Audi S3 Sportback

Underneath the steel body (seen here in saloon form, although an S3 Sportback also exists) lies the traditional mechanical arrangement. The Volkswagen Group’s EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is reprised – though now with power boosted from 306bhp to 329bhp and torque from 295lb to 310lb ft. 

Directly downstream of the engine sits the S-tronic seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox previously offered, although it can now decouple and allow the car to freewheel when the driver lifts off the throttle. It’s also worth noting that the S3 isn’t available with a manual.

There seems to be some divergence in opinion about ‘performance’. Some of us crave ever-lower acceleration times and rejoice in the absurdity of it all, while others long ago accepted that anything less than five seconds from 0-62mph was more than quick enough for anything road-legal.

Whichever way you see it, the S3’s 0-60mph time of 4.7sec is objectively very quick and comfortably more so than even the most rabid front-driven alternatives’, such as the Honda Civic Type R.

But exciting? Not so much. The manner in which the 2.0-litre turbo engine reliably pumps out those figures is better known to road testers than most, the Volkswagen Group (but Audi-designed) EA888 unit having appeared in various forms across the Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen brands for well over a decade now.

The idle speed has been turned up by 200rpm and the turbo is pre-loaded from s lower boost pressue, so there’s a heightened sense of urgency in full-bore launches. But thereafter the uniform delivery of power and torque feels endlessly broad and hugely effective, but lacks much in the way of shape or crescendo. The gearbox is reliably slick but, again, not especially engaging, its paddles in particular lacking tactility.

Sub-R8 fast Audis have always leant into the brand’s rallying heritage particularly well, and while it requires a certain suspension of disbelief, the S3 does the whole ‘WRC refugee’ thing rather well. The turbo’s sonorous whooshing, sucking and exhaling – more pervasive now that it’s pre-loaded at a lower boost pressure – would give Michèle Mouton something to smile about, and the keener ear will detect something of a five-cylinder-esque chirrup from the titanium-tipped Akrapovic sports exhaust – though I’d pay extra to do without the anti-social pops and bangs on overrun. 

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