Straight-line performance and practicality, but is it a true hot hatch?

What is it?

The five-door – or Sportback in Audi-speak – version of the S3, with the addition incorporation of slightly modified looks and some minor mechanical modifications.

The aesthetic changes consist of a more sculptural front end, revised bonnet and front wings, a modified grille and new headlights that are claimed to give the S3 a fuller and more assertive face. At the back there are more intricate tail-lamps too.

The mechanical improvements include standard-fit variable rate magnetic dampers, as previously seen on the R8 and TT, and a revised ‘quattro’ four-wheel drive system whose Haldex clutch is now electronically rather than hydraulically controlled for speedier responses.

What’s it like?

Set off quickly in a straight line and the S3 is very promising. The familiar 2.0-litre TFSI turbo petrol engine makes eager thrashing noises of an intriguingly metallic nature, and its zest slings the S3 along impressively.

Order your S3 with the optional wraparound bucket seats and you’ll feel more than equipped for action on twisty backroads, too. The chassis delivers plenty of grip and stability, but its willingness to change direction is much the same as an MP’s under a three-line whip - compliance will ensue, but reluctantly. This is not a car that charges bends with zeal, and nor is it one to tell you much about the process either, its steering accurate but numb.

Even turning the ESP system off doesn’t improve matters, with understeer that the four-wheel drive does little to quell. The revised quattro system might be quicker to respond, but it does little to balance to car on the limit.

Instead the S3 is best seen instead as a small, luxurious and consummate eater of long motorway miles rather than a blue-blooded hot hatch.

Should I buy one?

If you like straight-line performance combined with practicality then the five-door S3 has much to commend it. It’s civilised, secure and comfortable and crafted to a standard that will have you savouring its quality long after that new-car sheen has gone.

But if you’re looking for a sophisticated weapon with which to eviscerate Megane R26s and their ilk, forget it. The five-door S3 is a cruiser, not a bruiser.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
veritas 15 July 2013

Where is the old review?

Autocar ran an in-depth review of this car in 2008 (non-sportback) that was absolutely glowing and is now nowhere to be found on the site.

Very curious that is... As to this review, I concur with some other posters and wonder if this author even drove the car.

virtualmark 7 June 2008

Re: Audi S3 Sportback

I'm puzzled by Richard Bremner's first drive comments on the S3 Sportback. Autocar have raved about the S3 hatch, particularly about what a cracking drive it is. But now Autocar are saying that the S3 Sportback is unrewarding and wooden.

Surely not that much could have changed between the hatch and the Sportback? The mechanicals will be the same. Sure, the Sportback is 2 inches longer, but the wheelbase is still the same so the weight distribution will have changed very little.

So for Richard to be right then surely what he's saying is that Audi have significantly retuned the suspension on the S3 Sportback? Hard to see why they'd bother to do that.

For a magazine that prides itself on high-quality motoring journalism (and nearly always delivers) this obvious discrepancy between Autocar's views on the S3 hatch & sportback deserves a better explanation.

Until then I think Richard Bremner should be standing in a corner with a dunce's cap.

RPF 26 May 2008

Re: Audi S3 Sportback

Here's what EVO said about the S3:

"A few miles in, it’s clear that the S3 is a very polished car. ... The four-wheel-drive system delivers absolute traction with no fight at the wheel, but ... the steering gives a good impression of how hard you’re working the front end. And you can work it very hard indeed. The S3 scythes into turns without hesitation, resisting understeer astonishingly well, finding huge grip and remaining poised and adjustable throughout."

As Jonty says, did Autocar really drive this model? I thought the whole point of making the S3s with the 2.0T was to avoid the nose-heaviness of the V6. As a bonus, using this engine avoids the big hits for 255 g/km of CO2 (unlike the V6) and has good economy compared to the V6, too.

If you think I am being hard on the V6, I have one and it is a fine car, but the S3 and Sportback are extremely enticing prospects to replace it, for the above-mentioned reasons. I hope that EVO are right and Autocar are wrong (find out in July when sportback is available to test).