Austin, Texas – The base Audi A3 isn’t exactly gorgeous. The four-ring brand’s all-new compact sedan sits tall, with large gaps in the wheel wells that remind you of that kid in elementary school whose pants were always prepared for an impending flood. The A3 also lacks the lovely proportions of the German automaker’s larger offerings. Given this, we expected the hotter, faster Audi S3 to be a similar story but with some added go-fast parts.
The moment we saw the 2015 Audi S3 in person, however, it quickly became clear that we were dead wrong. It reminds you of a petite Audi S4. Details such as the optional 19-inch wheels, an inch lower ride height, purposeful, four-outlet exhaust, and aggressive rocker panels transform the entry-level Audi into a welcome addition to Audi’s S model lineup.
100 percent true Audi
Inside, the 2015 Audi S3 continues to impress. The standard A3 has a refreshingly simple, almost Scandinavian design aesthetic throughout. Its unique MMI infotainment system features tactile and minimalist controls, outshining the more complicated MMI systems in Audi’s older and more expensive models. The S3 builds on the A3 by adding brushed aluminum trim, sport seats, and a D-shape steering wheel (both with contrast stitching), aluminum pedals, and a new instrument cluster with a turbo boost gauge. More aggressive sport seats — labeled Super Sports Seats in the European order guide — are in the pipeline. It’s clear the S3 is a 100 percent true Audi inside and out. You’ll struggle to find any cost-cutting measures.
Once you’re comfortably seated in that gorgeous cockpit it’s go-fast time. Engage S3’s the standard launch control and mash the throttle, and you’ll rocket from 0-60 mph in only 4.7 seconds (according to Audi). Top speed is limited to 155 mph — 130 mph with the no-cost option all-season tires wrapped around the car’s base 18-inch wheels.
Before you ask, the turbocharged inline-four isn’t just a chipped version of the A3’s 2.0-liter engine option. The S3’s powerplant features a plethora of upgrades, including a reinforced engine block, a unique cylinder head, and an upgraded turbocharger. Horsepower leaps from 220 to 292. Torque is up 22 lb-ft, to 280. Audi’s S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox is standard, as is Quattro all-wheel drive. Audi USA hasn’t ruled out the idea of offering a row-it-yourself S3 in the future if demand warrants. The only region where you can purchase an Audi S4 with a manual gearbox is North America, so if you’re loud enough, Audi may listen.
More than capable, on track and off
Despite the lack of a three-pedal setup, there are other features on the 2015 Audi S3 that will surely keep any car geek happy. Our test car was fitted with the Performance Package, which adds the larger, 19-inch wheels and magnetic ride suspension. Grip is very impressive. Our blasts through the undulating and twisting road surfaces outside of Austin failed to upset the S3’s chassis, no matter how hard we tried. It’s not a terribly involving car to drive quickly — not helped by its rather dead electric steering — but you can’t fault the S3’s pace or its ability to laugh off changing weather conditions. While never harsh to begin with, selecting the suspension’s Comfort mode via the S3’s Drive Select toggle switch softens the ride further, but you lose a bit of the Auto mode’s rock-solid body control. Dynamic mode tightens things up further, but at the expense of high frequency bumps filtering through the chassis and into the cabin. That setting’s probably best left for the track.
Speaking of the track, we were given the opportunity to briefly run the 2015 Audi S3 around the Circuit of the Americas (CoTA) before the start of the Tudor Championship and FIA WEC races. The S3 isn’t a proper track car — and it isn’t intended to be — but the compact sedan felt capable around CoTA, continuing to show the impressive grip we felt on the street. Like other Haldex all-wheel-drive systems, the S3’s handling characteristics are closer to a front-wheel-drive car with excellent traction versus a rally car for the street. But as long as you respect the throttle and don’t overdrive it, we found the the S3 to be decently balanced when pushed hard around the fabulous Texas circuit.
As for its competitive set, the S3 is more or less in a class of its own for now. The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG is some $10,000 more when similarly equipped. BMW’s M235i xDrive is only offered as a coupe and is also more expensive than the Audi. But the S3 will have another German pocket rocket to worry about soon, namely the Golf R from sister company VW. An all-wheel-drive GTI on steroids that hits U.S. streets next year, the Golf R uses the same basic MQB chassis and powertrain as the S3 but adds an available manual gearbox, four-door hatchback practicality, and a price that will undercut the $41,995 Audi. It may be worth waiting to drive both cars before pulling the trigger on the S3. Or not.
Before the trip to Austin, we anticipated the 2015 Audi S3 being a sporty A3 versus a proper baby S4. That’s most definitely not the case. As long as you can live with the small back seat and trunk opening, the lack of a manual gearbox, and it being not as communicative of a driver’s car as we’d like, the S3 is a very impressive, very fast small sports sedan. It would be an excellent car to live with day to day, in any climate.
2015 Audi S3
- On Sale: Now
- Base Price: $41,995
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/292 hp @ 5400 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 1900-5300 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, all-wheel-drive sedan
- EPA Mileage: 23/31/26 mpg (city/highway/combined)
- L x W x H: 175.9 x 77.2 x 54.8 in
- Wheelbase: 103.6 in
- Weight: 3450 lb