2015 Audi S3 Review

A hero in a half-shell.

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May 15, 2015

2015 Audi S3 Review

Our car, draped in all black, with a few chrome accents, turned quite a few heads. For such a tiny package, it's not short on looks.

It's a weird time to be a German car:

Your parents (the automaker) create you as a new entry-level model, slotting in underneath the car that people have considered the entry-level model for years and years. Of course, building an inexpensive car means corners need to be cut, so your NVH and fit-and-finish aren't necessarily as good as other cars in the lineup, and your options list isn't as thorough. But then, your father calls you up and says that it's your turn to receive a performance variant. Thus, you're outfitted with a killer new powertrain and a price tag to match. The only problem is, despite pulling in eyes from higher tax brackets all of a sudden, you're still an inexpensive car at heart, with all the, uh, 'charm' inherent in that designation.

The trade-off, then, revolves around the notion of foregoing a higher-end model in favor of a tarted-up econobox that's quicker than anything you could afford in a larger size. Sure, you get the performance commensurate with the price tag, but you can't help but wonder if you could have bought a car with an interior that feels appropriate for the price.

That is what your author would have written about the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, had Mercedes not delivered him a fleet car with winter tires in the middle of June, which made a review impossible to write. At the moment, the closest competitor thereto is the 2015 Audi S3, a brand new performance variant based on the diminutive entry-level A3.

S3 buyers do not have to concern themselves with the aforementioned trade-off, because it never comes. The S3 is not a $50,000 car (or, in the CLA's case, a $65,000 car) that feels like a $30,000 car. Instead, it's a car that feels appropriately priced from all angles. This is how you do entry-level performance right - by already having a solid foundation off which to build. All other luxury automakers (Germans especially) should be taking notes.

Simply put, the A3 is great, but the S3 is greater.

2015 Audi S3 Interior The S3 subscribes to the K.I.S.S. policy championed by, among others, your author's high-school geometry teacher - Keep It Simple, Stupid. The standard A3's interior is great by entry-level luxury standards, with soft-ish plastic atop the dashboard and just enough creases and angles to keep things interesting. The switchgear feels just as premium as on any other Audi, and there isn't so much of it that your grandmother will ask where you learned to pilot a space shuttle. It's simple, straightforward, and intuitive.

The S3 doesn't add too much to the formula. The steering wheel has a flat bottom. The gauges look more premium, thanks to changes in color and layout. The seats have been replaced with thicker-bolstered ones (if you tick the right option boxes). Other than that, the S3 doesn't involve itself too much in revamping the interior, and we think that's a good thing; you can't have the whole thing swathed in carbon fiber, for example.
2015 Audi S3 Exterior Goodness gracious, this car looks mean. The A3 looks relatively sedate, like most other Audis on the road if we're being honest. But changing that A to an S gives the car a whole new dose of character - all of it sinister, if you've picked the right exterior color. The addition of two extra tailpipes out back is a hallmark of Audi's performance vehicles, and it looks as good as ever on the S3. The massive 19-inch wheels (when equipped with the, no laughing, 19-inch Performance Package) fill out the wheel wells quite nicely, although the wheels are prone to curb rash thanks to a near-lack of tire sidewall. The front end is similarly aggressive, sporting Audi's giant single grille, yet another staple of its S vehicles. The LED daytime running lights are somehow mad, as well, pointed slightly downward, as if it's scowling all the time.

Our car, draped in all black, with a few chrome accents, turned quite a few heads. For such a tiny package, it's not short on looks.
2015 Audi S3 On the Road Do you know how hard it is to put a sentence together while you're busy squealing with delight like a child that's heard the ice cream truck for the first time that year? Such was our issue with the S3. It's fun; in fact, it's a lot of fun. With its 292-bhp powertrain, borrowed straight from the Volkswagen Golf R (or is it the other way around?) and mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the S3 will start off with a slight hint of turbo lag, but once boost kicks in (just watch the boost gauge under the tachometer), the S3 will pull and pull until you realize you're approaching felonious velocities. If you leave the DSG transmission to its own devices, it'll rattle off upshifts with nary a feeling, and the downshifts are equally jolt-free. While this is happening, your ears are tuned into the deep, dark rumblings coming from the exhaust. It's a very well sorted-out sensory experience, one that we never stopped enjoying.

You can set up the vehicle to your liking, as well, thanks to Audi's Individual mode. It lets you adjust parameters like the exhaust, suspension (when equipped with Audi's adjustable dampers), and throttle response to your liking. You can blend elements of the 'Comfort' and 'Dynamic' settings together. Your author preferred Dynamic steering and exhaust with the powertrain and suspension in Comfort. Make no mistake, it's not terribly comfortable in Comfort, but the maybe-slightly-too-firm ride is part and parcel with the sport-sedan experience.

We've talked about Audi's infotainment system, MMI, numerous times over the years. We think it's got a clean design that's easy to use, once you spend five minutes getting used to it - and getting used to a dial that spins in a counterintuitive direction. When it comes to these systems, your mileage will vary, so we suggest you head to a dealership and try before you buy. Bear in mind that this vehicle does not have a standalone USB port; it still uses Volkswagen's dated MDI plug, so you'll need to buy a cable that works for your car and phone.
2015 Audi S3 Final Thoughts Keen enthusiasts will be quick to note, likely in a very snooty tone, that you can get this car for much, much cheaper by buying its non-luxury brother, the Golf R. Yes, that might be the case, but you have to remember that the Golf R is a tarted-up Golf. It's a nearly-$40,000 car that started out life as a $20,000 car. Even if it's a very good $20,000 car, which it is, you're still starting with a base that's built on hard plastics. The Golf R has no pretense of luxury. If that's the sort of experience you like, free of frills, then that's what you should buy. But if you like treating yourself, the S3 is the way to go. It's built on an already-solid luxury platform, using a combination of tried-and-true parts that really do deliver a result that's greater than the sum of said parts. It's a heroic car, despite being a little on the small side.

Although we do wish the center console had more than a slight hint of storage capacity.
2015 Audi S3 Specs & Price Engine: 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged inline-4

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, all-wheel drive

Power Output: 292 horsepower / 280 lb-ft

Fuel Economy (mpg): 23 city / 31 highway

Base Price: $41,100

As Tested: $50,345 (incl. $895 destination)

Available Features:

Convenience Package: Heated auto-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, storage compartment, interior mirror with digital compass

MMI Navigation Plus Package: MMI infotainment system with navigation and touchpad, color-display driver information system

Drive Assistance Package: Parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, backup camera

19-inch Performance Package (stop giggling): 19-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, adaptive magnetorheological dampers

S Sport Seat Package: Height-adjustable front sport seats with retractable thigh support, Nappa leather interior trimmings

Prestige Package: Heated auto-folding side mirrors, LED interior lighting, MMI infotainment system with navigation and touchpad, parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, backup camera, Bang and Olufsen premium sound system, full LED adaptive headlights

Advanced Technology Package (requires Prestige Package): Active lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning

Individual Options: Full LED adaptive headlights, body-colored side mirrors, active lane-keep assist, Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, red brake calipers

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