Over the years, Audi’s sporty S models have been some of the most enjoyable cars I’ve driven. We’re talking about the S4, S5, S6, S7, and S8 – all high performers. But, beyond ample acceleration, they are not harsh in everyday traffic. Where some competitors shake your teeth out, the Audis keep their composure even over rough pavement. They’re livable and loveable, sexy and comfortable. With the S3, we find out if the smallest Audi can be a fun little sporty package.
The S3’s style doesn’t divert an inch from Audi’s DNA. From the big grille that will scare anybody looking in a rearview mirror to the LED headlamps, Bauhaus-inspired bodywork, and 19” alloys, the S3 looks the part of a junior S4 S8. Neat creases in the sheetmetal, satin silver mirror caps, and chrome window trim add a touch of class while ground affects, quad exhaust outlets, and a thin decklid spoiler hint at the S3’s performance potential.
Moving inside, the S3 is a sharp suit lining upholstered with heated Nappa leather seats, aluminum trim, and soft-touch dash and door panels. Seats are manually adjusted, but grip all your sides. The rest of the cabin appears simple, but is quite sophisticated. Automatic climate controls are horizontally placed in the upper dash, but the infotainment system, with pop-up dash screen and controls in the center console, just blends into the scenery. Navigation and Bang & Olufsen audio are a joy. Side the panoramic sunroof on sunny days.
One of the coolest features of the S3 is Audi Virtual Cockpit. The instrument cluster is really a flatscreen that can be switched between navigation, audio, phone, and trip computer. Press another button and the large center speedometer/tachometer gauge slits, shrinks into the bottom corners, and spreads the 3D nav screen across the entire screen. Very cool. Safety is enhanced with blind zone alert, rear cross path detection, and a rearview camera.
Pop open the hood and you’ll find what keeps this speedy art show moving. Keep in mind the A3 shares architecture with the Volkswagen Jetta/Golf and is a very compact car. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 292 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft of torque to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system through a paddle-shift five-speed automatic transmission. Partially thanks to stop-start technology that pauses the engine at rest, the car achieves 21/28-MPG city/hwy. That’s not stellar, but not terrible for a car with the S3’s pedigree.
Keeping the S3’s composure is Audi’s Drive Select system that tunes the steering, throttle, and magnetic ride control suspension for Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual. Comfort is the most calm of the settings while Dynamic engages for a day in the twisties or bellowing exhaust rolling down the highway. Combine all of that with the smaller lightweight S3 and it’s a sprightly little ride. Quattro ensures it can handle any weather thrown at it.
The S3 is a little small, but the total package makes it a well-equipped sport sedan that’s every bit the offspring of its famous family. As long as you can live with the $42,900 base price, or $51,325 as-tested, you’ll find it a worthy competitor for the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG and Subaru WRX.
Watch Casey’s video of the Audi S3 above, then follow him on YouTube and Twitter: @AutoCasey.
2017 Audi S3
Five-passenger, AWD Sedan
Powertrain: 292hp 2.0-liter turbo-4, 5-speed automatic transmission
Suspension f/r: Elect Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 19”/19” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Power, Style
Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Gyor, Hungary
Base/as-tested price: $42,900/51,325