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Audi S3 Sportback Review Price Specification Top Speed Engine Review Exterior and Rebates

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Model Tested:
2010 Audi S3 Sportback, straight-four, turbocharged petrol, 6-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive

For me, part of the appeal of a hot-hatch is in its youthful, boy-racer appearance. Stripes, spoilers, big alloy wheels and a chug-chug-chug exhaust bellow. Inside there should be some garish trim and deeply bolstered seats, with barely enough room in the back for a couple of shopping bags. And, of course, there should be plenty of poke from a tuned (fuel injected, naturally) four-pot under the bonnet.
Some of the most legendary hot-hatches in history served up this recipe without deviating from it once: the early Golf GTI, Ford’s Escort XR3i and Peugeot’s brilliant 205 GTI all had the requisite looks to back up the performance statistics but things are different now. The power these cars produce in the 21st century would have been dismissed as impossible 25 years ago and, while the performance has gone through the roof, the looks of the things have been toned down to a point where it’s actually pretty boring. Unless it’s a Focus RS, obviously.

Is this simply to catch the police off guard? Let’s just consider Audi’s S3. On the face of it, there’s very little evidence that this is a serious performance car – it looks as innocent as any A3. It looks like a slightly smaller A4 so, in other words, like every other Audi except the R8. Yet under its bonnet is a turbocharged engine from the Golf GTI. That would be enough to give it some credibility but in the S3 it doesn’t produce the standard 146kW. Oh no, because in true hot-hatch tradition, it’s been tuned to burn rubber with 195kW. Just a pity it looks so dull.

Yes, I know there’s the new RS3 with a five-cylinder lump that will eat this for breakfast but I haven’t driven that yet. So for now this is the quick little Audi. And it really is very quick indeed, but more about that later. First let’s take a look at it.

No other mainstream car company builds its products as beautifully as Audi. Say what you like regarding the driving experience, what they look like and the ergonomics inside but the quality of fit and finish on any new Audi is flawless. And this immediately elevates an Audi hatchback to another level, well above the Fords and the Peugeots of this world. Which, it goes without saying, has an impact on the price.

If you’re in the market for a well engineered, manically fast German hatch then the Scirocco R could be tempting, especially as it’s a little bit cheaper but for rewarding thrills the BMW 130i has them both licked with rear wheel drive and just the sweetest straight-six engine. And if you just want out-and-out pace rather than Swiss bank-vault build quality, there’s always a few Focus RSs out there for the taking.

There’s little point in describing the cabin of the S3 to be honest. Because it’s an Audi and, like the exterior, looks and feels like the others, which is no bad thing. Back in 2008 Audi gave the S3 a couple of extra doors and a minor facelift, calling it the Sportback but we’ll ignore that marketing nonsense, although having five doors does make the S3 far more practical. There’s a smattering of S3 logos inside, just in case you forget where you are, and there are aluminium trimmed pedals along with a couple of sporty seats up front. That’s your lot for boy-racer frills I’m afraid, so hopefully there’ll be plenty of driver thrills instead.

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