The Audi S3 Sportback, Mercedes A45 AMG and BMW M135i. With the right options, all of these five-door hatches can do 0-62mph in under five seconds. But while we love the Mercedes’ brutal acceleration and the BMW’s superb handling, this is the first time we’ve been able to find out exactly what the S3 Sportback brings to the party.
Our review Audi S3 Sportback specs boast a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbo, quattro four-wheel drive and an S tronic six-speed dual-clutch box, although a six-speed manual is fitted as standard. Acceleration is explosive, both off the line and when you hit the throttle at anything up to 60mph. Because peak torque kicks in between 1,800rpm and 5,500rpm, a relentless wave of acceleration launches you from 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds. There’s a mature growl in the cabin, and a special flap in the exhaust system helps make the Audi S3 Sportback 2013 sound fantastic from the outside as well.
Our time with the S3 Sportback was mostly spent in the rain, but that’s no bad thing for such a car. Its four-wheel-drive system is far more forgiving in corners than the M135i’s rear-wheel-drive set-up, allowing you to carry a lot more speed through bends than you might think possible.
A lot of fast Audis are criticised for being almost too predictable in corners, but the S3 Sportback does have some character. Turn off the traction control and the tail occasionally slides out on the throttle or while braking hard into a bend. If you do a lot of track day driving, you’ll find it requires a little more mastery than many of Audi’s S or RS models.
Ultimately, though, we prefer the M135i’s handling, as it feels more rewarding and the steering is more communicative. There’s nothing wrong with the weighting or speed of the Audi’s system, but it does lack feedback.
The S3 Sportback excels in other areas, however, impressing with its excellent cabin and refinement. Material design and quality easily outclass those of its rivals, and this Sportback version represents a more practical alternative to the three-door S3. It’s got a longer wheelbase for more rear legroom and a larger boot, too.
Plus, there seems to be no more tyre noise than you get in a standard A3, so motorway miles are just as relaxing – or
at least, they would be if the ride was softer. As it stands, you get thuds over expansion joints and fairly minor potholes. Even when the road looks totally smooth, subtle vibrations make their way into the cabin.
Finally, the S3 Sportback is extremely expensive, carrying a price of £32,740 with the S tronic box. And you’ll still have to pay extra for things such as cruise control (£225), keyless go (£425) and sat-nav (£495).