Audi has tacked on two extra doors to its S3 to create the S3 Sportback model. Has this made it a more credible offering when compared to its German rivals? AOL Cars drove a UK-spec example to find out.
What is it?
Audi knows how to build a fast and refined hot hatchback. Its RS3 model, launched in 2011, showed that the Ingolstadt-based carmaker understood what made hot hatch buyers tick. But that model has died and to make sure its rivals don't run away completely, Audi has created the S3 to tide us over until a brand new RS3 arrives sometime in the future. However, unlike some of Audi's competitors, the firm has created a three-door S3 – driven earlier this year by AOL Cars – and now a five-door version called the S3 Sportback giving UK buyers a choice when it comes to selecting their next performance-minded hatchback.
What's under the bonnet?
A brand-new 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI engine that pumps out 296bhp – 33bhp more than the outgoing S3's engine – and 380Nm of torque. All of this means the S3 Sportback can top 155mph (electronically limited), return 40.9mpg on the combined cycle, and get to 60mph in 5.1 seconds or 4.7 seconds when the excellent seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic 'box is fitted. Like many four-cylinder engines, Audi's 2.0-litre four-pot never really sounds particularly sporty. But for the S3 the firm has fitted a different exhaust system over lesser A3 models, which includes a sound flap. It opens at certain speeds allowing more of the engine's noise to be heard, and little pops can also be noticed on gear upshifts in cars fitted with the S tronic gearbox. On the most part, Audi has done a good job – but we dearly miss the barking five-cylinder unit of the old RS3.
In light of its sporty positioning in the A3 range, the S3 Sportback gets an aluminium-look front grille, more pronounced front and rear bumpers, edgier side-sills, a roof spoiler, four exhaust pipes and a 25mm drop in ride height. On the inside, there are S3 dials with an integrated turbo boost gauge, a flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel, aluminium pedals, leather upholstery, sports seats, Bluetooth and 4G compatibility. Base price for the S3 Sportback is a competitive £31,260 for the manual and £32,740 for the S tronic – but our test car was awash with tasty extras such as a Bang & Olufsen stereo and LED headlamps and had a RRP of £43,425!
Audi says the S3 Sportback's nearest rivals are the BMW M135i and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The BMW is the nearest in our minds as, while it has a throaty 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder lump under its bonnet, it's just 0.2 seconds quicker to 60mph and is also restricted to 155mph. It's also £175 cheaper at £31,085. The Mercedes A45, however, isn't a rival in our opinion. With its 358bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, it's in another league and would be more of an Audi RS3 competitor if one existed. You could call the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design a rival too. While its classic 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is down in the power stakes with 'only' 252bhp, it's a more than a match when it comes to style, particularly its excellent cabin.
What's it like to drive?
With all of that power on tap and linked up to Audi's indefatigable quattro four-wheel-drive system, the S3 Sportback makes for a speedy cross-country machine. It's tidy in the corners too, with great body control, bearable ride quality and a sense that it's light on its feet – something Audi's larger S models never seem to quite pull off. But it's certainly not the last word in driver involvement.
The AOL Cars verdict
The S3 continues its family heritage of giving owners a sense of being totally cocooned from the outside world thanks to a tasteful interior and capable driving abilities. The S3 is fun and thanks to a commodious boot – there's 1,060 litres when the seats are folded, if you're interested – it makes for a great all-rounder. More than that, the S3 points the way for a cracking RS3 in the future. In the mean time, though, owners won't be disappointed with an S3 – but, for us, it just doesn't get us frothing at the mouth like the BMW M135i does.
Model: Audi S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic
Price: £43,425 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 296bhp, 380Nm
Max speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG (combined): 40.9
Emissions: 159g/km CO2