Audi S3 Sportsback (2014) review: Big on luxury and performance

The sweet sound of petrol afterburn.

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Audi Australia S3 Sportsback
  • Audi Australia S3 Sportsback
  • Audi Australia S3 Sportsback
  • Audi Australia S3 Sportsback
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • 206kw performance engine that can be driven economically
  • Automated driving modes, such as assisted parking and stop-start engine
  • Feature rich in-car entertainment system

Cons

  • Stiff ride over poor roads
  • More expensive drive-away than most rivals

Would you buy this?

Plenty of hatchbacks prance around wanting to be as roomy as a sedan. The secret behind the Audi S3 is that it is a full sized sedan, comfortably seating five and powered by a no-nonsense engine, only it models a convenient ‘sportsback’ for a boot.

Audi Australia entrusted us with an S3 for the week and, although deadlines and commitments bogged us down, we made the most of the car on a weekend road trip.

We headed south of Sydney towards Wollongong looking for long straights and tight corners. The Sea Cliff bridge en route provided both an ideal driving road and the scenery to match.

Powering the car is a turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 206 kilowatts. It’s a 2-litre rev-happy engine that, in Australia, has a governed top speed of 250 km/h. The open highway gave us the chance to open it up, where we reached the 110 km speed limit in little more than 5 seconds.

The exhaust note sticks with us long after. Tap the accelerator and the S3 will subtly burble. An extra inch will cause the engine to snarl and growl — like a guard dog behind a locked gate. Bury the throttle and the sonorous note turns into one more violent set against the winding whirl of the turbo. Shift gears and there’s the sweet ‘pop’ of petrol afterburn.

The time came for us to show the car some corners, so we jumped off the motorway and onto Lady Wakehurst Drive, a windy piece of tarmac marked by blind corners and the occasional hairpin.

Reassurance waited beyond the turns. The S3 felt planted and confident in the bends; the work of its low centre of gravity, the quattro all-wheel-drive system inherited from Audi’s rally stint, and the optional magnetic ride. No doubt the good brakes helped the situation by reigning in the 1.5-tonne car on cue.

Governing gear changes is a 6-speed ‘S tronic’ gearbox. Two automatic modes are available. The go-to mode is ‘Drive’ and it's for your everyday commute. Drive rushes gear changes at 2000 rpm for the smoothest possible ride and to get to sixth gear as quickly as possible. This is one way Audi keeps the S3’s petrol consumption to a quoted 6.9 litres per 100km.

Shift the automatic gear stick down and S mode is engaged. This sporty mode is the polar opposite as it won’t change gear until the needle taps the 6500 rpm redline. S mode is reserved for the open road or ones characterised by turn after turn.

Our go-to mode was the manual transmission; engaged by shifting the metal-meets-leather gear-stick to the left. There’s the option of changing gears from the stick or via the paddles on the steering wheel. Time the change right and the up- and down-shifts are smooth and immediate. Changing gears in the mountain pass meant we could hold high revs on straights and make use of the engine brake as we faced corners. Hooning like this caused the S3 to consume more fuel at 11.1 litres per 100km.

In no time we made our way through the forest-clad road and onto Sea Cliff Bridge, a stunning piece of road propped over the ocean by concrete pylons. Fellow drivers slowed down to take in the scenery. Congestion soon slowed us down so we put the S3 in ‘drive’ and took in the view.

Traffic on the way home gave us the opportunity to appreciate the S3’s interior. It’s easy to forget the car will seat five in Nappa leather seats. The size of the interior grants the impression the S3 could be a full sized sedan.

The taut suspension is less forgiving on poor roads. The car tries to iron them out rather than dynamically respond to them, though its ride is decent and the car always feels like one solid piece.

There’s no shortage of equipment and technology. The engine stops in standstill traffic and starts when your foot lifts from the brake. Few buttons line the console; one of them disables this feature.

Other driving aids include parking sensors. Park the car and sensors display which panels are close to being hit. A reverse parking camera offers an unobstructed view of what's happening behind.

Going one further is Audi’s park assist technology, which identifies parking spaces large enough for the S3 to parallel park itself. Watching the car turn and accelerate itself is an unusual feeling, though it’s a feature that grows on you over time.

At the centre of all this technology is a versatile entertainment console. A 7-inch screen rises from the dash when needed and hides when it’s not. From here it’s possible to pair your smartphone over Bluetooth, manage the music stored on one of two SDHC card slots, enable GPS navigation or even play a DVD.

Navigating the car’s entertainment system is easy enough with shortcut buttons opening media, radio, telephone and navigation menus. A wheel is used to rotate through the menu; tapping it once will perform a selection, while the top of it works as a capacitive pad that can recognise handwriting. It’s a clever trick, but not one designed for use when driving.

Our review S3 came with the S performance package, a $4990 extra that bundles Audi’s magnetic ride, a fantastic Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker kit, red coloured calipers, LED headlights and other racing paraphernalia.

Perhaps the best characteristic about the S3 is that it finds a healthy balance between luxury, sport and technology. When you want to cruise, just pop it into Drive and you’ll forget about the rev-happy engine. And then one joyous afternoon, you’ll shift the gear stick into manual and relish its pure performance.

The margin for error is high when it comes to balancing sport, luxury and size. We believe the Audi S3 walks that tight line just right.

Quick specs

Engine
• A 2 litre, 4 cylinder inline petrol engine with turbocharging and intercooling
• 206 kilowatts
• 250km/h governed top speed
• Red lines at 6500 rpm.

Transmission
• 6 speed S tronic

Fuel consumption
• 6.9L/100km

Drive line
• Permanent ‘quattro’ all wheel drive

Weight
• 1520 kilograms

Price
• Standard: $59990
• With S performance pack: $64980

Be sure to factor in additional ‘drive away’ costs.

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