2015 Audi S3

A sublime surprise.

By: Anthony Fongaro | November 2015

Sometimes, you just want more. More power, more speed, and more noises from your car. Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi take their regular compact sedans and turn them from ordinary businessman cars to working class heroes capable of performing like faux-supercars. Audi in particular is good at this transformation game, and took their small A3 to the gym to become the S3. But was it enough? Is the S3 the benchmark for small sedans or just a gussied up and louder A3?

Full disclosure: Audi Hoffman Estates were gracious enough to let me test one of their 2015 Audi S3s.

What the S3 hides under the hood is a 2.0-litre Inline-4 engine producing 290-hp and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. As with all performance Audis, the S3 has Quattro® AWD standard. If you are wondering, no, the S3 is not available with a manual transmission. Send your complaints to Audi USA if this is a deal breaker.

The Audi S3 is essentially the same vehicle as the VW Golf R, only the Audi is more expensive, less practical and easier to test drive. But since it has an Audi badge on it, it must be better. Also, you have to special order the Golf R where you can go to most Audi dealerships and look at - and hopefully drive - the S3.

The little changes from the A3 to the S3 externally are subtle but substantial. The rear end now has four exhaust pipes instead of two, the door mirrors are silver instead of body matching, and there is a front-end diffuser to make the car handle better instead of…nothing. Inside, you get a flat-bottom steering wheel and the ability to change driving parameters such as the throttle, suspension, and steering with a button called Drive Select.

At first, you really have no idea what to expect when you turn the car on. Yes, the exhaust sounds friskier than a normal A3 but from the inside, you just feel like you’re in a nice and pretty expensive Audi. That is, until you actually go for it. Then you’re in for quite the surprise.

The S3 darts from 0-60 mph in only 4.4 seconds. This little car is actually quicker than a Chevy Camaro SS or a Ford Mustang GT, both cars with engines two to three times bigger than the Audi’s. Since Audi didn’t modify the S3 to “ricer” levels with the styling, it basically looks like an A3 with some extra bits. Handling is great as well since you have the confidence of AWD and excellent body control to stick the car into bends faster than you would think you could.

Even though the S3 has surprising performance, it can transform back to a docile and practical sedan. As with all Audis, the interior is a combination of high quality materials and well laid out buttons. Using various functions such as the radio, navigation, and climate control become second nature quickly. Thankfully, the infotainment screen for the navigation system and other features is fully retractable. This retractable screen also has a touch-pad dial behind the shifter that makes entering information a breeze.

So is this a perfect car? Yes! If you just overlook one or two things…

First off, when using the Drive Select feature, the steering in Comfort is too soft and light for my liking. Auto and Dynamic are the two driving modes to be in. An annoyance I have is when automakers have fake buttons on the dashboard just for the sake of style. The row of buttons under the central vents should be redesigned so there doesn’t have to be so many false buttons. This may seem obvious, but because the S3 is a small car, the back seats aren’t the most commodious. Not that this is a surprise considering its size.

The little complaints aside, the S3 is an amazing car. It can out-perform cars costing twice as much while still being a little stealthy luxury vehicle. The S3 impresses so much because it has the blend of everyday business man quality and hooligan performance. It is really a sensational sleeper sedan.

Images courtesy of Audi Hoffman Estates. Take a look at their lineup of Audi S3s here.

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