has a tiny ‘trigger’ gear selector.
Those consigned to the rear seats will find themselves luxuriating on Nappa leather sports seats, too, and space is fine, although there’s more space in a 1 Series or an A-Class. Boot space is 370 litres, which is less than both a standard A3 Sportback or a BMW 1-Series, because the rear diff for the quattro four-wheel-drive system means the floor has to be slightly higher.
On twisty roads, the S3 behaves pretty much as it looks – grown up
Still, hot hatches are all about doing a few fast laps of your local circuit than trundling to Sainsbury’s on the way home, so they need an engine that excites when you want it to, and shut up when you need it to. The 310hp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor in the S3 does a pretty good job of both.
A combination of launch control and quattro traction will get the S3 from 0-60mph in only a little more than four seconds, and it’ll carry on to a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s just a shame it sounds all a bit flat and blarey while doing so.
The S3 is also really easy to live with, especially when dealing with the sort of annoying journeys that clutter up most people’s days. So, while it’s firmer than a standard A3 Sportback, it’s still more than capable of dealing with the moonscapes that pass for the UK’s roads, and all the while the DSG gearbox shuffles up and down through the ratios unobtrusively.
The variable-ratio steering, too, makes life easier, because at low speeds just one turn from straight ahead takes you to full lock, making manoeuvres easy, then at faster speeds slows down to help stability.
On twisty roads, the S3 behaves pretty much as it looks – grown-up. It certainly gets down the road rapidly enough, but whether it gives you the sort of thrills to make you turn around and do the road again is another story. It’s all a bit… efficient. Where cars such as the Focus ST and Mercedes-AMG A45 make you feel like you’re driving a getaway vehicle, the S3 feels more akin to a computer game.
Then again, that’s what might make it ideal for you. It feels great to sit in on a wet, grey day in winter, it’ll deal with everything a typically busy daily life can throw at it, and it’s quick enough to impress your mates on the way to a sunny evening in the pub.
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The Audi S3 Sportback has a generally upmarket interior that certainly looks the part. Only some cheaper-feeling plastic lower down bring a black mark against it.