Test Drives

Audi S3 Sportback review

The Audi S3 Sportback is a staggeringly complete car – even amongst the staggeringly supreme spread of sporty sorts that make up Audi’s S models.

To make sense of how far the Audi S3 has become, we need to look backward.

The previous Audi A3, and the subsequent high-performance-but-not-quite-RS- high-performance S3, are just like the current cars in that they share their basic underpinnings with the Volkswagen Golf, Golf GTI and the in-coming Golf R.

Audis of the ‘last generation’ (that is, pre 2007-08) never quite shone, being good enough but never quite outstanding. You could say that about the previous A4, A6 and A8, and it was true of the A3 as well. If you go far back enough, you can trace that car’s lineage all the way to 2003 and the fourth-generation Golf, which makes it a methuselah in car years. Car years are even shorter than dog years, but longer than mice years, if you’re wondering.

The S3 initially appeared in a three-door, manual-only variant in 2008, and then with a more mainstream five-door plus dual-clutch gearbox option. In the end, there was another car on the same platform with comparable performance and all-wheel drive that outsold it: the VW Golf R, which was quite the all-round pants beater.

But since 2007, Audi’s had a great renaissance and now makes cars that regularly run at the front of their respective segments. In 2013 we sampled the charms of the face-lifted S4 and S5, along with the new Audi S6, S7 and S8, and found them lacking for almost nothing. If you, as a driver, want to do something and these cars can’t deliver (other than lurid donuts) you are very likely some sort of pervert.

Now comes the smallest member of the family, the S3, which was launched together with the first S model SUV, the SQ5, and the RS 6 in early December.

The new A3 was the first car to debut Volkswagen’s new MQB platform (see CB217 for an in-depth explanation, plus more) and it is leagues ahead of its predecessor, so there’s no surprise the same can be said of the S3 as well.

On paper it’s not that much different: A 2.0-litre turbo engine, six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, all-wheel drive, a tad more power and torque. But the reality is that the new S3 feels miles and miles ahead of its predecessor, it’s simply much more capable and mature.

There’s more power from the revised engine, which is the new-gen EA888 with even more fettling, such as dual-injectors, optimised exhaust and intake, variable valve lift for 15bhp and 30Nm more power and torque than before, but consuming 1.5L/100km less, or a measly 6.9L/100km.

VW Group’s optimised construction methods in MQB, an aluminium engine block, bonnet and front fenders mean the car’s some 70kg lighter than before (at just 1,445kg), with much of that mass shorn from the front of the car.

It pays dividends in terms of handling, and the S3 feels like an A3 on a small amount of anabolic steroids, with the same inertia-free ability to change direction, accelerate or brake without so much as a hiccup from the drivetrain or the chassis.

The car comes with fixed-rate sport suspension as standard, which is 25mm lower, so the Audi Drive Select button on the dash only affects steering weight and drivetrain characteristics, but the setup is so well-judged it only becomes uncomfortable over the worst kind of bumps. Everywhere else, the S3 just flies easily over the tarmac. Under full-bore acceleration it sounds fabulous too, like a much larger engine with more cylinders, but the downside is that the droning can become tiresome on longer drives. But get the hammer down and the car is properly fast almost everywhere, easy to drive and involving too. Ease off, and the car’s start-stop and frugal, efficient drivetrain will easily net you fuel consumption of less than 10L/100km, which is outstanding for this kind of performance.

It’s a car that’s much more than the sum of its parts, really. On highway jaunts it’s comfortable, refined (exhaust aside) and the interior is yet another high-water mark for Audi’s fabulous cabins. Everything drips with quality and simple operation, from the way the MMI screen rises, to the revised MMI touch interface, the focus-or-diffuse turbine-shaped air vents, this is a cabin that is one step ahead of the competition.

Visually, the S3 gets grey dials with an illuminated boost gauge, sport steering wheel, four tailpipes, a more aggressive face with no fog lights, a rear diffuser, silver mirrors and a hatchback spoiler. In other words, it’s a subtle statement rather than an in-your-face howl of ‘I am a hot hatch’. On the other hand, it’s the Sportback version, so it’s got five-doors and a very useful hatchback rear.

So in other words, the S3 is like Audi took a shrink ray to its very accomplished S models (the S4, S5, S6, S7 and S8), and while it’s the smallest, least expensive S model around, it looks, feels, behaves and drives like much more.

Audi S3 Sportback

Engine 1,984cc, 16V, turbocharged, inline 4
Power 280bhp at 5100-6500rpm
Torque 380Nm at 1800-5500rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100kmh 5.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.9L/100km
CO2 159g/km
Price $262,950 with COE
Availability Now

Also Consider: Renault Megane RS, Volkswagen Golf R

Photos by Derryn Wong


about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong