I drove and enjoyed the Audi A3 with a turbo diesel a few weeks back and told myself I’d be ecstatic with the sportier looking and driving S3 this week. I wasn’t wrong, I still liked the S3, but I was less enthusiastic than I’d imagined. Here’s why.
First, the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine has the same major turbo lag as the diesel. I thought it would be much smoother, but no, it still takes 2-3 seconds from pressing the accelerator hard until the turbo spools up enough to give the small Audi a kick in the tail end. When it does, the S3 is a little driver-guided missile. Torque is a massive 280 ft.-lbs., and horsepower is an equally impressive 292.
You’d think that would kick your fuel mileage in the gas, but I got a very reasonable 27.6 mpg in about 60% city driving and 40% highway. Sadly the S3 drinks premium fuel, but the car is rated 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
Ride was on the stiff side in the A3, but this Premium Plus model with the Prestige package ($5,900) and 19-inch performance tire package ($1,500) was no better and weighed 275 lbs. more than the A3. Ride was sporty, but could be pretty abrupt over crumbling area cement street surfaces. It was calm and fine on the highways.
I also was shocked by its price, ending up at $50,345 with those two pricey packages. That’s a full $12,000 more than the well-equipped A3 I’d driven and its turbo diesel netted me good acceleration and much better fuel economy at 46.3 mpg. I’d expected a premium price for the S3’s racier wheels, fascia cladding, nose spoiler and small rear spoiler.
This also come with a four-way adjustable driving mode and that can give it a more BMW-like driving feel. Flip the dash toggle to “dynamic” and the steering wheel effort stiffens to near racer feel and the engine clings to the lower gears like a trapeze artist hanging on for dear life. Another mode is “comfort” which lightens the steering feel to luxury sport sedan ease and an “automatic” setting seems best for everyday driving.
Like the A3, you still get a small sedan that handles like sports car – flat in corners at speed, plus has ventilated front discs and solid rear disc brakes that are excellent. Shifting also comes from the same 6-speed S tronic that easily handles shifts, up or down as you wait for the turbo to launch the car. This one also features Audi’s patented quattro AWD system, a plus that would make this a reasonable year-round drive.
Inside, the S3 is much like the A3 with a clean dash layout. Surfaces are mostly hard, much more so than in last weeks’ Dodge Charger. But they look tasteful and typical of a German sport sedan, meaning black with slight satin chrome trim on dash and door. It’s boring but clean.
I like the supportive racy heated leather seats up front and gray on black instrument face with digital readout between. The radio/nav screen powers up from the dash looking much like and iPad and is easy to read. There’s also a toggle to lower the screen if you don’t need it, which improves visibility. Sadly side visibility is limited if the passenger is positioned half-way, or more, back. The passenger head, seatback and roofline restrict side visibility in that case.
Everything functions well and this had a bang-up Bang & Olufsen audio system as part of the pricier Prestige package. However, like the A3 there is a semi-tough toggle system to use the radio, navigation, phone and other audio systems, with a big knob at the console’s center. Not terribly easy to use while driving and no pre-set radio buttons on the dash.
Sadly, there are a few other drawbacks. As in the A3 the satin chrome laden console delivers a huge blinding reflective glare on sunny mid-day drives. And overhead, while there’s a sunroof it only has a screened cover and the sun visors do not slide or extend and are made of hard plastic. The steering wheel also is extremely thick, making it less pleasant to hold on a longer drive for folks with smaller hands.
On the plus side is a flat-bottomed steering wheel that not only looks racier than the standard circle, but makes it easier to get in and out of the bucket seats. A blind-spot warning system also is helpful from a safety standpoint, plus there’s a back-up camera.
S3 is a fun drive, but a pricey one. If you want this size car and luxury, the turbo diesel, or standard A3 with 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that gets 170 horsepower and delivers 200 ft.-lbs. of torque is a more economical buy, and nearly as much fun to drive. It lists at $30,795 with delivery, or move up to the diesel and get the super fuel economy, and excellent power!
FAST Stats: 2015 Audi S3 Premium Plus 2.0T quattro
Hits: Excellent handling, power, brakes, 4-way adjustable driving mode, AWD and sportier looking than A3. Clean dash, comfy heated seats, sunroof, blind-spot warning, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Good fuel economy for a sport sedan too.
Misses: Stiff sport-style ride and major lag in acceleration as turbo winds up. Huge reflective glare off console’s metal look trim, semi-tough radio/nav adjustments to use while driving, sun visors don’t slide or extend and super thick sport-steering wheel.
Made in: Gyor, Hungary
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder, 292 hp
Transmission: 6-speed S tronic automatic
Weight: 3,450 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.6 in.
Length: 175.9 in.
Cargo: 12.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 23/31 (EPA)
MPG: 27.6 (tested)
Base Price: $41,100
Dealer’s Price: $39,119 (includes delivery)
Mythos black metallic paint, $550
S3 Prestige package (power folded/heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming driver’s side mirror and interior mirror w/compass, LED interior lighting, Audi MMi nav w/voice control, MMi touch, color driver display, parking system w/rearview camera, Audi connect w/online services, Bang & Olufsen sound system, LED headlights/running lights, Audi side assist), $5,900
19-inch performance package (5-double spoke Star-design wheels, anthracite polished, summer tires, Audi magnetic ride), $1,500
Red brake calipers, $400
Test vehicle: $50,345
Sources: Audi, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage