First Drive Audi S3: Good things do come in small packages

The 2015 Audi S3 (Audi)

The 2015 Audi S3 (Audi)

Once a week we get call from our version of Santa Claus.  He tells us which vehicle his company will be delivering, and when they will deliver it later that day.  This call is truly like being a kid on Christmas morning. Some years you rush into the den, or living room, or whichever room a family does such things, and are greeted with a great wonderful thing that makes you smile wide and stays on your face for days. Other years you are greeted with a thing that isn’t as wonderful; a knitted sweater from the aunt you see only on occasion and who always squeezes your cheeks, hard, or a pair of socks.

Having been around cars for so long every Monday when we get the Call we can usually tell if our “gift” for the week will be a wonderful thing, a not so wonderful thing, or something in between. Porsche, Mercedes, Alfa (smile); Prius, or some such other hybrid, or a (gack) minivan, well we needed new socks anyway.  The Audi brand falls somewhere in between. It’s good, but not maybe not top of the line wonderful. We had occasion to drive the A5 recently and it was a good thing; the RS7 we had a few weeks earlier was a very good, wonderful, thing.

So when we got the Call recently and told we would have the new S3 for the week, we didn’t know whether to smile or not.  After all this was the least expensive of any Audi we have driven, and we always pictured the Audi as nice luxurious contender on par with BMW, Lexus and the like. Besides, like Christmas the bigger the package, the better the gift inside and a bit of research prior to its arrival showed the A3 was the smallest of the Audis we have driven.

Oh we were so very wrong.

The 2015 Audi S3 is the first S3 offered in America.  Built on the A3 sedan platform, the S3 is part of what Audi hopes will be a new entry into the competitive midsize sedan market.  The S3 joins the A3, the A3 cabriolet and later this year the TDI clean diesel sedan and the A3 Sportback etron-hybrid.

The A3 models come with premium standard features such as power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control, leather seating surfaces, power panoramic sunroof, Bluetooth with audio streaming, SiriusXM Satellite Radio,HD radio,dual-zone automatic climate control, split-folding rear seatback, Audi pre sense basic, and xenon plus front lighting with LED daytime running headlights and taillights. There’s also a neat pop-up screen for the Multi-Media Interface (MMI), which powers up and down out of the way on command. No, seriously, that’s all standard along with all-wheel (quattro) drive on the S3.  You can add such things as the MMI Navigation plus package for $1500. There are also Google Earth maps in color on the Nav screen and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with 705 watts of output.

From the outside the S3 looks like what it is; a sportier version of the A3, which looks like a smaller version of the A5.  The S3 has some sporty exterior additions including a trunk lip spoiler, aluminum-optic mirror housings and front and rear diffuser blades, aluminum doorsills with S3 emblem, quad exhaust pipes with finishers, and Platinum Gray matte front grille with chrome struts. Our model for the week had the optional ($895), 19 inch performance package which adds five spoke polished wheels and 19-inch shoes along with adaptive magnetic-fluid dampers.

One of the many things Audi gets right is the interior. Like all the Audi cockpits, the S3 has a rich but not overstated look; it’s simple, functional and fresh. The placement of the gauges is perfect and it took only a few minutes to get used to the dial and switches on the center console used to control the MMI interface on the screen. The bucket seats with eight way power adjustments were also done right; it’s like an actual person designed the interior instead of some fancy computer program.

Engine choices are the 1.8 TFSI, the 2.0 TFSI to a 2.0 TFSI with a turbocharger and intercooler, or the TDI (diesel). The horsepower ranges from 170 to 292 for the S3.  The only transmission currently available in the States for the moment is the 6-speed S-Tronic dual clutch shiftable automatic.

The fun for the S3 can really be had via a programmable magnetic ride sport suspension that can be dialed in with the Audi Drive-Select system.   The 292 horsepower is never really needed during everyday use, the “comfort” setting allows for a smooth integration between engine and transmission. However flipping to the “sport” mode is where the fun really begins. Unlike some other cars we’ve had with no real noticeable difference between modes, in the S3 it was like night and day. Dialing in the sport mode unleashes a snarling little beast, a wild cat with claws that are deeply embedded in the pavement.  We would be hard pressed to find any other machine that has such a smooth and seamless shift under aggressive acceleration; the transition from one gear to the next is done with no hesitation with an added, slight, exhaust pop that is music to the driver.

In short, the S3 is a little rocketship hiding under a nice little neat package. When unwrapped, the S3 explodes off the line, and holds the road like Velcro in hard cornering.  Audi says the S3 will do 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, we were able to coax 4.5 seconds.  Not bad at all for a car costing less than $50,000.

For someone looking for nice midsize sedan that doesn’t have the pretentiousness of a BMW, and wants something a little cheaper, the Audi S3 is a great choice. It really wasn’t on our radar before our week with it, but at the end of our seven days we knew we had driven one of our favorite cars of 2015.

And to all a good night…

The 2015 Audi S5
MSRP: $41,100
MSRP (as tested w/Nav and 19 inch performance packages): $47,045
Engine: Intercooled Turbo I-4, 2.0 L 292 @ 5400rpm, 280 ft-lb torque @ 1900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission shiftable with paddle shifters
Fuel mileage (EPA estimated): 23 mpg City/31 mpg Hwy, 26 combined
Fuel Mileage (as tested in mixed conditions) 25
Base Curb Weight (lbs) 3450

Interior Dimensions

Second Shoulder Room (in) 53
Second Head Room (in) 36.4
Front Leg Room (in) 41.2
Passenger Capacity 5
Second Leg Room (in) 35.1
Front Shoulder Room (in) 54.8
Front Head Room (in) 39.6

Exterior Dimensions

Track Width, Front (in) 61.1
Width, Max w/o mirrors (in) 70.7
Wheelbase (in) 103.6
Track Width, Rear (in) 60.1
Height, Overall (in) 54.8
Length, Overall (in) 175.9
Cargo Area Dimensions
Trunk Volume (ft³) 12.3


Basic Miles/km 50,000
Basic Years 4
Corrosion Miles/km Unlimited
Corrosion Years 12
Drivetrain Miles/km 50,000
Drivetrain Years 4
Maintenance Miles/km 5,000
Maintenance Years 1
Roadside Assistance Miles/km Unlimited
Roadside Assistance Years 4

Greg Engle