THE PROS & CONS
What’s Best: Power and performance in compact, nimble, Euro sport sedan style.
What’s Worst: Limited rear passenger room. But, so what?
What’s Interesting: Lean and mean, the S3 actually edges out its bigger S4 sibling in power/weight ratio and 0-100 km/h acceleration time.
There was no missing the 2015 S3 – small, taut, aggressively hunkered down and dipped in a bright shade of red that seemed to resonate in defiance of the larger, and more staid stable mates that surrounded it in the Audi parking lot.
The S3’s upstart attitude was accented even further by dramatic body lines, prominent side sills, big wheels, the S-specific single-frame grille up front and a rear platinum gray diffuser at the rear with two twin sets of oval tail pipes peeping out of the back corners. And, hello, with eye-catching, aluminum-look exterior mirrors.
Which all seemed fitting, I guess, for the S3, the new performance derivative of the company’s third generation A3 lineup.
The S3 is all new for 2015, crammed with dynamic technologies and boasting all the power and panache you’d expect to find inside Audi’s most compact pocket rocket.
I’m hesitant to label any vehicle that totals within the ballpark range of $50K as “entry-level” but that’s just what the S3 is, sliding in under the heftier price tags and power levels of S4, S5, S6, S7 and S8 models.
The 2015 S3 harnesses a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Yes, it’s the same size as its predecessor’s powerplant but that’s where any similarities end. The new motor has been totally reconfigured with stronger pistons, new rings, reinforced connecting rods, a beefier crankcase and a new lightweight aluminum-silicon alloy cylinder head. The compact new motor weighs in at 5 kg less than the previous engine.
The sum total of all those tweaks is a power rating of 290 hp at 5,400 rpm with a 280 lb/ft peak torque that plateaus at an early 1,900 rpm. The power comes on in a linear fashion with two balance shafts spinning at twice the speed of the crankshaft to smooth out the delivery.
But this sophisticated powertrain doesn’t hesitate to embrace a little boy-racer bravado, boasting a sonorous snarl emphasized by an electromechanical sound actuator that transmits some of the rip-snorting sound into the cabin.
An exhaust sound flap also opens during aggressive acceleration to add a little extra drama.
The 2015 Audi S3 will run a 4.8 second sprint from 0-100 km/h and accelerate beyond that to a governed top speed of 250 km/h.
And, despite its muscular prowess, this turbo four-banger’s fuel economy is rated at a rather modest 10.1/7.7L/100km. Although, with all that available oomph, you might have trouble attaining the lower numbers of that rating. After 600 km or so of mixed driving, I averaged a real world result of 10.2L/100km (city/hwy).
Audi produces a variety of S3 versions for different marketplaces around the world – sedans, sportbacks and cabriolets with either a six-speed manual transmissions or with an S tronic dual-clutch transmission that offers automatic or manual operation.
Here in Canada, Audi has limited the selection in our smallish market, offering only the sedan in a one-choice standard configuration with quattro permanent four-wheel drive and the S tronic transmission. But while purists may moan for the absence of a traditional manual tranny, the S tronic offers three distinct flavours of power translation.
Pull the shifter back to “D”, apply moderate throttle and the engine and transmission work seamlessly together as smoothly as any automatic, balancing power and demand, the tachometer rarely budging past the 2,000 rpm mark, usually shifting and cruising well below that rev point.
Tug the shifter back and the S tronic shifts into “S” for Sport mode. This is akin to giving the S3 a friendly nudge that announces “Game On”. Things get just a little more frenetic.
The S tronic holds shifts longer, the engine often hanging in at 3,000 rpm or higher, the dual-clutch system swapping cogs in milliseconds with popping upshifts and blipping downshifts.
Slap the stick to the right and the shifting moves to manual mode, putting you in charge.
Rock the stick forward for upshifts (+) and back for downshifts (-). Or use the steering wheel paddles with downshifts (-) on the left spoke, upshifts (+) on the right.
The S3 handles the nearly three hundred horses with aplomb, no matter how you choose to apply the power. A taut chassis, weight-balanced and riding 25 mm closer to the ground than the A3, combines with a progressive steering system, brawny braking, the latest-gen ESC electronic stabilization control and, tested here, has been bolstered by the optional Audi Magnetic Ride – an electromagnetic damper system that can adapt instantly to road conditions and driving style.
The 2015 Audi S3 2.0 TFSI comes in two trim levels in Canada, starting with a Progressiv model or, as tested here, in upscale Technik trim which bolsters an already healthy level of content by adding navigation, an advanced parking system with front & rear sensors, a rear view camera and a Bang & Olufsen upgraded sound system, along with a list of added options (see below).
It all makes for a very complete performance package.
Some might argue that, based on cold logic, there’s a more affordable way to access both A3 and S3 performance through a Golf and GTI lineup that shares the same VW MQB platform starting point and many of the same gasoline-powered and diesel engines available in the A3 stable. And the 2016 Golf R, slated for release this summer, will actually match the S3’s muscle, with the same powertrain and performance levels.
But the allure of Audi seems to go beyond practicalities and price points for the customers who shop this premium brand. Audi carries a cachet that captures those expectations with blended levels of quality and performance, exemplified throughout the lineup.
And it doesn’t take long at the wheel of even their smallest, most affordable performance derivative – the 2015 S3 – to catch a glimpse of those qualities in action.