2023 Audi S3 Sportback: Satisfying
The Audi S3 didn’t have a sedan variant until its second incarnation. The original was a 3-door hatchback, now Sportback in Audi-speak.
This body style continues to be the link between not just the past and the future of what is a German performance icon, but the totally engaging hot hatchback format, even in SUV crazy 2023.
The S3 was never a visually loud car, its purpose hidden under the sheet metal in its mechanicals. Small touches hint here and there to those in the know. In hatchback form, the subtlety is turned up an extra notch. For example, there’s no carbon exterior trim elements like the sedan variant. The overall shape is a bit more squat and muscular due to the lack of a trunk. Of course, Audi’s light game is ahead of the rest, with striking LED lights all around. There, however, is a paradox. Choose one of the more vibrant paint options and the 5-door hatchback shape, due to its rarity in modern automotive design, actually makes the S3 Sportback stand out in the average parking lot or on the road.
What isn’t low-key is the interior. The base A3 moved the bar for compact premium sedan interior design, taking the classic Audi conservative, but futuristic style to the next level. Angular and uncluttered best describes it, with sharp lines, quality material choice, just the major functions ergonomically laid out for ease of operation, and focused for the driver. Raising the S3 over its preceding trims are its comfortable powered seating that provides plenty of support and that low sporty feeling for spirited driving.
When not driving ten-tenths and gripping the chunky flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel from excitement, the refinement of the S3 is evident. The low noise floor means quiet cruising to enjoy the wonderful Bang & Olufsen stereo system run through Audi’s excellent MMI infotainment system or the matching all-digital Virtual Cockpit. It’s quick, clear with all the modern connectivity expected. Day or night the large sunroof brings pleasure. At night it can be combined with the ambient lighting, for a relaxing jaunt, if the lit S logo on the door sills weren’t validation enough that you’re in the right vehicle.
Many cite the hatchback for its practicality. The S3 Sportback is no different. There’s more than enough space in the trunk and, if extra cargo room is needed, the rear seats can be split and folded down. The overall feel is one of a sports car, tight to make one gel with the vehicle, but never claustrophobic.
ON THE ROAD
Given all its gentlemanly premium base, when it comes to performance the S3 is all ruffian. At idle things are just as subtle as its appearance, and even a few prods of the accelerator won’t provoke much with a soft limiter stopping the revs from climbing too high. Once warmed up and fully engaged on a piece of tarmac, Audi’s infamous rally heritage blasts to the forefront. This is the formula that built the legend, 2-litres, four-cylinders, turbocharging, quattro all-wheel drive, and a razor-sharp, dual-clutch transmission. In a flash the 306bhp and quattro traction can rocket the diminutive hatchback to 60mph in 4.5 seconds and top out at we’re impounding your car and taking to jail numbers.
Even better, as with rally it’s not about straight line speed. The S3 carves corners with the best of them, its suspension able to glide over the multitude of imperfect surfaces in our crumbling internal road network as if they were glass. Yet, there’s still immersion. The laidback hatchback, generates driver pleasing sensations at speed such as the aural bliss of the engine growling as it quickly rows through its seven gears to a 6500 rpm redline, all while delivering satisfying pops and bangs from the exhaust. Then there’s the confidence gained from the chassis and the brakes, inspiring the speed regardless of the conditions.
The S3 Sportback loses nothing to its sedan sibling. Same great car, just a slightly different packaging.