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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - S3 Sportback 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Meaty engine, excellent handling, comfortable ride
Room for improvement
No dual-clutch automatic, high price

31 Oct 2008

WHEN you read “2.0-litre turbo” and “all-wheel-drive”, chances are you think of the Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.

That’s fair enough too because both are remarkable cars with cult followings, but there is another turbocharged 2.0-litre AWD that is often overlooked.

The Audi S3 is usually not considered by many customers because it is not deemed as hard-edged as the Subaru and Mitsubishi, but its price is also a major factor.

At $65,900 the three-door S3 seems pretty pricey, but it is only $910 more than a WRX STi Spec R and is $4885 less than a dual-clutch auto Evo MR.

Now a more practical five-door S3 has arrived at $68,310.

It delivers a very similar drive experience to the three-door model and that is a good thing.

A few hundred kilometers on some of Tasmania’s most challenging roads revealed the S3 is a brilliant example of a performance car that you can live with every day.

It has impressive performance and excellent road holding, but it is also quite comfortable.

Unlike the previously mentioned Japanese slingshots, the S3 doesn’t rattle your bones with rock-hard suspension settings and doesn’t drive you mad with overwhelming tyre rumble even on coarse-chip surfaces.

The engine is a ripper. There is reasonable amount of torque right at the bottom of the rev range, but things really start to get interesting from around 2500rpm.

That is the start of a strong powerband that stretches all the way to close to the redline, which is a bit above 6000rpm. With such a healthy supply of torque, this smooth engine is great fun to play with.

It can pull strongly in several gears, so you can concentrate more on the corner you are approaching than worrying about which gear you are in.

The engine sounds good too with a sporty exhaust tune, but the turbo does its work quietly. There is a nice induction woosh as you press past 5000rpm which is a pleasure to hear.

You can’t fault the six-speed manual gearbox either. It is a nice, crisp box that is easy to use and has a light clutch take-up, but it strikes me as odd that this car isn’t available yet with a dual-clutch automatic.

We hear it is on the way, but I expected it in the car at launch.

After all, I’m sure there are many potential customers who want the performance and agility of the S3, along with its relative luxury and comfort, but can’t be bothered changing gear for themselves.

The quattro all-wheel-drive system seemed to work very well on the roads in Tasmania but it didn’t rain, which prevented us testing the true capability of the system.

It did help on some sections of the road where local road workers, who seemingly have no regard for motorcyclists, left fine gravel on the road along twisty sections without any warning signs.

Despite that, the S3 was still able to get much of its power down thanks to its AWD set-up. It is a very agile machine and is able to maintain a high level of cornering grip. The steering is well weighted too, although there isn’t a lot of feedback.

One of the test cars was fitted with the optional Magnetic Ride Control feature, which offers a stiffer setting. It was quite handy and seemed to tie the body down a bit better in the really twisty sections. The roads were quite bumpy, but even with the MRC enabled, the ride remained reasonably comfortable.

Of course, you would turn it off in the city where potholes and tram tracks would more noticeably affect the ride, but the S3 is still quite a comfortable car.

The interior is also a highlight. It’s not that much different to other Audis in that it has a clean and crisp design with quality surfaces. There is a reason it has a reputation for its excellent cabins.

The driver and passenger seats are nice and supportive but are also comfortable. They're likely to support larger people, unlike some of the more sporty seats with protruding seat bolsters.

Those extra doors will be welcomed by back seat passengers and there is a fair amount of room in the back as well as quite a healthy boot.

Just like the S3 three-door, the S3 Sportback is quite an expensive vehicle, but it is a convincing package that blends excellent performance as well as comfort and practicality.

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