Audi S3 Sportback (2017-2020) review
The Audi S3 Sportback is the five-door version of the three-door hatchback. Its rivals are the Mercedes A45 AMG, the BMW M140i and the VW Golf R. You can also have the S3 as a convertible.
What's not so good
Audi S3 Sportback (2017-2020): what would you like to read next?
You’d have to look hard to spot the differences between an Audi S3 Sportback 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 Audi 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 M140i. Admittedly the ride is still very firm, but just about comfortable for most.
Engine wise, the Audi S3 Sportback is hard to fault – it has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol that gets one of the best in that size. It packs 305hp 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 versions of the A3 Sportback means that it gets plenty of equipment that is optional on lesser models – 18-inch alloy wheels, heated leather-upholstered sport seats and a 5.8-inch screen for the infotainment that rises from the dashboard.
The S3 is incredibly fast and can even pass as practical even if it doesn't look nearly as special as it actually is
The old S3 was a good car that had little competition at the price. However, the new Audi S3 Sportback faces more accomplished rivals such as the faster, but more expensive A45 AMG, the fun to drive, but less spacious M140i and the great all-rounder (and cheaper) VW Golf R. Get the S3 Sportback for its all-round performance and superb interior or choose the cheaper Golf R and spend the money you save on some nice optional extras.
Yes, this is a very fast car, but you could use it as an everyday family car, as it has a proper four-seater cabin and a decent boot. However, you’ll struggle to get three people across the back seat in comfort
This is proof that you can have your cake and eat it: a seriously fast car that is also a practical family hatchback. If only it had better fuel economy...
Many buyers would opt for the Audi S3 Sportback over the other 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.
The Audi S3 Sportback can almost pass as a small family car so it’s good news that storage areas are perfectly suited to the class of the car. Places to store water bottles, phones and wallets are decently big and optionally you can recharge your compatible smartphone wirelessly via a special cubby under the climate controls.
Another reason buyers might prefer the Audi S3 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.
Standard quattro all-wheel drive helps seemingly cement the Audi S3 Sportback to the road, giving the driver huge confidence to explore the limits of the car.
The approachable S3 is perfect if you want a fast car but don't have the driving skills of Lewis Hamilton
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the Audi S3 Sportback (shared with the VW Golf R) grabs the headlines with 305hp, 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 of 3.6 seconds might give you a better understanding of the linear power delivery and impressive overtaking ability.
The sound it makes is also pretty fruity and some might say it’s 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 as fast as you’d need it and the steering wheel-mounted aluminium shift paddles offer manual control. This is an option on the Audi S3 Sportback – 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 is commendable for a 155mph four-wheel-drive performance hatchback.
Using a new platform shared with the VW Golf R, the Audi 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 Audi S3 Sportback is best left in that mode.
Build quality takes centre stage and that only helps the solid image of the S3.