Fast and talented, with a welcome calmer side
Audi knows the fast hatchback and saloon market like the back of its corporate hand. They know that Audi buyers are interested in being taken from A to B with capability, speed, security, and understated subtlety, but relatively speaking they’re not that interested in sparkling driving experiences.
Audi S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro 310PS S tronic
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual clutch auto
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 40.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
This is our first UK drive of the S3 Sportback following a minor update a few months ago that was part of a very low-profile A3 range revision. Those S3 changes included a 10bhp boost to a new figure of 306bhp, along with a small lift in torque and fuel economy (now 40.9mpg) when the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (also used in the Golf R) is mated to the automatic gearbox. In addition, the 4WD system has been reconfigured to put power through to the back end in certain cornering situations, reducing understeer.
Inside, the expected Audi levels of fit and finish are fully delivered, with top-notch materials and switches and the 12.3-inch TFT digital screen of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit replacing the analogue dials. The excellent seating position is adjustable to a fault, blending perfectly with ideally positioned and weighted pedals, two in the case of our S tronic seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox-equipped car.
Low-speed driving is made easy by light steering and compliant suspension that will be a pleasant surprise for anyone who hasn’t driven a quick Audi for a while. Our S3 did have a ride-enhancing setup of 18-inch wheels with 225/40 tyres.
That steering is variable-rate so there’s no shortage of stability at higher speeds, although it does feel slower either side of the straight-ahead position than it does at greater lock angles. That lack of Ford Focus RS-style hyperactivity makes the S3 a more useable everyday car with more in common with the Golf R than with the more manic ‘special occasions’ Ford.
Try the Audi on a track or a country road and you won’t feel short-changed. You won’t feel much feedback from the chassis or steering either, but you will experience fast, fuss-free motoring courtesy of a smooth and powerful engine, good body control and a tidy front end.
Don’t go looking for major dynamic differences over the old S3, as they’re not exactly screamingly obvious, but what the new car does offer is a calmer option to other 300bhp hatchbacks like the Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R, and that’s not a bad thing. Throw in the undoubted quality of an Audi and the S3 makes a lot of sense.
There again, so does the Volkswagen Golf R, a car that adds keener steering and a higher fun factor to the S3 proposition with no trade-off in the feeling of security that underpins the enjoyment of any fast car. For many, it will all come down to the badge.