by Gabe Beita Kiser
The S3 Sedan has been around since 2013 and is built upon Volkswagen's multi-purpose MQB platform, which it shares with the likes of Volkswagen's Golf R. The S3 is the middle child of Audi's subcompact executive car range, with the standard A3 sitting below, and the RS on top. The S3 is suitably styled to mirror its place in the A3 lineup; it has an assertively sporty look that distinguishes it from the mom and pop A3 but doesn't tread on the hardcore RS's status. Powering the S3 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter making close to 292 hp (which it shares with the Golf R). As a junior exec, the S3 comes with an extensive list of tech features, but competition in this segment is tough, especially from German rivals such as BMW's M240i and the Mercedes AMG CLA 45, and for a car that's been around since 2013, can the S3 remain competitive?
There haven't been any major changes for 2018. Two much-welcomed USB ports and heated seats for front passengers now come standard on the base model, while Premium Plus models now get blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assistance. The optional technology package includes an impressive Bang & Olufsen sound system, and for those who're looking for a bit more individuality, the optional Audi S-line sports package includes a set of magnetic ride dampers and a coat of red paint for the brake calipers.
The standard A3 has always been a handsome car, especially in its current form, but it's far from an aggressive looking autobahn muscle car. That is where the S and RS cars come into their own… The S3's most striking features have to be that giant gaping hexagonal grille and LED headlights that gives one the impression that the 2018 S3 is actually a transformer in disguise. The S3, like so many other performance cars from Audi, doesn't boldly announce its sporting credentials to the world but hides the fact underneath a clean and simple design that looks modern and expensive. The base model's rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels and has a gorgeous panoramic sunroof. The back of the car is rounded off with quad exit exhaust pipes and the same angular lines that compliment the front of the S3 so well.
The 2018 Audi S3 Sedan rides on Volkswagens well-known MQB platform that it shares with over thirty other models from Volkswagen and various brands under its umbrella. Despite the sedan moniker, this four-door S3 is still a compact, and the numbers confirm that story. The 2018 model rides on an (unchanged) 103.6-inch wheelbase and is 175.8 inches long and 70.7 inches wide. The S3's roofline is 54.8 inches from the ground. The Volkswagen Golf R, a very hot hatchback, uses the same platform and engine as the S3 and also drives all four wheels. It misses out on a proper trunk, giving it a comparative length of 168.4 inches. The S3 tips the scales at 3,462 pounds, exactly 200 pounds lighter than BMW's M240i xDrive.
New owners can choose from a selection of ten colors for the 2018 Audi S3 sedan. Some of these color options are shared with the standard A3, but four of them are exclusive to the S3. It wouldn't be a German car if it wasn't available in seven different variations of black and gray, but there are some notable hues; Tango Red looks spicy, and the Navarra Blue has a mysterious glimmer. The most outrageous color choice has to be the shocking Vegas Yellow, which makes the S3 sedan look like a Nurburgring taxi. Other color options include Glacier White, Mythos Black, Brilliant Black, Florett Silver, Nano Gray, Daytona Gray, and the gorgeous Ara Blue crystal.
Nestled between the standard A3 and the all-out RS, the S3 manages to find a good balance between outright performance, comfort, and practicality. Looking at the figures, the S3 sounds compelling enough: you get all-wheel-drive, almost 300hp and trick suspension, not to mention a quick-shifting dual-clutch auto and Audi's drive select system that can relax, or sharpen, the S3 even further according to road conditions or a driver's mood. Chief competitors like the BMW M240i and the Mercedes-Benz CLA offer a considerable amount more power and outright performance, and while the Golf R doesn't feature in this class, it offers similar performance for much less money. 0-60 mph takes around 4.5 seconds, while top speed, like rivals, is limited to 155 mph. But it's the fact that the S3 can deliver on this promise when rivals with more power are only capable of similar performances, that astounds.
Powering the 2018 Audi S3 Sedan is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. It's eager to rev out, but its main party trick is the massive glob of midrange torque that hits you right in the stomach every time you pin the throttle. Audi's quattro AWD system makes sure that almost none of that shove is lost to wheelspin. Execute a perfect launch, and you'll see a 0-60mph time of 4.6 seconds. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto in this S3 is quick to shift and gives you the gear you're looking for without hesitation. The S3, however, isn't the most powerful in its class by any means. The M240i produces 43 hp more, and the AMG CLA 45 peaks at a whopping 83 hp greater power output, yet somehow don't translate this power into being vastly quicker. The S3's engine also manages to sound good for a four-pot, with a deep growl and parps and pops on hard upshifts.
The 2018 Audi S3 Sedan gets a lot of things right, but what it does best is deliver an exhilarating driving experience. S3 rolls on a set of 18-inch wheels, connected to a tried and trusted MacPherson strut front and a four-link rear suspension setup that provides excellent damping for fast and smooth road surfaces. Body roll is kept to a minimum, and with all four wheels gripping the road on 225/40 summer tires, the S3 has a very secure impression of mechanical grip. The electrically assisted steering system is one of the best in class and weighs up perfectly in almost every situation. Feedback through the steering wheel is good, and with all of these elements aligned, the Audi S3 will go where you point it and manages to feel fast without being intimidating. The 13.4-inch ventilated front disks and 12.2-inch rear disks provide excellent stopping power and should prove more than capable for most driving situations.
Yet despite the outright capability proffered by the S3, it feels somewhat cold. Easy speed at the expense of involvement, and always the sensation that you're being constantly micro-managed by the computer systems, giving the impression of play, but all within predetermined confines.
Performance and frugality don't usually go hand in hand, but when you consider the fact that the 2018 Audi S3 sedan can sprint from 0-60mph just one-tenth slower than a 1994 Lamborghini Diablo VT, the gas mileage numbers seem entirely acceptable. Audi gives an EPA-rated fuel consumption figure of 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined. The BMW M240i xDrive will see comparative numbers of 21/30/26 mpg, an impressive figure considering its higher power output, but even more incredible is the Mercedes AMG CLA 45 that returns 23/30/27 mpg despite an 80 plus horsepower power difference. The S3 is fitted with a 14.5-gallon fuel tank, which should give it an estimated range of 348 miles while sipping premium unleaded gasoline.
You wouldn't think that the 2018 S3 has been in production since 2013 when you look at the interior; Audi has spent a lot of time and money to build its reputation in terms of interior quality and fitment, and it comes as no surprise that the Audi S3 sedan is a great place to be an occupant. As with most other cars in the Audi lineup, the interior layout is uncluttered and functional in an elegantly beautiful way, and the use of quality materials is notable throughout. Buttons and switches have a nice weight to them, and the aluminum inserts and quality leather gives a true sense of occasion every time you step inside the S3. Forward visibility is good thanks to narrow windshield pillars, but thick side pillars and a narrow, slanting rear window makes lane changes and reversing slightly more difficult. Thankfully the S3 comes standard with a reverse camera system.
The S3 is classified as a subcompact executive sports car, which, in the real world, translates into a compact sedan that can technically carry five adult passengers, but three of them aren't going to have a great time. Being a car with sporting ambitions, the Audi S3 comes with a great pair of front bucket seats that are both comfortable and supportive, while the optional S sports seats are simply sublime. The driver won't have a hard time finding a suitable driving position when there are 16 different ways to adjust the seat (12-way standard power adjustment plus four adjustments for lumbar support). The S3's generous wheelbase gives passengers good shoulder room, front and back, but despite being one of the longer cars in its class, the S3 fails to impress in terms of leg space, most notably in the rear, where things can get tight for tall adults. At least it doesn't have the sloping roofline of the Mercedes CLA, so ingress and egress are fairly simple.
The interior materials echo the exterior styling of the S3. Subtly sporty touches such as brushed aluminum inserts and Rock Gray cross stitching on the seat lets you know that you're somewhere special. There are six different colors of leather on offer for the S3; the classic black and Rock Gray, a sumptuous Chesnut Brown, the S3 only black leather with Rock Gray stitching, or Magma Red with Anthracite stitching. The uber-cool Nappa leather with gray diamond contrast stitching is only available on the optional S sports seat. The Aluminium door sill inlays feature the S logo, and the sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel is covered in black leather.
he standard A3 Sedan starts with a smaller trunk capacity than the class average. On front-wheel-drive models, it measures in at 12.3 cubic feet, but that number shrinks down to ten when you opt for an AWD model as is the case with the S3. Both the CLA 45 and the M240i drive all four wheels and have more trunk space. In Audi's defense, the trunk has a wide opening thanks to the S3's angular body design, which makes loading things in and out of the car much easier than in the CLA 45. The S3's trunk has enough space for a week's worth of groceries, and the rear seats can be folded down for even more room.
Small-item storage space is acceptable: you get well-proportioned door pockets and cup holders that come with anti-slip technology. The center console storage compartment is big enough to hold the driver's personal items, and the only real disappointment is the small glove department.
The S3 shares its features list in part with the A3 Premium Plus, so even on the base S3, you're getting most of the features available for the entire A3 range. On the outside, the S3 gets full LED headlights, taillights, and keyless entry, but inside is where you'll find most of the cool stuff; power adjustable seats, LED interior lighting and Audi's smartphone interface hides the fact that the S3 is almost six years old. The Premium Plus and Prestige models get front and rear parking sensors. Moving up to the Prestige trim will upgrade the infotainment system. Driver assistance systems are at a premium on the Prestige which equips adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane-keep assist. Optional niceties include the class-leading virtual cockpit and adaptive suspension.
The standard infotainment package on the S3 is starting to show its age, but Audi's MMI system remains a functional and user-friendly system. A pop-up display screen is mounted atop the dashboard, and menu selection and other inputs are controlled via a centrally mounted cog, which feels intuitive. The MMI system in the S3 includes Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Other standard infotainment features include a 32GB SD slot, aux input, and Bluetooth streaming. You'll get ten speakers as standard, but that can be upgraded to a glorious-sounding Bang & Olufsen system if you so choose. The S3 Prestige gets Audi's Technology package which adds navigation with voice control, handwriting recognition tech for easier user inputs, and most importantly, Audi's brilliant virtual cockpit display system which consists of a 12.3-inch screen that displays, amongst others, all-important navigation and infotainment info and settings.
2018 saw no recalls for the S3 sedan, and only one recall affected 2017 models for an airbag that may deploy too forcibly. This, along with almost no complaints from current owners over the last few years bodes well for reliability and ownership of the S3. The 2018 Audi S3 Sedan is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a 50,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a four-year roadside assistance guarantee.
The A3 range of sedans are some of the safest cars on U.S. roads, and the same goes for the 2018 S3 Sedan. The IIHS awarded it as a 2018 Top Safety Pick, thanks to top scores in almost all categories and advanced crash avoidance systems. The NHTSA gave the Audi a full five out of five on their overall safety rating scale.
There's a good reason behind the IIHS's Top Safety Pick rating: the S3 is equipped with cutting edge safety equipment and technology to keep its occupants safe even in the event of a serious accident. Starting with the airbags, occupants are protected by dual front airbags, knee airbags, thorax airbags, and curtain rail airbags, taking the number to eight. Rear passenger thorax airbags are an optional extra. Traditional safety features such as ABS, traction control with collision braking, and a tire pressure monitoring system all feature. More advanced safety technology is also present in the form of adaptive cruise control, front and rear pre-collision warning, a rear parking camera and automatic headlight and windshield wiper sensors. The Prestige model includes Audi's active lane assist tech, as well as a more intuitive cruise control system with stop-and-go capability.
The standard A3 range of cars has been lauded for its everyday practicality, premium design, comfort, and safety levels, not to mention the fact that the performance and road-holding balance is class-leading. This basic concept is carried through to the S3. All the features and comforts of the humble A3 are transferred over to the S3, making it as easy to live with as any other subcompact sedan, but beneath the skin hides a true Audi performance car. The subtle exterior styling cues give the S3 a sense of anonymity that's rare to find in the sports car market these days. The S3 deserves the title of executive subcompact thanks to premium quality interior materials and a long list of standard features, but the main attraction is most certainly the way it drives. Audi's Quattro system helps the S3 hug the road like little else can, and the suspension setup finds a fair compromise between body-roll killing stiffness and low-speed comfort. Steering feedback is great and driver inputs are greeted with eagerness. The 2.0-liter engine delivers its best performance in the mid-range but pulls cleanly right up to the limit, and delivers acceptable gas mileage for such a performance-oriented car. The 2018 Audi S3 sedan isn't the most powerful or spacious car in its class, but as an overall package, it ranks close to the top.
