Audi S3 Sportback – long-term review - Report No:4 2023 | Top Gear
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Wednesday 4th October
Long-term review

Audi S3 Sportback – long-term review

£39,045 (£47,370 for Vorsprung ed.) / £49,030 as tested / £794 pcm
Published: 29 Mar 2023


  • SPEC

    S3 Sportback Vorsprung Edition



  • BHP


  • 0-62


Audi S3: how much difference do driving modes really make?

Modes. Cars are obsessed with them these days. But I’ve always suspected the mode switch in, say, a BMW was the second least-pushed button in the whole interior, after the indicator stalk.

I have seen people using modes twice in The Real World. By which I mean ‘outside of an artificial car testing situation’. Once I hailed an Uber and the Mercedes E220d driver selected SPORT at every red light for a swift getaway, before cycling the rocker switch back to Comfort as we arrived in second gear. He was never gapped away from the lights. I tipped him.

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The other culprits are my parents. They bought an electric Peugeot a while ago and it lives in ECO mode permanently. They’ve acclimatised to the frostbitten interior ambience with the heater wound back to minus five, know to leave ten minutes early to allow for the sedate acceleration, and don’t want to do without the range boost it offers in return.

In most cars, the modes made very little difference to how it operates. Why they even bother including them on a Golf or a Prius baffles me. And though a Ferrari 296 is best sampled in Race, it’ll still make you wet your undercrackers in, well, Wet.

However, I feel like I’ve unlocked latent bandwidth in the Audi S3 by prodding at its Drive Select button, conveniently located way over the other side of the cabin because Audi couldn’t be bothered to relocate it for right hand drive.

Up until now, I’d left the car in a standard-procedure Individual mode. Angry engine, middling steering weight, and softest (but hardly comfortable) suspension. Because pretty much anything from a 296 GTB downwards, that’s the sweet spot.

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But bored of the S3’s thirst resulting in a long-term average of only 29 miles per gallon, I spent a few tanks in the Efficiency mode instead. And here’s the rub: I rewired my right foot for the doughy throttle, didn’t suffer any loss of handling fun (because there isn’t any to begin with) and economy soared to 36mpg.

That means I’m doing 50-60 extra miles between fill-ups. Or one fewer £80 tankful per month. Even though fuel prices are now merely ‘steep’ as opposed to ‘eye-wateringly unaffordable’, that’s not to be sneezed at.

The key to the S3’s newfound allergy to petrol is the coasting function. Lift off the gas at anything up to about 75mph and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox decouples from the engine allowing the S3 to coast friction-free, almost like an EV. Learn to manage when to press and when to release and suddenly, you’re gobbling up huge downhill stretches for free, without feeling like you’re on a miserable hypermiling plod. You don’t arrive late. You don’t get boxed in by the lorries. But magically, the fuel gauge doesn’t move.

Plus, it’s a useful anti-speeding guardian angel. Go above 80-odd and the gearbox won’t unhook itself.

Annoyingly, you must be in Efficiency mode to get the sailing function. Which is odd, because a few weeks ago I drove a Bentley Continental GT Speed, and it coasts in its ‘Bentley’ mode – the default, semi-sporty setting. And you might be surprised to learn, also has huge eco benefits: managing 25mpg despite 12 hungry pistons and a kerbweight from the Industrial Revolution.

So, calling all VW Group hatchback drivers. Delve into your menus (preferably not one of the useful Volkswagen / Skoda / Seat touchscreens, mind) and have a fiddle with the modes. You might be surprised to find just how much extra ability your car withholds, waiting to be unlocked. At the very least, it could save you a few quid.

One word of warning though: this tactic is best experimented with when you’re alone. As I’ve found out recently, optimising your mode strategy with loved ones also present in the car is a fast track route to being branded ‘a nerd’, ‘tragic’ and ‘perhaps needing to think about getting out more’.

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