The Car Connection Audi S3 Overview
Audi's S3 is a rival for cars such as the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, the BMW M235i, 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 Sportback (hatchback). European buyers can get an even more powerful RS 3 Sportback.
The S3 is the sporty version of the compact A3 and 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.
For 2017, the S3 sees a modest nip and tuck outside and gains Audi's Virtual Cockpit inside. The system replaces conventional gauges with a multi-configurable high-resolution screen in the instrument cluster capable of displaying everything from Google Maps to analog-esque displays.
MORE: Read our 2017 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 years.
The new 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, though Audi of America may bring over a 6-speed manual version in the future. The S3 has quattro all-wheel drive, and it rides on a 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 19-inch Continental ContiSport tires as standard equipment—although 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 a little. At 175.9 inches long, the S3 is about 7 inches shorter than a CLA, and its 103.4-inch wheelbase is nearly 3 inches shorter, though its more upright style nets better interior room than the Benz. The trunk space measures in at 10 cubic feet.
Safety features include simulated torque vectoring and options for blind spot monitors and adaptive cruise control.
Every S3 will come with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; leather upholstery; Bluetooth; and a panoramic sunroof. Audi's MMI system with touchpad input is also standard, with a big retractable screen displaying output from the dash. Audi Connect 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.
Audi announced last year that it will offer an RS 3 in the U.S. soon, but instead of the hatchback that's offered elsewhere, our model will use the sedan body. That minor letdown aside, the RS 3 should use the same 367-hp turbocharged inline-5, 7-speed dual-clutch, and aggressive bodywork. The RS 3 could arrive for 2017.
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—an LCD in place of conventional analog gauges—a new option.