The Audi S3 Sportback is the latest Audi niche performance car - the mechanicals of the three-door S3 being shoehorned into the five-door Sportback A3 body. Its introduction coincides with a mild facelift across the A3 range as a whole that includes some new engines and detail engineering updates.
So it’s exactly the same as the current Audi S3 but with two extra doors?
Almost. Although there are changes to many of the power units, the potent 261bhp turbo ‘four’ is carried straight over, along with the Quattro four-wheel system. However, all Quattros have revised electronics for the Haldex differential so that it reacts faster in the distribution of torque to the rear axle. The suspension is unchanged, but Audi’s Magnetic ride variable damping system – as seen on the TT and R8 - is now available as an option.
The S3's usual visual bite is applied to the new A3's general makeover that consists of subtle alterations to the front bumper, headlamps and tail lamps, along with minor developments to trim and texture inside, and a new dial pack.
Feels much the same on the road then?
Yes it does: the strengthened TFSI engine is at its gruff and growling best, pulling heartily from low revs yet sprinting with aerobic conviction, and all the while staying just the right side of raucous. This is a seriously quick car, and although Audi suggests it’s a fraction slower to 60mph – it weighs 40kg more than the three-door – you’d be hard pressed to feel it on the road.
It’s also a very effective way to cover ground quickly thanks to excellent traction, good body control and an entertaining neutrality to the chassis. The nub of this cars appeal is the mix of extreme hot hatch thrills with a premium Audi cockpit, a high perception of build quality throughout and an image considerably more sophisticated than most hot hatches or any rally special rival.
Come on, I bet the ride is still on the uncompromising side though?
Our drive was too brief to conclude that the Quattro tweaks have made much of a difference, but it did suggest that an S3 equipped with Magnetic Ride is a more comfortable car to travel in. Although in ‘Sport’ mode the suspension is excessively firm and only really suitable for the racing circuit, in its standard setting it did appear to soothe the aggressive rebound damping that makes the regular sprung car quite tiresome in the UK. It could turn out to be money well spent.
If only there was more feedback from the steering rack: it’s quick and precise, but the light steering tells you little about what is happening at the front wheels. You just have to learn to trust it anyway.
Let’s talk money: I bet this is a pricey car?
Afraid so. The three-door S3 has had a price ‘adjustment’ and now costs an additional £220 at £27,220. You can add £500 to that for the Sportback body style, and then dig deeper still if you want the aggressive bucket seats, flat-bottomed steering wheel and Magnetic Ride dampers of our car. Audi’s twin clutch S-Tronic transmission will be available later this year, and that currently carries a £1,400 premium across the rest of the range. As you can see, the price of the S3 Sportback you might crave can easily rise through the £30,000 barrier – a not inconsiderable sum for such a car.
The S3 is still as potent and pricey as ever; providing the same thrills in the Sportback body means those with the need for five-door practicality can allow themselves to be seduced by this surprisingly boisterous uber-hatch.