The only gearbox on the S3 is the six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch unit, which is exceptional.
With a variety of vehicles now sharing Volkswagen AG’s MQB platform, we found it very important to test what’s regarded as one of the best applications. Audi has announced the boosted five-cylinder RS3 under the new Audi Sport umbrella, but that’s still only beginning to trickle into dealerships in limited quantities. Young professionals and enthusiasts looking for the perfect “all-around” car have found that sweet spot in this hot sedan, the 2017 Audi S3 quattro Technik. From an editorial standpoint, reviewing vehicles requires strict objectivity, but it must be mentioned that the S3 is a car I would be pleased to own.
Many prefer the added practicality of the hatchback, and while Audi only offers the S3 in sedan form in North America, the Volkswagen Golf R (reviewed here) is nearly identical minus some premium kit and Audi-unique features. The S3 is one of the most handsome compact sedans out there, with nice touches on the standard three-box sedan language that help it stand out from its competitors. When compared to its A3 counterpart, the S3 gets sportier fare all around, including special wheel designs (19” here) and ground effects. For 2017, the A3 and S3 get minor updates to freshen up the fascia and lighting front and rear.
On the inside, the S3 maintains a conservative yet ergonomically good cabin layout. Fit and finish is very good, and there are no visible panel gaps. This specific test vehicle was equipped with sport bucket seats with quilting. The downside is that the headrests are fixed, and these seats have manual adjustment, but they’re supremely comfortable and do an amazing job at bolstering even around fast corners. Headroom even with the large sunroof is plentiful for almost all drivers – one of our editors is 6’4 and owns an A3. Being a small car though, rear legroom can be a challenge for passengers, especially if taller people are sitting in front.
This year Audi’s Virtual Cockpit technology trickles down into the A3/S3 lineup, though unlike its sibling the TTS (reviewed here), it retains its center-mounted screen for Apple CarPlay connectivity and other multimedia/navigation. The digital TFT instrument cluster is brilliant to look at and displays all information with clarity even in direct sunlight. The MMI controller controls the center display, while the Virtual Cockpit is controlled using clever buttons and dials on the steering wheel. It seems complicated in theory, and there are some unnecessary menus, but a few hours in and any tech-savvy person will be able to master this system.
Hustling the little S3 along is a 2.0L turbocharged inline four-cylinder, updated for this year. It now boasts 306 horsepower at 6,500RPM (up from 292) and 295 lb-ft. of torque at 2,000RPM (up from 280). There is a little bit of turbocharger lag right off the line, but if the Audi Drive Select is in “Dynamic” mode and the shifter is in “Sport”, this almost disappears. The car is supremely quick for its segment, and this remains one of the best four-cylinder engines on the market from any manufacturer. Throttle response is good, and the engine sound (though there is some synthetic sound piped into the cabin) is good.
There is no manual transmission available on the S3 – those looking for three pedals are restricted to the Golf R. The only gearbox on the S3 is the six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch unit, which is exceptional. Shifts are very fast, either in automatic or manual-shift mode; there is no way even the most competent driver could shift a manual as quickly as S-tronic. Upshifts are met with a confident “blat” from the quad exhaust tips, and when in “Dynamic” mode, the exhaust backfires with a series of pops. In some cases, we observed some confusion from the transmission when taking off from a start, leading to a bit of lag before the engine decides it’s time to go.
An updated quattro all-wheel-drive system is in play here, now boasting a multi-plate clutch that’s electronically controlled. The same computers also monitor the stability control and ABS. Paired to a quality steering setup, the updated Audi S3 handles very well. The steering weight can be adjusted and is best left in its sportiest setting. There is some understeer at the limit thanks to the front-bias of the AWD system, but unless you’re taking the car to the autocross course every weekend, the understeer doesn’t make itself evident. This may not be a dedicated track car, but the S3 is a thoroughly athletic sport sedan with plenty of pep and growl for the average driver.
Ride quality from the S3 is configurable to the driver’s preferences thanks to the adjustable dampers. Just like the TTS and Golf R, the dampers in their most athletic setting render the car almost too stiff for everyday duty. There is an “Auto” setting that lets the car analyze driving style and set things up for the required situation, which we found to be adequate. We found the best compromise to be to leave the Drive Select in “Individual” and configure everything into “Comfort” with the steering in “Dynamic”.
An advantage of sticking with a four-cylinder rather than the BMW M240i’s boosted six is fuel economy. Still requiring premium fuel, the S3 is rated at 6.9L/100km highway, 9.3L/100km city and a combined estimate of 8.2L/100km. Over approximately 600km of mixed driving, including some spirited runs through rural Ontario’s stunning roads, we had no issues keeping our test average at 9.4L/100km. The new S3 also offers an idle start/stop system, which Audi has added some refinements to, making it a smoother system, and it can also be shut off at the touch of a button. There is no dedicated “Eco” mode, though keeping the engine and transmission settings in “Comfort” holds RPMs a bit lower even at idle.
The S3 starts at an entry price of just $46,600 at the Progressiv trim. Stepping up to the loaded Technik adds most of the upscale features that buyers want, starting at $50,700. This test vehicle was painted in a Tango Red Metallic ($800), and added the Black Optics Package ($500) and red brake calipers ($400) for appearance. The Advanced Handling Package ($1,600) adds magnetic ride and 19” wheels. The Sport Seat Package ($1,500) adds the manually-adjusted Nappa leather buckets with quilting. Finishing things off is a $1,400 Technology Package adding Audi lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and Audi pre sense. As tested, this vehicle hit $56,900, but there are options here that can be foregone without sacrificing the experience of the car.
The 2017 Audi S3 quattro Technik is one of the best daily drivers out there today. It’s nimble enough to zip in and out of traffic and make a joy out of the everyday commute. There aren’t really many rivals out there, as the BMW 2-series is a two-door only, and the 340i (reviewed here) is a bit larger and offers more performance, at a higher price. The closest in price is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, though it’s faster but a lot less refined not nearly as easy to live with as the S3. The S3 remains a highly recommended choice as a year-round vehicle for the single professional or young couple.