2015 Audi S3 Sedan Review (Part 1)

9/11/2014 11:34:40 AM
The Audi S3 sedan has its big brother’s good looks. But it’s a faster runner

So here's a question for Audi's marketing department: Why should anybody buy an S4 sedan? The new S3 is cheaper, quicker (4.4 seconds to 60!), and, although this won't trigger a buying impulse in everybody, considerably cuter. Sure, it's down a couple of cylinders compared with its bigger brother, and it has to make do with a less sophisticated four-wheel-drive system. But this is 2014 and the world is downsizing; even the BMW M3 has given up two pots.

Let's start with the obvious point that the S3 you’re looking at here has its steering wheel on the wrong side and wears a license plate that looks like an eye chart for myopic pensioners. That's because, although the S3 doesn't touch down stateside until September (right about when you're reading this), it's already on sale in England. So we sourced one in the U.K. and arranged to infiltrate a former U.S. airbase to record per-formance numbers, then did a whistle-stop tour of ridiculously quaint Shakespearean burgs with names like Kibworth Harcourt and Husbands Bosworth to see which one offers the best black pudding. If you don't know what that is, don't ask.

Audi S3 front view

Audi S3 front view

You already know the basics: The S3 is the beefy version of the transverse-engined A3 sedan, sharing the Golf's MQB platform and packing the most powerful current iteration of Volkswagen's familiar EA888 2.0-liter four. That means 292 horsepower, basically the same spec as the forthcoming Golf R. Although Europe also gets both three- and five-door-hatchback versions of the S3, only the sedan will cross the Atlantic. And although Europeans are helping to save the manuals with a standard six-speed stick, all U.S. versions will have the six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic that’s fitted to our test car.

The looks are Audi-familiar. Despite carrying its engine sideways and being almost 10 inches shorter than an S4, the S3 looks close enough to its sibling that it could probably use its driver's license as a fake ID. The baby sedan's hatchback origins are only obvious in the relative shortness of its trunk lid. With a chunky body kit, quad exhaust outlets, and the silver mirror surrounds that Audi reserves for S and RS models, it's a handsome little thing and a measure more subtle than the Mercedes CLA45 AMG. Whether or not you think that's a plus probably depends on how high you wear your pants. Inside, the cabin is well finished and well equipped, although apart from a flat-bottomed steering wheel and gray instruments (with an '80s-style digital boost gauge), it feels very similar to the standard A3 sedan.

Audi S3 interior

Audi S3 interior

The engine is the highlight. Two decades ago, engines with the EA888’s specific output came with turbo lag you could measure in Mississippis, whereas now you have to concentrate hard to detect it. Push the throttle pedal and there's a fractional delay as the boost works through the system, but it's so slight that you couldn't really describe it as lag. Beyond that, the engine delivers perfectly proportional responses. There's lots of low-down torque, yet the engine enjoys being revved, even beyond its 6200-rpm power peak. It sounds good, too, although like the rest of its turbocharged MQB brethren, it cheats slightly with a sound-enhancing loudspeaker on the cowl that supplements the engine's natural noise.

The 292-HP Turbocharged 2.0- liter four muscles the S3 to 60mph in 4.4 seconds, 0.5- second quicker than the S4 can manage

The 292-HP Turbocharged 2.0- liter four muscles the S3 to 60mph in 4.4 seconds, 0.5- second quicker than the S4 can manage

The transmission is so good that you don't notice it. Seamless upshifts played a big part in delivering the very impressive acceleration runs we recorded on the two-mile runway at the former RAF Bruntingthorpe airfield in rural Leicestershire. The S3 proved to be as quick when left in its more aggressive sport automatic mode as it was when we shifted via the steering-wheel paddles. A particular highlight: a 10.8-second zero-to-100-mph. The last time we so bludgeoned an S4 (albeit with a manual ’box) it took 12.0 seconds. For any sedan, that's pretty schnellsten.

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