The Audi S3 Sportback is the ultimate version of the Audi A3, chasing down the BMW M135i and the pricey Mercedes A45 AMG. ‘Sportback’ is Audi-speak for five-door, meaning that this car blends mind-bending performance with the practicalities of one of our favourite hatches. It’s the second of three body styles – there’s an S3 saloon coming, as well – and is currently the most expensive in the A3/S3 range, but is it worth the extra cash?
How hot hatch is the S3 Sportback?
We’re spoilt rotten with hot hatches – and the S3 Sportback serves up performance times that would have seen it listed as a supercar only a few years ago. Its 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, shared with the Golf R and related to that found in the VW Golf GTI, makes 296bhp, just as it does in the three-door model. There’s also 280lb ft of torque on tap from a low 1800rpm all the way through to 5500rpm. Option the six-speed S-tronic (£1480) and you’ll be using those steering wheel mounted paddles, quattro all-wheel drive and 18in rubber to try and match the 4.9sec 0-62mph claim. That’s only a single tenth behind the 30kg lighter three door, and while its 0.3sec behind the A45 AMG, its £5105 lower starting price makes the deficit easier to deal with.
What’s unique to the Sportback?
Space. The five-door means you can throw the shopping in the back seat, pile friends in or move bulkier items (use your imagination) more easily. Not only is rear-seat entry and egress easier, there’s actually more room: 15L more than the three-door S3 with the seats in place, extending to an advantage of 120L – for an 1180L total – with them folded flat. You’ll pay £620 more for the privilege, and while the 1445kg is more than the three-door, it’s 70kg less than the previous model – which also had 29bhp less. Convinced?
It’s all about performance, though, so what’s it like to drive?
You won’t have read this in recent times: an Audi loaded with character. Yet that’s what the S3 Sportback is. The outside has the S3’s chunkier bumpers, roof-mounted spoiler with 18in alloys and signature silver mirrors. You’d rather be behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel, though, perched in the comfy, well bolstered yet supportive leather chairs peering through to the white-needles on grey gauges.
Set the driving position to dance on the stainless steel pedals, hit the engine start button on the console and mash the right pedal – and the S3 bursts into life. From the bassy idle, the 2.0-litre four-pot has a purposeful yet unobtrusive tone. It sounds potent yet doesn’t overshadow the drive when you’re trundling through town on the slightly firm but not crashy suspension, but give it full beans and the backtrack steps into the spotlight with an almost metallic, touring car-esque tone. Your fingertips will feel the grooves in the shift paddles as you pull back for another gear, the puffs of air a joy to hear as the Sportback pushes on forward. Corners? Tight body control, great seats and brilliant road holding back up excellent traction for a quick exit, with power poured on early.
The S3 is a blast and takes the necessary step up from the lower-spec VW Group cars – such as the GTI – not just in acceleration numbers, features and price, but also in the overall experience. It’s still not the last word in driver involvement, but its blend of refinement, practicality and that beautifully tactile cabin make it a serious player.