Ben Griffin road tests and reviews the new Audi S3 Sportback, a family car that’s fast, functional and frugal.
So you need the practicality offered by a medium-sized, five-door hatchback but still want to smoke Porsches at the traffic lights? Well step this way and cast your gaze upon Audi’s S3 Sportback – a five-door Audi A3 with a lot of extra oomph. Audi reckons it’s a great combination of practicality and performance. Ben Griffin headed over to the streets of Ascot to judge for himself.
The standard three-door S3 is pretty enough, and a lot of what makes that car attractive has made it across to the S3 Sportback. As a package, it’s not particularly mind blowing, but it still manages to impress thanks to lots of neat design details; the angular front and rear lights and the huge, chrome-lined air intake being particular highlights.
The S3 Sportback is 33mm longer, slightly wider and has a higher roof than the S3 – a consequence of ensuring the car is more practical beyond simply having a couple of extra doors. It’s unlikely you’ll notice that extra heft, however, as it’s still on a par with rivals such as the BMW M135i and Mercedes A45 Engineered by AMG in terms of its size.
The S3 Sportback’s interior is similar to the rest of the A3 range, so expect lots of sturdy but uninspiring plastic on the dash. It does come with leather front seats as standard, however, which makes the car feel relatively luxurious, and a smaller, sportier-looking leather steering wheel helps create the impression you’re in something a bit special.
The S3 Sportback’s extra size makes it a more practical proposition than the three-door S3. Its boot can house up to 340 litres (15 litres more than the S3) but that’s 20 litres less than the similarly priced BMW 135i. Fold the rear seats flat and the total rises to 1,185-litres.
Passengers should be pretty comfortable in an S3 Sportback. It has plenty of leg and headroom for all but the tallest of families. The optional sports seats are a pleasure to sit on and the driving position is spot on. The only drawback inside is the relative lack of space for hoarders; the door bins are small and the glove box is pokey at best.
Performance & Handling
It only takes one hard stomp of the accelerator and you’ll be addicted to the S3 Sportback. After a moment of turbo lag, the 2.0-litre TFSI launches the car forward with a powerful surge, the digital boost gauge rising to 1.2 bar as the needle on the speedo spins ever nearer license-losing territory. The pace of the thing is initially quite shocking – we found ourselves bouncing off the rev limiter on a few occasions, surprised by how fast second gear creeps up.
0-62mph takes an impressive 5.3 seconds in the manual car, which makes it 0.1 seconds slower than the S3. With the S tronic 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, that sprint time is slashed to 4.9 – again, one tenth of a second slower than the 3-door S3. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph in all cases.
Gear changes with the manual transmission are incredibly satisfying, thanks to a short throw action. The 6-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission isn’t quite as involving, but it works incredibly well and makes the car significantly faster.
The S3 Sportback handles well. It’s slightly larger and heavier than the standard S3 (1,425kg versus 1,395kg) but that doesn’t seem to affect it in anyway. Audi’s excellent quattro four-wheel-drive system means it feels composed through bends at seemingly any speed and grips and accelerates hard in almost any weather. Its steering could do with a a little more feedback, though.
The Audi S3 Saloon rides smoothly for the most part, but those with delicate spines will wince when traversing potholed roads. The car comes with either S sport suspension or Audi’s optional Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension system (a £995 option) and both are firm. There’s no option to detune to standard A3’s more UK-friendly setup.
On the whole, it’s fair to say the S3 Sportback is a bit of a lout, but it’s just as happy being driven at lower speeds. Despite its obvious performance advantage, it’s as easy as the standard A3 to potter about in.
Economy & Environment
The S3 Sportback is fast enough to leave most cars for dust, yet its 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged and direct-injected engine is very fuel efficient. 40.9mpg is possible with the S tronic gearbox, and the manual does 40.4mpg. CO2 emissions are 159g/km with the S tronic and 162g/km for the stick shift.
That’s a far cry from the similarly priced 306bhp BMW 135i M Sport Coupe, which can only manage 33.2mpg and 198g/km of CO2. Only the 360bhp Mercedes A 45 AMG comes close, but that costs £5,000 more.
Taking it steady on A and B-roads, we managed a respectable 32.3mpg. After some moderate ‘hooning’, we still managed 29.7mpg, which is impressive.
Equipment & Value
The S3 Sportback starts from £32,740, but don’t expect too much equipment for your cash. Standard kit includes leather seats, 18-inch alloys, DAB radio with remote control, dual-zone climate control and Audi Drive – a system that lets you change the car’s throttle, suspension and transmission settings to suit your mood.
You’ll have to pay if you want a sat-nav. The entry-level unit gives you basic route planning and guidance, 2D mapping and 7-digit postcode recognition via a 5.8-inch screen – all for the not inconsiderable sum of £495.
Opt for the £1,495 technology package and screen size jumps to 7 inches. It also brings 3D maps, Google Earth and Street View and a 10GB flash hard drive onto which you can upload music and pictures via an SDXC card reader. The technology package also includes MMI touch, a mouse trackpad-style sensor that allows you to draw letters with your fingers when entering postcodes.
The Audi A3 scored five stars in its Euro NCAP testing, so expect the S3 to be similarly sturdy.
The Audi S3 Sportback is a very likeable car. It’s scarily quick, astonishingly efficient and comfortable to drive, yet spacious and practical. It’s the sort of car you’ll want to return to time and again just for one more blast.
The Mercedes A 45 AMG is faster and more bonkers, but it’s more expensive. The BMW M135i, meanwhile, is arguably just as quick and its rear wheel drive layout may prove more enjoyable to some, but it’s less economical. The Audi S3 Sportback therefore has a lot going for it. If you want a fast, practical German hatchback with five doors, look no further.
Model tested: Audi S3 Sportback
Engine: 2.0-litre TFSI with 6-speed manual
Power: 300PS (296BHP)
Top speed: 155mph
Emissions: 159g/km CO2
Price: From £31,260
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