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Audi S3 quattro Sportback

Click to view picture gallery“Audis classy 155mph S3 Sportback
  comes with five doors and more
  than enough performance to blow
  them off their hinges! In a downsizing
  world it offers a gleam of sunshine —
  if you have the necessary 27,970...

YOU CAN'T KEEP A GOOD CAR DOWN. Audi UK has just aired its 2009 model range to the UK's motoring press as it pushes towards another record year of sales despite the severe downturn in the new car market. In fact, Audi is one of only three manufacturers to show a sales increase in the new registration plate month of September; Jaguar and Smart were the other two.

At the time of this review, Audi have 25,000 advance UK orders for their cars. Furthermore, eight out of every ten Audis are 'customer tagged' or built to order, which says even more about the brand's standing with its customers. In fact, the way things are going, and boosted by the introduction of additional new models and variants (for example, the new Q5 mid-sized 4x4 SUV is due here in December followed by A1, Q3, A5 Cabrio, A7, TT RS, R8 V10 and R8 Spider), it is quite possible that Audi could overhaul BMW for new vehicle sales in the UK in 2009 to become the number one German premium brand.

Of the raft of model changes put on display this week, the most significant for most people are the revised A3 variants. The premium compact A3 three- and five-door hatchbacks and Cabriolets represent Audi's best selling model range, achieving 32,000 sales annually in the UK.

The latest A3 is likely to become more and more important to Audi's growth plans as inevitably customers — even Audi owners — look to downsize to off-set the increase in ever-escalating motoring costs. The three-door range has prices ranging from 14,995 up to 27,450 for the S3 quattro all-wheel drive version. Five-door Fastback models, which take 70 per cent of A3 sales, have prices ranging from 15,495 up to 27,970. A3 Cabriolet versions range from 19,995 to 27,760.

Although the A3 has received a re-styling, the changes are detailed and not significantly different; more of an evolution in design that sees the hatchbacks retain their wedge shape and high waistline fronted by the latest Audi grille treatment. Rear and rear-quarter visibility is still an issue due to the high and rising waistline, and the handling is not as sharp or as controlled as that of its main competitor, the BMW 1 Series.

For low to medium mileage owners, probably private buyers, the model which makes the most sense is the 1.4 TFSI Sportback priced from 17,150. The five-door body style is the most user-friendly and the new 1.4-litre direct injection turbocharged with intercooler petrol engine offers 123bhp of power. More importantly, 148lb ft of torque is available from just 1,500rpm which makes the car extremely responsive and flexible to drive at all speeds.

Fuel economy is officially 47.9mpg but with low CO2 emissions of 140g/km (Vehicle Excise Duty Band C) road tax is 120 a year; 110 from April 2009.

I'd recommend the SE specification as the most cost-effective buy at 17,800 — pretty competitive for a medium segment five-door hatchback. The majority (35 per cent) of A3 buyers currently choose the Sport specification, which costs 19,000. Overall the quality is very high as is the build quality but, be warned, adding lots of options pushes up the price significantly and in today's market is probably not advisable.

However if price is no obstacle then the new addition to the range, the high-performance S3 quattro Sportback is the headline grabber.

This 2.0-litre, 261bhp, 258lb ft petrol direct injection, turbocharger with intercooler model with a six-speed manual transmission and quattro all-wheel drive costs 27,970 on-the-road. Add options and the price can become very high indeed: 33,500 for my test car. Even given the excellent performance, stability, permanent four-wheel grip and overall refinement, plus the flexibility of five doors, this still seems a lot of money.

With 258lb ft of torque on tap constantly from 2,500 to 5,000rpm, the S3 is unquestionably one very fast set of wheels. Top speed is governed to 155mph; 0-62mph acceleration is 5.8 seconds. If you can live with the peformance you'll like the fuel consumption: an average of 27.6mpg. Main reasons to buy one include the strong engine that serves up high torque at low engine speeds, the fact that it's very quick and comfortable, has loads of grip for all-weather stability and safety and is smartly packaged in a practical five-door body.

Sure, specced up it can prove pricey, but that aside the only real drawback is the limited rear and rear-side visibility. On that showing, the S3 Sportback will be the model to which many A3 buyers aspire. — David Miles

Audi S3 quattro Sportback
| 27,970
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25.4mpg | Power: 261bhp | Torque: 258lb ft
CO2 199g/km | VED Band F 210 | Insurance group 18