Audi S3 Sportback

Our verdict as five-door version of premium performance hatch blasts into Britain.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The S3 is a great alternative to bodykitted hot hatches such as the Subaru Impreza and Honda Civic Type R with its imposing design. It’s fast, too, thanks to its turbo and 4WD grip. It’s just a pity Audi couldn’t sharpen the steering or make the flagship louder and more focused. The S3 is infuriatingly close to achieving greatness.

If there’s a badge Audi owners covet above all others, it’s the discreet addition of the letter S... More highly prized than the quattro logo, it’s reserved for the most expensive, lavishly styled models – from the S3 to the monstrous V10-engined S8.

But what exactly does the S badge offer? To find out, we got behind the wheel of the latest Audi S3 Sportback.

Up close, the newcomer looks spectacular. With vivid blue paint and aluminium wing mirrors – an S model trademark – it turns plenty of heads. But the difference between the five-door S3 and the rest of the A3 range is best summed up by the glowing white needles on the rev counter and speedo, which flick full circle and back again when you start the car up. It might seem like a pointless gimmick, but it proves this hot hatch means business!

Pace alone is not what makes the S3 so compelling. It’s the combination of speed, composure, quality and just enough hot hatch fun.

There’s a faint hint of turbo whistle in the cabin as the 261bhp 2.0-litre TFSI engine pushes you into the back of your seat. Maintaining speed through corners is easy thanks to the huge 4WD grip.

Our car featured the £900 Magnetic Ride suspension, which allows the S3 to swap seamlessly from a compliant ride to stiff, sporty settings at the touch of a button. It’s by no means a honed driving machine, though. The reduced-throw gearchange never quite flows smoothly enough, and the clutch is sharp. Plus, the engine doesn’t sound as good as its figures suggest it should; there’s a muted roar, rather than an unbridled bellow.

The trade-off is that the S3 is comfortable and easy to drive in town – impressive for a car that does 0-62mph in less than six seconds. It also returns 30mpg-plus and emits 201g/km of CO2.

If you can swallow the near-£30,000 price and big fuel bills, the Audi impresses greatly with its straight-line pace, superb quality and kerb appeal.

Rival: BMW 130i M Sport Rear-wheel-drive BMW trumps the Audi dynamically, but isn’t as practical. Its looks divide opinion, too, although junior M car is much more rewarding.

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