In-depth reviews

Audi S3 Sportback (2003-2012) review

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

Overall Auto Express Rating

2.0 out of 5

  • 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.

Engines, performance and drive

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.

MPG, CO2 and 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.

Interior, design and technology

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.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

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.

Reliability and Safety

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.

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