With its 2015 S3, Audi makes a big statement with a pretty small car. Actually two statements. 1) It’s time for North America to take the high performance premium Euro-compact sedan seriously, and 2) watch out Mercedes-Benz C45 AMG, you’re not the only game in town anymore.
The 2015 Audi S3 starts at $44,000, and beneath its subdued yet elegant sheet metal is a whole whack of high-density engineering. The S3 uses VW’s new MQB platform, and here the familiar transversely-mounted EA888 2.0L direct-injection turbo-four has been cranked up to make 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque from 1,900 to 5,300 rpm. This is no mere chip job – it gets a different turbo, reinforced block and unique cylinder head among other things.
North American S3s only come with a six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated transmission (Europe gets a six-speed manual) and power is routed to all four contact patches through a Haldex system that favours a front bias. No fancy torque-vectoring rear differential like in the six-cylinder S4 sedan.
Tested here is the top-trim S3 Technik at $47,500 that brings goodies like flat-bottom steering wheel, front fog lights, MMI navigation plus, Bang and Olufsen sound, proximity key, seven-inch display, blind spot warning, rear-view camera and front and rear park assist.
This car also featured the $1,400 Technology package that adds adaptive cruise control and active lane keeping assist.
2015 Audi S3, seating. Click image to enlarge
Hop in the cabin and your first thought might be, “Hmmm… a little plain in here.” But still waters run deep. Spend a few more moments and the astounding quality and attention to detail start slappin’ you up side the head. On start up the MMI screen glides up from a slot in the dash. Every surface, no matter how far away from where you hands should be, appears to have been vetted for scrutiny. I love Audi major gauges – simple and always backlit for instant reading in any light. (Mercedes, please take note.)
Like any of these multi-layered infotainment systems from the purveyors of premium automobiles, Audi’s MMI interface takes a bit of learning, but once under your belt it’s easy to navigate. The thumbwheels on the steering wheel prove effective for adjusting audio volume and scrolling through audio station listings.
Technik models get the MMI Touch with Navigation Plus, which is the most advanced version of the system on offer. The large central control knob on the console is topped with a touch pad that accepts hand written number and letter entries for navigation inputs. In theory. It read my numbers okay, but the letter part was completely hit and miss. So I defaulted to manual input via the speller dial.
That said, once the destination was programmed, it got me through a maze of Toronto side streets with accuracy.
I know, I know. You’re reading this review to find out how Audi’s little tinder box chews up the tarmac – not how it negotiates an urban hell.
2015 Audi S3, taillight. Click image to enlarge
This four-pot pip squeak is very quick. According to Car and Driver, the 2015 S3 snarls to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which is faster than big brother S4. It certainly goes on a tear once in the right gear and the revs cross the 3,500 rpm threshold. This is a great engine, and unlike many turbocharged four-pots, it delivers power in a linear fashion right up to its redline. In Dynamic mode, there are some lovely bwaaats on upshifts for your listening pleasure.