Long-term tests

Audi S3 Sportback: long-term test review

First report: our new S3 Sportback isn’t perfect, but it feels like a typical Audi

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5


The Audi S3 has made a solid start with many recognisable positives, including its performance and handling, plus its tech. However, the firm ride hasn’t thrilled my passengers on recent trips.

  • Mileage: 1,834
  • Economy: 32.1mpg

Sometimes, you get in a car and you just know which manufacturer makes it – and I reckon I could tell our new S3 fleet car was an Audi from behind the wheel even if I were wearing a blindfold.

From the way the door shuts behind you with a high-quality ‘thunk’ to the soft leather on the sports seats, the instantly recognisable driving position they place you in, and the sensations you get when the steering weights up and you’re conscious of the considerable grip the chassis can generate building in a corner, it feels very much like an Audi to me. So much so, in fact, that I was genuinely struck by how much the S3 spoke to me the first time I drove it, even though it’s considered not the most communicative driver’s car.

There were also some less welcome reasons that reinforced my opinion, but for now, I’ll stick to the positives. First, the sensation you get in bad weather is of a planted, compact four-wheel-drive car with an incredible level of performance that you can seemingly deploy without fuss at any time and in any conditions.

The S3 uses the VW Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine tuned to produce 306bhp, driving all four wheels through Audi’s Haldex quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Its power delivery is smooth and linear. In fact, it feels like it’s been mapped to really ramp up towards the rev limiter – which is something I like.

I’ve come to accept that the steering in a hot hatch won’t be full of feel (unless it’s a Honda Civic Type R) but mushiness I can’t excuse; the Audi has very little of this, with a nice, direct feel to the variable-ratio set-up and the way its nose points towards an apex.

However, one trademark that used to give away fast Audis in the past, a firm ride, is unfortunately present here too – and even on my car’s smaller 18-inch wheels (the design of which I actually prefer to the 19-inchers). Maybe it’s to do with the non-deletable S line sports suspension.

A recent trip into and back out of London with my girlfriend and her mother saw them both nagging me to slow down on the way out of the capital. I was only doing 20mph or so, but a little more speed and energy in the suspension didn’t help to smooth things out either.

I had to concede to my passengers that, yes, it was a bit lumpy and could be more refined in how it deals with bumps, even if this focus does help on a country road – but I still think it’s too stiff even then.

Swift Audi S models have come so far in recent years, mostly offering a smooth, composed ride, but according to my recent test team it seems that things have taken a slight step backwards with this new S3.

I also put its practicality to the test right away, loading it up with a suitcase, golf clubs and a golf trolley ready for a week away, and while some of my luggage spilled out of the, shall we say compact 325-litre boot (its overall capacity is compromised due to the rear differential), it took everything I needed.

Of course, a hot hatch is about performance, and I’m enjoying everything the S3 has to offer in this respect. I’ll go into more detail in a future report, but 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds is impressive. Yet on a long run I’ve managed more than 40mpg and the S3 is averaging 32.1mpg, so it’s even offering respectable running costs although it’s not fully run in yet. In spite of the Audi’s drawbacks, I’m always amazed by the breadth of ability modern cars offer.

Model:Audi S3 Sportback
On fleet since:May 2021
Price new:£39,185
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo, 306bhp
Options:Red brake calipers (£290), memory feature for driver (£1,150)*, digital matrix headlights (£430)**, panoramic glass sunroof (£1,055), lumbar support for front seats (£260) 
Insurance^:Group: 34 Quote: £871
Any problems?None so far

*Not available on UK models **Only available on Vorsprung models ^Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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