2015 Audi S3 First Test
Could’ve Used a V-8? Nah
Around the time my predecessors at Motor Trend were testing the 2004 Audi S4 -- pitting it against the Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG in a head-to-head battle in which the Audi handily triumphed -- I was driving it for another car mag, in a comparison against the Benz as well as the BMW M3. While both the C32 and M3 came with high-output six-cylinder engines, the S4 boasted a rip-roaring, naturally aspirated 4.2-liter, 340-horsepower V-8 – unheard of for the day in a compact luxury sedan, certainly one paired with a six-speed manual and all-wheel drive.
As you can probably surmise, the Audi placed first, in both tests. What can I say -- back then a tidy four-door that could rocket from 0-60 in 5.0 seconds flat, eclipse the quarter mile in 13.4 at 105.1 mph, go from 60-0 in 117 feet, and hug the skidpad at 0.90 g was pretty much going to annihilate every competitor in its path.
The Audi S3 is a 2015 Motor Trend Car of the Year contender - find out in November whether the A3/S3 has what it takes to win.
Fast-forward 11 years and Audi is at it again, though in this go-around the engine has shrunk by more than half. The all-new 2015 S3, the first S-badged A3 to make it stateside, comes with VW Group’s tiny but potent 2.0-liter TFSI (turbocharged, direct injection) inline-four, good for 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, and paired exclusively to a six-speed S Tronic DCT. And guess what? It’s quicker and better in just about every performance measurement than that 3,825-pound V-8-powered S4. At our test venue (the balmy Hyundai Proving Grounds in the Mojave desert), the 3,467-pound S3 launched from 0-60 in 4.7, through the quarter in 13.4 at 102.4, stopped from 60 in 112 feet and, thanks in part to sweet split-spoke 19-inch alloys shod in sticky 235/35 Continentals, pulled max lateral accel of 0.92 g. Not too shabby for a little four-banger.
Speaking of little four-bangers, let’s take a look at the S3’s most direct competitor, the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. Similar to the Audi, the Benz sports a turbocharged I-4, all-wheel drive, and a DCT. But two noteworthy differences: AMG cranks its 2.0-liter to the tune of 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft, and adds a seventh cog to its dual-clutch transmission. So, despite being a bit heavier, at 3,599 pounds, the CLA proved noticeably quicker out at the Mojave dragstrip, where it laid down 0-60 in 4.2 and the quarter in 12.7 at 108.3. Braking from 60 (109 feet) and maximum lateral grip (0.96 g) superseded the S3’s stats as well, but by much closer margins.
Where the S3 outclasses the CLA45 is in styling, both inside and out. The Audi’s beautifully appointed interior looks and feels special, with a simple, elegant design that appears modern, fresh, and expensive. There aren’t a ton of buttons or dials – just enough to intuitively operate the car – as well as an easy-to-use MMI controller on the center console that manages the sizable nav/audio/climate screen, which motors down into the dash, hidden when not in use. Our Sepang Blue ($550) tester had the $5,900 Prestige package, so it was also touting an LED interior lighting treatment, a Bang & Olufsen audio system, Audi Connect online services, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, blind-spot assist, and parking sensors with a backup camera. Too bad that camera can’t display the S3’s taut and trim exterior, because it’s a handsome execution. Yeah, it could probably use a little extra rear overhang to balance the proportions, but the S3 effects – the 19s, the rocker extensions, the dual exhaust, and the bigger grille – make up for it.
Subjectively, the S3 hangs with the CLA45, although its steering feels more artificial. Nonetheless, the audacious little Audi was easy to hustle, possessing high dynamic limits that were confidence inspiring and forgiving to explore. Our tester’s $1,500 Performance package (Audi magnetic ride and the 19-inch star-design wheels with summer tires) swung the ride to the firm side of the spectrum, no matter which setting was selected, but it still seemed quite livable and certainly no stiffer than the AMG’s.
At $41,995 to start, the S3 undercuts the $48,375 CLA45 by a significant chunk of change. Even our loaded test car, at $49,945, barely crests the Benz’s opening bid, which, with a host of options, can easily swell to 60 large. As for that ol’ S4, well, its 2004 base price of $45,650 would be equivalent to around $57,500 in 2014 dollars. And don’t forget that the big 4.2-liter chugged gas at a rate of 13/20 mpg city/highway, not quite the sipper of the 2.0-liter S3 (23/31). Back in the day, I recall that V-8-powered S4 being the rightful king of its class. Now it’s the S3’s turn to wear the crown.
View nearly 100 OEM photos of the 2015 Audi S3 on the second page of this review.
|2015 Audi S3|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$49,945|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/292-hp/280-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3467 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.9 x 70.0 x 54.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.4 sec @ 102.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.2 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23/31/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75 lb/mile|