Car ReviewsFirst Drive

Audi S3 Sportback review

Paul Murrell’s Audi S3 Sportback with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

IN A NUTSHELL Because we’re classified as a “hot climate” country, the Audi S3 Sportback is retuned to deliver 15kW less than in Europe, but it’s still one of the best drives around. And the S-tronic is such a great gearbox, only 5% will be purchased with manuals.

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS The Audi S3 Sportback will find its way onto shopping lists of European buyers, but the real surprise is that it is also competitive with the Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Evo X.

THE AUDI S3 SITS SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE of the hot hatch market – dearer than some, cheaper than others. Coming in a smidge under $60,000 (when the previous model was $70k-plus) it will almost certainly find a place on the shopping lists of anyone looking at the BMW M135i, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Golf GTI, as you would expect. But buyers of the Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Evo X should also take a look at the S3.

Of course, Audi doesn’t count any of the above as competitors for the S3, but it’s line ball on pricing against the EVO and STI and many of the stats are remarkably close. As for the Europeans, the S3 undercuts most of them handily (with the obvious exception of the Renault Megane RS265 and the Audi’s close cousin, the Golf GTI).

The Audi S3 compares favourably with both European and Japanese hot hatches

In styling terms, the S3 relates very closely to its less sporting sibling, the A3. The single frame grille with matte grey insert is specific to the S, as are aluminium-look mirror caps, special sill-caps, roof spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels, body kit, quad exhaust pipes and a redesigned rear bumper with Platinum Grey diffuser.

Producing 206kW (European models get 221) and 380Nm from its 2-litre turbocharged engine, the S3 sits below its obvious Euro competitors. The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG claims 265kW and 450Nm, while the BMW M135i achieves 235kW and 450Nm.

The Audi never feels short-changed and it always sounds great. Audi offers a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed S-tronic. We are always fans of a good manual, but the S-tronic wins our vote as the better choice, especially since it comes without the usual price premium and gains launch control – a win-win. Audi expects 90 to 95% of buyers to opt for the S-tronic. An added bonus is the brap between gear changes with the S-tronic that we couldn’t replicate (believe us, we tried) with the manual.

The Audi S3 is a lot of fun and quattro all-wheel drive ensures grip in all conditions

Standard cars don’t get the adaptive suspension except as an option or part of the S performance package. The standard suspension was more than acceptable, but the optional magnetic suspension seems to add more weight and a better steering response. It can become a little rough across poor surfaces, however.

Drive mode allows a choice of Dynamic, Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Individual settings and with adaptive suspension, it even adjusts the suspension. Conditions were less than ideal on our test, with relentless rain and under these conditions, the quattro all-wheel-drive really shines.

The Audi S3 continues the brand's reputation for class leading interiors

Audi continues to set the standard for high quality, beautifully finished interiors. Simple styling elements such as the flat-bottom steering wheel, heavily bolstered front seats, black headlining, contrasting stitching and brushed aluminium pedals add to the sporty intent. Standard equipment includes sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, automated parking assistance, leather trim, front electric seat adjustment and heating, dual-zone climate control, smart key entry and push-button start, auto-dimming rear view mirror, xenon headlights and 18-inch alloys. There are two option packages: the S performance package at $4990 and an assistance package for $1800. Both are claimed to offer a 40% saving over buying the elements individually. A panoramic sunroof is a $1950 option.

As you’d expect, the S3, like the rest of the A3 range, has a full five-star ANCAP safety rating. It includes driver and passenger airbags, side airbags, curtain airbag, driver’s knee airbag, electronic stability control with ABS, ASR and EDL.

The price of $60,000 (+ORC) isn’t exactly bargain basement territory, but the Audi S3 justifies its price remarkably well. Some will question whether it is really worth the extra over a Golf GTI, and if you choose the S performance pack, the price matches that of the BMW M135i (although the Audi is better equipped). And although it won’t match an Evo X or WRX STi in outright performance, it’s cheaper than the Mitsubishi and almost identical to the Subaru.

It’s really a case of which car you’d rather live with on a daily basis. For our money, the S3 makes a strong argument.

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Audi S3 Sportback

PRICE from $59,990 (plus ORC) WARRANTY three-year, unlimited kilometres SAFETY RATING five-star ANCAP ENGINE 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, 206kW @ 5100-6500rpm, 380Nm @ 1800-5100rpm TRANSMISSION six-speed manual or six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch auto BODY 4.32m (L); 1.79m (W); 1.40m (H) WEIGHT 1445kg THIRST 6.9L/100km (auto, combined) 7.0L/100km (manual, combined)

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober