The Car Connection Audi S3 Overview
Audi's S3 is a rival for cars such as the Mercedes-AMG CLA45, the BMW M2, its sibling the Volkswagn Golf R, and even the Subaru WRX and WRX STI. The S3 is available here only in sedan form, although in other markets Audi offers the S3 Cabriolet and S3 Sportback (hatchback). A higher performance RS 3 arrived for 2018 with predictable results—it's massively entertaining to drive.
The S3 is the sporty version of the compact A3 that came to North America for the first time for model year 2015. The A3 was significantly redesigned that same year. The S3's powerful turbocharged 4-cylinder and suspension tuning set it apart from the rest, making it the most fun choice, that is, behind the RS3.
Changes for the 2018 Audi S3 are minor. Heated seats become standard, and the S3 now has two USB ports instead of one. A new S Sport package combines red brake calipers and Audi magnetic ride dampers.
MORE: Read our 2018 Audi S3 review
The A3 and S3 are the smallest cars Audi offers in the U.S. Both ride on Volkswagen Group's "MQB" architecture for transverse-engine compact vehicles, which is shared with the latest Volkswagen Golf, among many others. Despite their relative smallness, the A3 and S3 are about the same size as a 1994 Audi A4, which shows how much cars have ballooned in size in 20-plus years.
The A3/S3 family of cars includes the aforementioned sedan, convertible, and hatchback, as well as an Avant wagon unlikely to be sold in America. Also related—but a little more distantly—is the compact Audi Q3 crossover, which shares some drivetrain and suspension pieces. For now, the S3 is offered here only as a sedan.
While other versions of the A3 offer efficient 4-cylinders and plug-in powertrains, the S3 takes to the road only with a 292-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. The S3 is good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds, and a top speed of 155 mph, according to Audi.
Standard equipment includes a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in the S3, the RS3 uses a 7-speed unit. The S3 has quattro all-wheel drive, and it rides on a relatively simple front strut/rear torsion-beam suspension, with a lower ride height than the A3.
The S3's electric power steering can be tuned to different amounts of effort using Audi's Drive Select controls. Drive Select also manages the optional magnetic shocks if equipped, as well as throttle, transmission, and sound settings. All S3s come wearing a set of sticky summer tires on 18- or 19-inch wheels, though all-seasons are available for a no-cost swap.
Given its compact dimensions, the S3 lends good room to front passengers, and slights those in the rear. At 175.9 inches long, the S3 is about seven inches shorter than a CLA, and its 103.4-inch wheelbase is nearly three inches shorter, though its more upright style nets better interior room than the Benz. The trunk space measures in at a rather small 10 cubic feet.
Safety features include forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and options for blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control. Crash-test results have been exemplary.
Every S3 comes with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; leather upholstery; Bluetooth; dual-zone automatic climate control; and a panoramic sunroof. Audi's MMI system with touchpad input is also standard on the top model, with a big retractable screen displaying output from the dash. Audi Connect is offered; it delivers LTE-speed data from AT&T and renders Google Earth maps and other rich feeds to the car, and also enables wireless service to as many as eight devices.
Just a few changes came to the S3 for 2016. The most noteworthy was the addition of an available Black Optic Performance package, which bundled Audi Sport multi-spoke titanium-matte wheels, Black Optic exterior trim, and magnetic ride suspension.
For 2017, Audi revised the S3's front and rear fascias and made its virtual cockpit a new option. This system replaces conventional gauges with a multi-configurable high-resolution screen in the instrument cluster capable of displaying everything from Google Maps to digital gauges.
Like the S3, the RS 3 will be offered only as a sedan. It features a 400-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine and offers track-ready capability.