The Premium Plus starts at an MSRP of $43,650 and the Prestige starts out at $48,950. All prices exclude a destination charge of $995. The Golf R, which is comparable in almost every category costs almost four grand less for a top of the range version ($40,885). At the other end of the spectrum, the more powerful Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 will cost you $50,400.
There are two S3 models to choose from: Premium Plus and Prestige.
Audi's S3 Premium Plus includes all the features of the A3 Premium Plus but adds (besides the more powerful 292 hp engine, quattro AWD along with sportier suspension and larger brakes ) 18-inch alloys, Full LED headlights and an S-model specific exterior appearance package that includes aluminum side mirror housings and custom exhaust outlets. Inside, the S3 Premium Plus adds a drive select system that can switch between sport and comfort modes, a flat bottomed sport steering wheel with paddle shifters and 12-way adjustable sport seats with lumbar adjustment.
The S3 Prestige includes the features listed above but adds the Technology package which consists of a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display screen with voice-controlled navigation and handwriting recognition as well as a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
There are four additional packages, as well as four stand-alone options for the 2018 S3 Sedan. The stand-alone options are rear passenger thorax airbags, an upgraded Bang & Olufsen sound system for the Premium Plus, red brake calipers and upgraded sport tires. The Technology package, available on the Premium Plus only (included in the Prestige) consists of Audi's virtual cockpit display system, voice-controlled navigation, and handwriting recognition as well as a six-month subscription to Audi Connect. You also get rear electronic parking and traffic assistance. The dynamic package, available on both the Premium Plus and Prestige models sees the S3's wheel size grow to 19-inches and includes magnetic ride suspension. There are two appearance packages on offer. The first is called the Black Optic Dynamic package and features 19-inch wheels, magnetic ride and a slew of gloss black exterior trimmings. The S Sport package covers the seats, armrests, and kneepads in Nappa leather with diamond cross-stitching.
The Premium Plus S3 is already loaded with features, including full LED headlights, a leather interior, and Audi's MMI infotainment system, but lacks the top safety features included on the Prestige. It also misses out on the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display and 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. The Prestige bundles all of the top features of the A3 family into one, and with a price difference of less than $4,000, it only makes sense to stretch for the higher-spec car, which offers superior levels of safety and will age less than the Premium Plus thanks to better infotainment tech. We'd also opt for the incredible S sports seats and the S Sport package for the adaptive suspension dampers. It pushes the price up but enables the S3 to outgun more costly rivals with ease.
The Audi S3 was bound to be compared against Volkswagen's super hatch, the Golf R. What some might not know is that these cars share the same platform and engine, and both send power to all four wheels, but that's where the similarities end. The first major difference is the fact that Audi's S3 has a trunk, whereas the Golf is a liftgate hatch. In terms of practicality, the Golf is good. It has a touch less cargo space but will be easier to live with thanks to a large rear opening liftgate. Both cars offer excellent driving dynamics, similar straight-line speed and are reasonably light on fuel. The Golf offers great value for money at $40,885 for a full house version and starts well under the S3's base asking price, but the Audi offers a better image and status.
The Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 45 shares similar dimensions with the S3, but manages to offer slightly more interior and cargo space, even if ingress and egress are hampered by the coupe-like roofline. The CLA 45 is considerably more powerful than the S3, and despite an AWD system, heavier curb weight and loads more power, the Merc uses less fuel. But it is quicker, at least as far as claims on paper go, with the AMG managing the 0-60 mph sprint nearly half a second quicker than the S3. However, numbers don't tell the whole tale, and on the move, the AMG is disappointing, with a crashy ride, substandard dynamics, and an over-reliance on computer systems compared to the S3's foundation of solid engineering. The S3 is more fun to drive, and the interior feels far more premium than that of the AMG. With the Audi priced at $1,000 less in its most expensive guise than the CLA 45 in its cheapest, the S3 presents itself as better value for money, making it our pick, even if it lacks the theater of the AMG.