By Kevin Harrison
A few years ago I sat in the new Audi S3 at the Canadian International Auto Show and instantly knew it was something special.
I was asked how I could possibly know without even driving it and it is a tough question to answer. Part of the reason why car aficionados are so obsessed with cars is the fact that we can sometimes feel a connection with a car. It’s hard to put into words but when you find a car that suits you, it just fits like a glove. And the feeling is quite addictive.
I had that feeling when I said in the S3. It just felt right.
Years later, now that I have the chance to actually get some seat time, I can say with absolute certainty that my instincts were bang on. And to top off the experience, Audi Canada sent the an identically spec’d S3 that I said in at the Auto Show.
I would dare to say the S3 may be the best looking model in Audi’s lineup. It exudes a perfect blend of eye-catching style with typically German conservatism. The beautiful Sepang Blue paint matches the double spoked 19-inch wheels perfectly all while the red calipers add a bit of flare while the quad exhaust pipes out back reminds the tailgaters that this car means business. My tester also came equipped with Audi’s optional LED headlights which feature LED turn signals. All this is to say that Audi hit the nail right on the head when designing the S3. It simply looks fantastic.
Inside the good news continues as you get typical Audi quality and layout. At first the interior seems rather drab and dreary and the reason why is because the infotainment screen is hibernating inside the top of the dash. It isn’t until you hit the start button when it rises from the dead so-to-speak in dramatic fashion. Your passengers will be impressed and will likely ask you to make the S3 do the trick again. Luckily there is a button on the dash that controls the screen so you don’t need to keep turning the car on and off again. That said, the nice burble from the exhaust when you do turn it on again is enough reason to test the starter’s durability.
The infotainment screen us fairly easy to use, though it’s not the most intuitive out there, but you do get used to it relatively quickly. It’s all controlled by a dial (which also feels of high quality) and it works rather well. The only minor nuisance is when you are using the nav system. You have to scroll through the entire alphabet in order to put in a street name. A touch screen feature would be more appreciated in this instance.
Interior space is also typically German (read: tight squeeze), but there is enough room for two adults to travel in comfort for shorter trips. Once inside headroom and legroom remain adequate while cargo room is quite decent for the size of the car.
The S3 is powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine which is good enough to produce 292 horsepower and 280 pound foot torque. Audi decided to not give buyers the choice of transmission, however. Only the 6-speed S-tronic automatic transmission is available. That’s the bad news. The good news? Well it’s probably the best automatic transmission out there. I realize that’s a bit like saying Khloe is the least annoying of all the Kardashian sisters, but hear me out. In manual mode the shifts are crisp, quick and smooth. There is a tiny bit of lag when you are downshifting but the S3 makes up for it with a nice little burble from the exhaust.
But this is one well thought out transmission and while it doesn’t quite mimic the control of a traditional manual, it comes pretty darn close. But if you keep in in regular drive mode and drive the S3, well, in a regular fashion, the transmission seems to neuter itself and power by defaulting to shifts that will earn it the best possible fuel efficiency. Why is that a bad thing? Because people by Audi’s S cars for performance, not for fuel efficiency. And as a result, the S3 feels a bit sluggish in regular drive mode.
The thick rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel fits perfectly with the S3’s corner carving capabilities. The S3 gets an independent four-link setup in the back, while McPherson struts help out in the front. The end result as a well-balanced, albeit stiff ride that allows the driver to take corners with complete confidence. In fact, after a friend of mine followed me back to my place he asked me why it seemed like I wasn’t braking for many of the corners we took on the way home. My response was “because this car is that good”.
Admittedly, I kept the car in sport mode during my time with it and that certainly helped in being able to take corners without braking, however once you wake the transmission up from its fuel efficiency focused slump in regular drive mode, you can still have a fair bit of fun as well. In regular mode there is a hint of understeer, but the 19-inch wheels with performance winter tires and its wonderful Quattro all-wheel drive system helps to keep it in check. And by the way, it’s virtually impossible to get the S3 stuck in snow thanks to the abilities of Quattro. It’s among the best all-wheel drive system out there in my view.
Another reason why the transmission being geared towards fuel efficiency in regular drive mode irks me is because the S3 is actually quite efficient anyway. It is officially rated at 10.1 L/100 kms city and 7.7 L/100 kms highway. After keeping it in sport mode 90% of the time and driving as if I got a sudden shot of testosterone, I was still able to manage 9.2 L/100 kms in real world combined driving. While it’s no Prius, that’s still respectable for an all-wheel drive performance sedan.
So, we have a capable, great looking, all-weather performance sedan that’s relatively good on gas and will bring a smile to your face any time you down shift or take a corner. But the S3 has a big problem and it has to do with its relatives.
After having driven the 2015 Volkswagen GTI, I can safely say it is one of the best performance bargains out there. Ah, but it’s not quite as powerful and doesn’t have all-wheel drive, you say. True, however we will be getting the Golf R which does have much more power along with all-wheel drive and a hatch to boot making it more versatile. And perhaps most importantly, you will likely be able to get it with a manual transmission. And it should cost about five grand less. That certainly tips the scale to the Golf R’s favour in my opinion but having yet to drive a Golf R, I won’t call it right away.
Until then, there is absolutely nothing to hate about the S3 and countless things to love. It is perfectly proportioned, perfectly balanced, and most importantly, it gives you that feeling I mentioned at the beginning of the review. It’s a feeling that rarely comes but when it does, all you want to do is hang on to it. There is something truly special when man and machine are able to connect and I can say with confidence that anyone who wishes to experience the sensation should get themselves to their local Audi dealership pronto.
Price As Tested: $52,750
- Oh hey there beautiful!
- Tremendous engine and transmission combo
- Interior refinement and quality
- Carves corners brilliantly
- I miss my stick shift
- “Mind if we stop so I can stretch me legs?” – any rear seat passenger
- Damn it, Golf R! You ruined the honeymoon!