The Audi S3 Sportback is the sophisticated hot hatch
Blisteringly fast, techie, and classy
Ever since Audi released the first S3 in 1999, they led the way for premium hot hatches. Even though the concept has always been about having a fun, compact, and economical car capable of going fast, the S3 retained all of that and added some extra fanciness. Today, many manufacturers have followed the brand from Ingolstadt, like Mercedes-Benz and their A35 AMG, or BMW with the M135i, which all have similar engines and power outputs. It has been over 20 years since the first iteration, and now there is a new one hitting the road. Time to find out if it has the fun factor that any hot hatch is supposed to provide.
But first, what is this new S3 all about? It is based on the fourth-generation A3 that was released last year, and even though it still looks pretty much like an A3, nearly everything has changed. The S3 comes in two body styles the five-door Sportback or the four-door sedan. The car now has a much sharper design, an updated interior, the latest tech, and more power. It is just better.
The engine is a turbocharged 2.0 four-cylinder that makes 310 horsepower, exactly 10 more than its predecessor. Some purists will whine, but gone is the six-speed manual gearbox option, now the S3 only comes with the seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch that is supreme either when driving fast up a mountain pass, or when maneuvering in town. As in the last model, you will find a Quattro all-wheel drive system that maximizes grip in tricky conditions, and obviously in corners. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is fun to drive.
If you're looking for something fun, go for a Toyota GR Yaris, or a Ford Fiesta ST. The S3 is not a toy, it's a serious car that will go blisteringly fast while remaining understated. That is the main thing that separates it from the rest of traditional hot hatches. The Audi is not particularly loud, it doesn't have silly stickers on it, and there are no useless vents and spoilers. You feel that it is a car that is meant to be driven daily for people who do not want to look silly in it. Yet, it doesn't mean that the S3 is boring to drive. The pocket rocket is capable of going from a standstill to 100 km/h in only 4.6 seconds and can hit a top speed of 250 km/h. Suspension-wise, the ride is quite stiff but that means that it is actually good in corners. Audis typically have the tendency to understeer, but I found the new S3 to have an excellent balance that makes the cornering very predictable and enjoyable. Again, here we are in front of the hot hatch that doesn't play tricks on you, and that wants to play it safe. With the press of the "drive select" button, the car can change its character and go from a dynamic setting to "efficiency" mode that optimizes fuel consumption. Surprisingly, I managed to only burn on average 7.5l of fuel per 100km, which is not even half bad for a 310 horsepower sports car that weighs 1'565 kg. Therefore, not only is the S3 eminently fast, but it also won't hit the gas pumps too often. Have we found the perfect daily hot hatch?
The S3 is a car that is very easy to live with and this feeling grows when you step inside. Modern Audis have some of the best cabins on the market and this car is no exception. The interior seems like it's coming from a segment that is way higher than the A3's. It's more like a cockpit in there, if you ask me. In other words, it feels expensive. The materials and the way the console is organized bring some classiness to the car that is unseen in the hot hatch market. Obviously, the optional Nappa leather seats helped a lot to convey this premium experience, but not only. The aluminum details as well as the piano black panels make it feel more A8 than ever, and the sharpness of the dashboard and center console screens are top-notch. Talking about the infotainment system, it's really easy and intuitive to operate even when driving thanks to the big icons and straight-to-the-point text. It's definitely one of the best systems in the segment, and I particularly like the way it looks as it is beautifully integrated into the center console. In terms of practicality, expect what you get in the regular A3. It has got enough cargo space and room to seat four people comfortably. All in all, it has the practicality you expect of a car that you can drive every day.
Is it perfect then? Not totally, it's such a good car that it misses a bit of that silliness that makes hot hatches so fun to drive. It starts with the fact that the manual gearbox is missing, and that the design can be a bit more out there. So who is the new Audi S3 for? It definitely is for people who are fed up with driving bone-shaking compact sports cars. In other words, it's the hot hatch for grown-ups that want a car that they can drive every day and still be able to destroy nearly anything once the traffic light turns green. For that, you will have to pay CHF 61'000.- (£48'200). Obviously, a hefty sum, but you get quite a lot of car for this price. You will never feel stupid showing up to work, or to a car event in an S3, and that is because it will easily blend in anywhere you go. Once again Audi has proved that it knows how to build the perfect wolf in sheep's clothing, and the story does not even stop here as the RS3 should be released later this year.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Audi Switzerland for allowing us to experience the new S3 Sportback. It has been our first collaboration with the team and they facilitated everything to make our life easier. Without them, this article would have never been possible, and we cannot wait to do some more articles with them in the near future.
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Audi S3 Sportback