Audi S3 Sport back An Early Drive.

What’s new on the 2020 Audi S3 Sportback?

Frustratingly, we don’t yet have all the mechanical specs of the S3. While the A3 Sport back family will be shown at the Geneva motor show on 3 March, the S3 derivative won’t be shown until May so the finer details of the engineering package will have to wait until later this spring.

That didn’t stop your correspondent from probing away and by grilling many Audi engineers we’ve painted a useful picture of what to expect. And it looks like the new Audi S3 Sport back will continue its position at the slicker end of the hot hatch family tree. Ingolstadt knows how to balance muted restraint and premium polish with some fiendishly clever engineering that underpins its hot hatch creds.

So we know that the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine continues with little mechanical change; the engineering focus was on maintaining outputs – believed to be 310ps, or 306bhp and 400Nm (295lb ft) of torque – while meeting tougher emissions regulations, which introduce the need for a petrol particulate filter.

Haldex 6 and a new generation of Quattro all-wheel drive

One of the main higlights of the 2020 Audi S3 family is its drive train. Part of the reason this model has become a significant seller, accounting for one in five A3 sales in the UK, is its all-weather ability and grippy Quattro all-wheel drive. New for the fourth generation is a brand new Haldex 6 multi-plate clutch slung under the boot floor, apportioning drive front and rear in a more sophisticated way than systems from the past two decades.

It’s the VW Group debut for this Borg Warner hardware, which does away with some of the complexity of earlier Haldex clutches and is designed to be lighter and faster to respond; drive at a cruise and the pump is switched off entirely, but the moment the ECU detects slip or a likely need for extra traction (when cornering or driving uphill, say) it primes the pump and applies an extraordinary 44 bars of pressure within 100 milliseconds to engage the mechanical clutch and send drive rearwards. The all-wheel drive systems adds around 70kg of extra weight and will be available on lesser A3s before too long.

Audi S3 review: how does it drive?

If the upgraded Quattro system is one major leap forward, the second is the latest adaptive dampers, which will be standard on the new S3. Their range of adjustment is increased by around 40%, according to the chassis engineers, allowing for softer settings and a pillowy ride comfort or, at the other extreme, a firmer set-up for vice-like body control when you’re playing out your Hannu Mikkola fantasies on the B-road drive home.

We experienced a range of road surfaces in the Azores and the S3 Sport back had an admirable capability in most situations. You control many of the systems (dampers, steering weighting, throttle response, gearbox mapping and exhaust sound) through the Audi Drive Select button on the decluttered dashboard. In Comfort mode, the car feels more relaxed, softer damper settings soaking up cobbled roads, lumps and bumps. The new A3 Sport back body shell feels torsionally rigid and you can feel the suspension (MacPherson struts up front, a multi-link rear on more powerful models) working well to isolate passengers, despite the large 19-inch Bridge stone tyres fitted to our prototype vehicles.

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