Audi S3 Sportback review (2003-2012)

Our Rating: 
2003-2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Audi S3 Sportback is a four-wheel-drive hot hatch that's powered by a 261bhp version of the proven 2.0 TFSI engine

Sure-footed handling, punchy performance, 5dr practicality
High price, numb steering, dated body

Four-wheel drive, a premium badge and 261bhp - the S3 Sportback is an upmarket and practical hot hatch. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or dual clutch S tronic gearboxes, while Black Edition model gets a Bose stereo upgrade, unique trim inside and out, plus a different design of wheel rim.

Our choice: Audi S3 Sportback 2.0 TFSI manual



As with other S and RS models, the S3 gets trademark silver door mirror housings and a subtly sporty look. But lacking the bulging body of the RS3 it’s far more low-key. Standard 18-inch wheels and discreet S3 badges help it stand out but having made its debut in 2003 the familiar lines of the second-generation A3 look old fashioned. It’s a similar story inside, where the cabin design is showing its age; although there’s no faulting build quality, while the flat-bottomed wheel and brushed aluminium inlays are smart touches.



Accomplished rather than thrilling the S3 is fast and sure-footed. Tuned to deliver 161bhp the 2.0-litre TFSI engine is punchy and smooth, while quattro all-wheel drive means there’s never an issue getting power onto the road. Opt for the S tronic gearbox and you get a nice exhaust burble as you shift up via the wheel mounted paddles. Alternatively, the six-speed manual has an accurate and positive shift action. Body control is excellent but the steering lacks feel and the handling isn’t that engaging. The optional Magnetic Ride dampers deliver a compliant ride, though.



There is no shortage of safety kit in the Audi S3. It gets stability control with driver, passenger and side airbags. Only the A3’s four-star EuroNCAP crash test result tells you it is getting on a bit. As for reliability, the A3 has been around long enough for problems to be sorted out while the quattro and S tronic components are well proven.



practical choice the S3 Sportback’s five-door body scores well when it comes to versatility. The 302-litre load bay isn’t huge but the 60/40 folding the rear bench means a useful 1,032-litre maximum load space. It’s also a genuine five-seater and the upright bodywork means rear occupants get a decent amount of head and legroom. Optional storage packs and the standard roof rails all aid functionality.

Running Costs


Opt for the S tronic gearbox (which costs around £1,500 more) and the S3 Sportback’s emissions are 195g/km, while the manual emits 199g/km. Both cars have a 33mpg claimed economy, which isn’t bad given the all-wheel-drive and turbocharged petrol engine. Still, with an over £30,000 price tag this isn’t the cheapest hot hatch and company car tax bills aren’t small. Although, you’re getting a premium badge and fixed priced servicing is a plus for private buyers.

Last updated: 5 May, 2012