- Tremendous performance bang for buck
- Great powertrain
- High-end LTE connectivity
- Svelte shape
- Tiny rear seat
- Automatic only
- Gets pricey with options
If you can live with its tiny rear seat, the 2017 Audi S3 is an absolute hoot to drive.
Although the Audi S3 shares its looks, its interior, and its underpinnings with comparatively pedestrian siblings—the Audi A3—it's definitely the life of the party.
The S3 is the most engaging member of its clan of siblings to drive. Quick on its heels and stuffed with enough speedy hardware to vault it over the A3, the S3 squares off against the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 and BMW M2.
S3s are available in two flavors, both of which are decidedly spicy: Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels are available, as well as a host of options.
The S3 rates at an 8 overall on our new scale, reflective of its supreme performance and features.
Audi S3 styling and performance
With tidy styling that sticks absolutely to the usual Audi line, the S3 a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Its LED eyeshadow delivers the customary Audi signature, its roofline a hallmark. For 2017, the S3's front fascia is a little more chiseled than before, but it'll take a seasoned Audi pro to spot the differences.
Inside, it's pretty spartan, not much like the cool and urbane Audi S7. The S3 still looks and feels good. Audi's confident styling lives in the S3's round air vents cut into dash, and in the arrays of buttons that flank them. What Audi calls its "Virtual Cockpit" has made its way down the line to the S3, where it replaces the model's existing analog gauges with a highly configurable LCD screen that can show everything from Google satellite maps to simple instruments.
Further differentiation from the normal A3s comes under the hood, where Audi plumbs in a 2.0-liter turbo-4 spinning out 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. The 4-cylinder does its best work in this small package. Audi estimates 0-60 mph times of less than 5 seconds, and a top speed limited to 155 mph should you find an open enough road. Credit here is due to for the new turbo-4's low torque peak that comes on at about 2,000 rpm, which it maintains through 5,000 rpm with a snarling soundtrack and ample thrust.
Europeans can order their S3s with a 6-speed stick shift, but Americans are limited only to an automatic. At least it's an excellent unit, a paddle-shifted, dual-clutch automatic transmission that helps the turbo pull terrifically through its lower gears, doling out torque to all four wheels (all-wheel drive is standard).
Carve a serious corner in the S3, and the other fundamentals feel just as honed. The transverse-engined S3 utilizes a front strut suspension and a relatively simple four-link torsion-beam rear end, plus lowering springs that squat it down about an inch lower than the stock A3. Adaptive magnetic-fluid dampers are available, and electric power steering is standard—both of which are governed by Audi's Drive Select system with the usual auto, sport, comfort, auto, and dynamic modes, or in the user-configurable individual mode.
The S3 cuts into the road with at least as much vigor as the CLA45s we've hustled around some raucous mountain byways. The steering's heavy weighting and variable ratio (the teeth on its rack are spaced differently across its span compared to the A3) works well on curved roads, and the dampers smooth out the impact of the upsized 19-inch Continental summer tires (all-season tires are optional).
Audi S3 comfort, safety, and features
Front seat passengers won't have any issues with the S3's compact class dimensions, but its rear seat is absolutely tiny. At 175.9 inches from head to toe and riding on a 103.4-inch wheelbase, the S3 is nearly 9 inches shorter than the Mercedes-Benz CLA, with nearly 3 fewer inches of wheelbase. The Audi stretches marginally wider, though, and front seat passengers have decent head room and nicely bolstered sports seats.
Climbing into the rear seat doesn't mean folding in half, ducking, or compacting one's self like in the CLA, but the S3 doesn't offer much adult-sized space, either. The taller doors grant an easier pass into the back-seat bench, which is made more usable with split-folding rear seats that expand the 13.7-cubic-foot trunk for larger items.
The S3 brings a slew of new technology to the table, starting with a platter of safety gear that's new for 2017. The expected airbags and stability control are joined by pre-collision restraint prep and simulated torque vectoring for the front wheels made possible by the S3's anti-lock brake system. The options include adaptive cruise control that maintains a traffic crawl with a tap of the cruise's resume button, and blind-spot monitors. The S3 scores five stars overall in the NHTSA's testing, with four stars in front collision and rollover tests. The IIHS has not put the S3 through its paces yet, although it scores the largely similar A3 sedan with top scores in all categories, qualifying it for Top Safety Pick+ status.
For 2017, Audi includes automatic emergency braking as standard on all A3s and S3s, a major safety feature.
All S3s are well equipped with standard leather seats, Bluetooth, and a panoramic sunroof, as well as a pop-up screen for their infotainment system that powers up and down out of the way at the press of a switch. For 2017, the S3's infotainment has been upgraded with Audi's latest software and hardware includes a selector knob with a touchpad built into it that can recognize certain user inputs. That's useful for inputting a destination—simply write out letters as you would have done on a Palm Pilot.
Audi Connect is a key upgrade for technophiles, especially the ones who want their MMI screen dripping with high resolution color from Google Earth maps. For a subscription fee (it's included for the first few months), users tap into AT&T's 4G LTE data network, which delivers those maps and other rich feeds to the car. Audi is through a solid 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system rated at 705 watts.
The EPA rates the Audi S3 at 21 mpg city, 28 highway, 24 combined on premium gasoline.