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Audi S3 Sportback: The Lord of the Rings produces a rival for the Mercedes A45 AMG

With the Geneva Motor Show coming up, that uniquely European creation known as the hot hatchback is getting a lot of attention. Mercedes-Benz is taking the concept to the extreme with the A45 AMG, and now Audi is entering the fray with the S3 Sportback. The S3 isn’t supposed to debut until early March, but Audi couldn’t resist giving the world an early peak.

Like the Mercedes, the S3 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque fall a little short of the A45’s 360 hp and 331 lb-ft, but the Audi does come with a six-speed manual transmission. Naturally, quattro all-wheel drive is also standard.

Audi does offer a dual-clutch automatic transmission, again matching Mercedes, as an option. With that faster shifting unit, the S3 Sportback will reach 62 mph (100 kph) in 5.0 seconds, and continue to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

That makes the S3 0.4 second slower than the A45 AMG, but their top speeds are the same. The gentleman’s agreement between the major German carmakers is apparently still in effect.

The S3 also matches the A45 AMG’s 34 mpg combined on the European cycle. Helping fuel economy are aluminum body panels, which drop the curb weight to 3,185 pounds, and low rolling resistance tires.

This performance Audi also gets a subtle visual makeover. A model-specific grille gives it a slightly different face, while a rear diffuser and four chrome exhaust tips will let puzzled GTI drivers know why they just got passed by an A3. The whole car is also lowered, which is never a bad idea.

On the inside, the S3 gets a model-specific instrument cluster, sport seats, and plenty of S3 badges to remind driver and passengers exactly what they’re in.

The S3 Sportback will have its first public outing at the Geneva Motor Show in early March, and will go on sale in Europe later this year. Audi has no plans to offer it in the United States, but if the redesigned A3 sedan makes it here, it could get the S3 treatment.

The A3 sedan would be positioned as a rival for the Mercedes CLA-Class, which is a sedan version of the A-Class the A45 AMG is based on. In fact, the upcoming CLA45 AMG will get the same engine as the A45. Talk about parity.