by Roger Biermann
The Audi S3 quattro takes the A3 compact sedan and turns up the heat – not quite to full-fat RS-specification, but to a hot enough point that it's no longer playing in the realm of the Golf GTI. Though underpinned by VW Group's MQB platform and sharing engines with the VW Golf R, the S3 possesses a vastly different personality. Only available in sedan version, as opposed to the A3's convertible and hatchback options, the S3 means business. Space for 5 plus your junk in the trunk, the S3 is a more practical alternative to the BMW M240i, but finds a rival in the form of Subaru's WRX STI.
More or less identical to the A3, the Audi S3 features seating space for 5 with plenty of space to spare. The large trunk automatically gives it an advantage over the competition, though for passenger room a WRX STI cuts the S3 pretty close. The clean dash features high quality materials, as well as Audi's pop-up infotainment screen. Standard dual-zone climate control keeps occupants comfortable. Rear leg room is exceptional, and the head room accommodates tall passengers unlike Mercedes-Benz' CLA 4-door coupe.
The S3 gets a chunky flat-bottomed multifunction sport steering wheel, clad in perforated leather, and leather clad 'S' embossed seats. Optional S Sport seats look aggressive with their cobra-hood design and quilted Nappa leather, and feel spectacular, offering exceptional support and comfort – not to mention style. For technophiles, Audi's virtual cockpit can be included for a fully customizable driver display experience.
The Audi S3 gets revised S-specific sports suspension to tighten things up. The stiffer springs and dampers make the ride less comfortable than the standard A3, particularly over very choppy surfaces where the ride gets quite bumpy. But despite this, grip remains exceptional thanks to a Haldex-based AWD system (badged as quattro) that can divert up to 100% of the torque to the rear wheels when needed. This gives the S3 a uniquely neutral chassis balance and endless grip. To minimize understeer, the S3 features brake-based torque vectoring to sharpen turn-in. The brakes have been enlarged to 13.4-inch ventilated discs up front for increased stopping power. The electronically assisted steering is cold and clinical, but highly accurate with sharp responses off center.The S3 is an incredibly adept handler, but lacks a playful nature when being thrown about. Instead, it's a cold, clinical way to rapidly carve up mountain passes.
Only one engine can be had with the Audi S3 – a fire spitting variant of the 2.0-liter TFSI 4-cylinder with outputs of 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Power reaches the ground through a 6-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox and quattro all-wheel drive. Performance figures are best in class with a 0-60mph sprint time of just 4.7 seconds thanks to AWD and the S3's launch control function, with the S tronic shifting gears in the blink of an eye – accompanied by a throaty burp from the exhaust system. No other 4-cylinder engine sounds this good.
As with the standard A3, the Audi S3 received a 5-star Safety Rating from the NHTSA. The S3 features the basic suite of airbags, ABS with EBD, and stability control. Adaptive cruise control is now accentuated with extra features like rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and Audi pre sense. Standard full LED head- and taillights feature on the S3, while optional equipment includes Audi's virtual cockpit, Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker sound system, and rear-view camera with parking assistant. The S Sport seat package improves comfort and style, and adds four-way power lumbar adjustment.
Colder and less involving than the Golf R or Subaru WRX STi, the Audi S3 is refined performance – absolutely rapid from point to point, regardless of how twisty or wet the road surface gets. It may not have the same playfulness that a BMW M240i has, but this is a fast sedan that anyone can enjoy.