Audi S3 Sportback 2014 review
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Audi S3 Sportback, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Browse over 9,000 car reviews
Big engine, little car - good start. Front straight-six, rear drive - even better. BMW and M badges, no run flats - bring it on. Seating for five, every-day practicality - a necessary evil, but for the BMW M135i, a small price to pay.
Those passing a first glance will possibly dismiss the bodykit and wheels as accessory overload on a little German shopping trolley, but big stoppers, twin exhausts and the engine note will suggest otherwise, particularly when it rapidly shrinks into the distance.
If you are prepared to pay for the performance then the M135i is a bargain at $68,400 - sitting squat on 18in alloys, with low profile (40-series tyres on the front, 35s on the rear) conventional rubber, peeping through "startled-eyes" bi-xenon headlights, the little five-door boasts leather trim, the $4000 optional eight-speed auto, remote central locking and keyless ignition to get the fun underway.
The M-spec gear also includes the chunky leather steering wheel with paddleshifters, climate control, Bluetooth phone and audio link as well as USB connectivity and split-folding rear seats for loadspace versatility.
Among the options fitted - apart from the auto - were a glass sunroof (at $2920), parking sensors front and rear (worth $600) and the satnav (BMW calls it Navigation system professional) for $3500.
The top-spec 1 Series hatch gets the rather confusingly named TwinPower Turbo six-cylinder - rather than the twin-turbo of its recent forebears, it has a single twin-scroll turbocharger, as well as direct injection, variable valve and camshaft systems controlling the three-litre 24-valve six-cylinder.
The result - 245kW at 5800rpm and 450Nm (including an overboost surge) between 1250 and 5000rpm, propelling a vehicle that weighs just over 1500kg. Just two decades ago those figures were V8 muscle-car numbers, although the little Beemer's kerb weight is not far off either.
The six-speed manual is standard but stepping up to the eight-speed auto drops the sprint time to 100km/h from 5.1 to 4.9 seconds, as well as slicing 0.5 of a litre from the thirst, which sits at a claimed 7.5l/100km.
While the clever ZF auto gives it long legs - as well as 200-millisecond shift times - it also keeps its appetite for PULP down using a start-stop system, brake energy regeneration, electromechanical power steering and an Eco Pro mode to put the car into fuel-miser guise and only using the car's pumps and systems sparingly.
The M bodykit does a good job of butching up the little hatch, which has a surprised look on its face thanks largely to the headlights.
It's balanced up a bit by larger air intakes added as part of the M-body kit and the rear diffuser gives it plenty of purpose - but woe betide anyone who mistakes it for a pretender away from the lights.
The interior is snug front and rear, but not uncomfortable - at 190-odd cm I'm a little larger than the mainstream buyer but a comfortable position is achievable.
Space in the back makes it mostly a pre-teen domain but at least headroom isn't eroded by a descending roofline.
Bootspace is useful without being cavernous - 360 litres in five-seater mode or 1200 with them folded flat.
As seems to be par for the course in this price range, it's a five-star car - the airbag count is six (front, front-side and curtains), as well as the beefier M Sport Brake package with four-pot front calipers, fade compensation and disc-drying system and an electronic diff lock.
The list also includes anti-lock brakes (including the cornering brake control system to apportion braking where it is best applied), a cruise control with braking function, anti-dazzle interior mirror, stability and traction control, a rain sensor function within the automatic headlight system, and rain-sensing wipers.
Having been lucky enough to drive some very quick Beemers, I wasn't expecting as much as I would had it just been a consonant and a number on the rump.
But the first proper prod of the right-hand pedal - even before I'd started playing with Sport and Sport Plus modes - offered a surprising surge of acceleration.
Anything claiming around 5 seconds or less to hit the state limit is not hanging around and the M135i is one of the quickest ... at least until the Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 gets here in September.
Meatier steering than expected - it is electric assistance now, not hydraulic - and an eagerness for corners hasn't completely ruined the ride.
It's a choppy ride around town and that would make the $2200 adaptive damping option money well-spent if you have a deep desire for more compliance - forget the sunroof.
But drivers are going to like the standard suspension set-up, which allows for a work ethic and a bit of play-time.
The M Sport suspension has stiffer spring and dampers, dropping the ride height by 15mm and the ride quality issue fades into the background after the first series of switchback bends.
Turn it in and it is immediately obedient, with impeccable balance - straights feel very short, such is the rapid pace from the straight-six turbo.
It sings with gusto, devouring revs and talking back on over-run, even without playing with the paddleshifters it's more than amusing - the ZF auto's brains (in Sport modes) leave both hands to deal with the helm, working with the driver even in twisty switchbacks.
The electronic nursemaids are from the school of positive reinforcement - put them down for a nap and they still manage to keep you heading in the right direction without being a complete killjoy with the rear axle.
The driver's seat was endowed with adjustable side bolstering that was more than welcome when pushing the little hatch harder.
Playful rear-drive dynamics, decent (but sport-oriented) ride/handling compromise and steering, an epic powerplant and a clever gearbox all conspire to provide a hatchback with sportscar-scaring talents. But it's in for some stiff competition from the incoming all-wheel drivers from Benz and Audi - there's a trio of tykes able to obliterate a licence.
|120i High Line||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$13,500 – 19,470||2013 BMW 1 Series 2013 120i High Line Pricing and Specs|
|1M||3.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$36,000 – 46,530||2013 BMW 1 Series 2013 1M Pricing and Specs|
|135i||3.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$29,800 – 39,050||2013 BMW 1 Series 2013 135i Pricing and Specs|
|118d Highline||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$13,500 – 19,470||2013 BMW 1 Series 2013 118d Highline Pricing and Specs|