Drive Away 2Day

2015 Audi S3 : Current Models

Audi’s smallest car in America is about to go from a zero to a hero. The company has ambitious plans to build a five-vehicle family out of the diminutive A3, until now sold strictly as an expensive hatchback appealing only to informed and cashed-up connoisseurs of smallness. Next April, Audi drops the line’s anchor with the A3 sedan, starting at just under $31,000. There will also be the two-door A3 cabriolet, the five-door A3 Sportback hybrid, the Q3 small SUV, and this hot, 290-hp S3 sports sedan, which is due in August or September of 2014. No prices have been divulged for the S3, but we’re predicting it to land at about $42,000. Eventually, a planned RS3 might even come to the U.S., where it would join the sorta-confirmed RS Q3.

While we wait for seat time in the base U.S.-spec four-door A3—we have driven Euro A3 and S3 three-doors—Audi decided to give us a taste of the forthcoming Lilliputian deluge by allowing us to sample the all-wheel-drive S3 sedan. No doubt, the company is hoping enthusiast rags like ours will soften the beachhead for the A3’s landing by raving about the S3. We will not disappoint.

The S3 is delightful, even with the six-speed S tronic twin-clutch automatic, which will be the only choice in America, but especially with the six-speed manual. Audi claims the stick is not intended for us but made it available to U.S. journalists to try, ostensibly to solicit our comments. Here are ours: Man up, Audi, and bring it, or stand by and watch enthusiasts change the channel to another brand willing to serve them (paging BMW…). We enthusiasts might be small in number, but we establish a brand’s sporting credibility.

Either way, a new segment is being born before our eyes as Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW race to produce smaller front-drive vehicles that will keep their brands in the fat end of luxury-car volumes, which is the $35,000-to-$45,000 price point. (At last check, BMW is still on the fence about selling the front-wheel-drive 1-series here. It does now offer the $33,475 320i, albeit with 180 horsepower.) Of these three brands, however, none has more experience with front drive than Audi, and it shows in the sublime S3, which shares its basic structure, code-named MQB, with the terrific 2015 VW Golf.

In fact, the A3/S3’s wheelbase is essentially identical to the Golf’s, although there are changes underneath the Audi, including the aluminum knuckles affixed to the strut-type front suspension and the option of variable magnetic shock absorbers. The A3/S3’s four-link rear suspension is similar to the Golf’s multilink setup, and the Audi’s body construction relies almost entirely on various types of steel. To meet the car’s price target, aluminum was confined to the hood, the structure under the rear parcel shelf, and the bumper beams (A3 Sportbacks will also have aluminum front fenders).

Even so, the S3 sedan’s claimed curb weight of about 3200 pounds would, if it holds up in testing—a big if—undercut the Benz CLA45 AMG’s by about 400 pounds. The S3 nets some of these savings by out-smalling the AMG. The S3 is 8.8 inches shorter overall. The widths are identical, but the Audi’s roof is a little lower.

Inside, however, there’s no obvious penalty for the compact dimensions except for a snug back seat, an issue likely to affect all the new vehicles in this segment and a reason why their precursors, the Audi A4, Benz C-class, and BMW 3-series, have gotten so large, heavy, and expensive in recent years.

In the S3, the dash is kept low and the forms are svelte to emphasize the car’s small footprint and lighter mass. The panel is skinned with a single continuous sheath of soft-touch plastic punctuated by round air vents with a complex grille pattern. The vents have a clever push/pull ring that changes the airflow from direct to diffuse. A thin band of aluminum trim adds a splash of brightness, and the S3’s base seats flare with red bolsters. Optional sport seats will have stitched diamond-pleat trim.

The gauges resemble those of other Audis, with large dials for the tach and speedo and white LCD hash marks reading out the fuel and temperature status, as well as a small boost indicator in the speedometer. A flat-bottom steering wheel accented with white stitching and a nav-and-info screen that motors up out of the dash give off luxury vibes. The MMI control cluster aft of the shifter gets a rework in the S3 to include a couple of toggle switches plus a larger control knob, the top of which serves as the touch pad for finger-gesture input.

Even though it’s a cheaper Audi, the design, inside and out, suffers no overt cheapness. Everything has been thought out with exceptional care, down to the repositioned touch pad. And even though the S3 is definitely trimmed to a price, the packaging and the utility are Honda-efficient, with a wide, roughly 13-cubic-foot trunk and 60/40 split-folding seats that make the S3 a good baggage hauler.

The VW Group loves ferrous metals, and the direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter EA888 four sitting sideways to drive the front wheels has an iron block. All S3s have Quattro, and the power is distributed to the rear axle via a computer-controlled Haldex clutch. The differentials are open, but limited-slip and torque-vectoring functions are simulated with selective brake application by the computer. The large turbocharger peaks at “around 2.0 bar,” the engineers tell us, or 29 psi, a mighty wind that stirs up 290 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, the latter at a diesel-low 1800 rpm.

It’s a short wait for the boost to build, and the S3 pulls strongly and evenly in any gear. A deep, delicious burr roars out at bystanders, but it’s mostly damped for those in the cockpit. The four-cylinder makes fast, smooth charges at its 6200-rpm redline, and we’re expecting a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds, as well as few S3 sedans returned to the dealer because of disappointing performance.

Befitting an Audi, the chassis control is superb, and the S3 made light work of the switchbacks up to the Col de Braus, the 3280-foot Alpine pass behind Monte Carlo, where Audi staged its media event. A sunroof will be standard on S3s, but drive select with magnetic shocks will be optional, and that was the only version we drove. With it, you can alter the shock response and steering effort via four settings (Comfort, Dynamic, Individual, and Auto). It’s worth taking the time to custom-tune the system with the Individual mode. In Dynamic, we found the steering to be the right heft and quickness for such rally-stage roads, but the shocks were too unforgiving. The rest of the time you can leave it in Comfort, which relaxes the shocks to a point that they’re still stiff but somewhat more livable.

The S3’s controls, from steering to brakes to shifter, are a fine toolbox with which to build speed safely. The S tronic’s shifts come rapidly with a satisfying “blap!” from the quad tailpipes whether they’re actuated automatically or via the steering-wheel paddles. The gratifying manual has heavy counterweights and pronounced over-center spring loading, which actively pulls the stick into each successive gear.

In the S3, Audi bundles everything good about its products in a smaller package with a somewhat reduced price. With the S4 starting at $48,995 (with a stick, thank you), you won’t save a king’s ransom by buying an S3. But for people who prefer smaller cars and don’t need the extra 10 or so inches in length of an S4, a wonderful alternative is headed our way.

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Sources : 2015 Audi S3 Photo | 2015 Audi S3 Article | 2015 Audi S3 Rear Photo | 2015 Audi S3 Interior Photo | 2015 Audi S3 Engine Photo | 2015 Audi S3 Gauge Photo


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