Audi S3 Sportback – long-term review - Report No:7 2023 | Top Gear
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Tuesday 26th September
Long-term review

Audi S3 Sportback – long-term review

£39,045 (£47,370 for Vorsprung ed.) / £49,030 as tested / £794 pcm
Published: 14 Jul 2023


  • SPEC

    S3 Sportback Vorsprung Edition



  • BHP


  • 0-62


Goodbye Audi S3: why we won't miss this soulless 300bhp hot hatch

The inescapable question that hung over the S3 over its eventful half-year at Top Gear was ‘what was Audi trying to achieve with this car?’ When it replaced the previous S3, what was the vision for its successor? I’ve a feeling it was ‘erm, more of the same’.

The old S3 got replaced because according to the factory calendar, it was time for a new one. Not because Audi had invented anything new or amazing to make its quattro sports-hatch better, and not because it had fallen way off the pace in any given area.

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So this was a car on incremental changes. A bit snarlier to look at (and losing some of its Q-car subtlety, sadly). More angular and less expensive-feeling inside. Not noticeably faster or comfier or easier on fuel. The S3’s job was to preserve the status quo. Job done, I guess. Mates who scoff at the Toyota I’m living with now swooned over the Audi’s animated LEDs and the perforated leather on its steering wheel. New Audi, same as the old Audi.

Thing is, the world has changed. The old S3 existed in a time when you could lob a couple of grand down and get one for not much over £300 a month. The new one is more like £500 a month and while it’s not the car’s fault the economy’s gone haywire, it has to work awfully hard to justify itself now.

At that sort of money, I’m looking for that sense of accomplishment, that a car is as good as it possibly can be and better than all that came before it. I can’t honestly tell you why you’d buy this new S3 specifically. Get the old one. It’s got a nicer cabin, it sounds meatier and you’ll save thousands. Stick a private reg on it and no-one will know it’s the previous gen.

Perhaps my experience of Audi ‘ownership’ has been tarnished by its theft. True, the car was recovered swiftly, but researching around it threw light upon just how susceptible hot Audis are to the dregs of society going on the pinch.

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Can’t really blame them, can you? It’s just so easy to drive at warp factor infinity. The handling is idiot-proof. It fills you with a confidence – no, a sense of invincibility – that’s frankly intoxicating during the dark and squalid months of a British winter.

I can see why people crave them, whether they’ve earned the right to own one or not. It’s four-wheeled, four-ringed shorthand for “I’m doing alright for myself, and this looks perfect outside my greyscale house with astroturf lawn. Now, get out of my effing way".

Despite the S3 being a largely well-put together capsule of effortless speed, well-integrated infotainment tech and commendable everyday comfort, I don’t miss it. It feels like a car left on standby, from a company in a holding pattern, readying itself for the e-tron revamp to come.

What’s ironic is that fast Audis are often consistently inconsistent – some are great, some are awful. It could be a B7 RS4 (hurrah!) or a current RS5 (yuck). The S3 is slap bang in the middle. Not incredible, but never bad at its job. But given prices are now seriously punchy, I’m not convinced that’s good enough.

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