It’s not everyday that we get to jump behind the wheel of a Audi, as a matter of fact we’ve only had 2 other Audi’s featured on txGarage in the past 5-years. If you read either of those reviews (the Audi A8 L or Audi Q5) you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of Audi and their designs for a long time; but we’ll get into the looks of this car in a minute. First we want to talk a little bit about what the A3 is and why our tester is called a S3. The A3 has been on sale in the U.S. market since 2005 although the car and platform have lived in Europe since 1996. Audi for the longest time didn’t think Americans would buy a small, luxury car and for the most part they were correct. Of course now, ever since we’ve had rising fuel costs and a diminishing economy, sales for these entry level compact cars have been doing fairly well. Whether you’re already used to buying premium vehicles and you’re just looking for something a bit more fuel efficient or you’re used to buying the top of the line non-luxury car and you’re moving up to a luxury brand for the first time; that’s who Audi is targeting.
Of course this isn’t the A3 that we’re driving it’s the S3 which is Audi’s more sporty version. Even though the A3 finally made it to our shores in 2005, this is the first year they’ve brought us the S3. Unfortunately, they’re still holding out on bringing us the RS3 which is hopped up even more but we’ll bypass that for now.
The A3 has taken a lot of flack in the past of being an expensive Volkswagen Golf with an Audi badge. For a long time that was true but in this latest generation the A3 isn’t built directly on the Golf platform. Audi uses bits and pieces from VW but still has a design and characteristic all its own. Let’s face it though, if you’re going to be copying a compact car, especially if you want some sporty heritage behind it, the Golf isn’t a bad option.
Enough about how this car is similar to others though, let’s look at what sets it apart. I’ve always loved Audi’s styling. From seeing the early 90’s Quattro, to the A4 of the late 90’s and early 2000’s to just about everything they’ve done in the past 5-years; Audi has been able to hit the mark in the design department. The S3 has a large, imposing grille up front showing off those four rings. The headlights are sleek and stylish, a trademark now of all Audi’s, with LED daytime running lights. The lower grille inserts are also extra stylized with a small chrome line that sweeps back giving an appearance of motion. The hood bulges up from the headlights adding to the sportiness and aggression portrayed by the front-end. The bold lines and bulges on this car give it a very muscular and larger look than it really is.
Down the side you’ll be greeted by two more distinctive and bold lines that form a wedge getting closer toward the rear of the car. This helps portray that aggressive stance and show off the sporty potential of the car. This is also supported by a set of beautiful 19-inch star-design wheels wrapped in thin summer rubbers.
Around back you get a small and subtle duck-tail spoiler integrated into the trunk. You also get Audi’s styled LED tail lamps which form lines inside the lamp following the contours of the car. Down below the lower spoiler you get quad-exhaust tips poking out leaving no doubt you’re driving something with real potential.
Another area that Audi is known to excel, is with the quality and luxury inside their vehicles. Just because this is built on top of the bottom of the line model for Audi doesn’t mean you are sacrificing luxury, precision, or attention to detail. The sporty, leather wrapped seats are both comfortable and cool looking with two-tone leather and a S3 logo stitched between the shoulder bolstering. The steering wheel is extremely fat, to the point that some won’t like it but I find it quite nice, and has a flat bottom to keep the sports car look and feel inside. The gear shifter has a leather knob with chrome accents and if you don’t look closely enough you could almost mistake it for a manual stick. Below that is the rotary knob and some buttons to help you interface with the infotainment system on the dash. You’ll also find the electronic parking brake and the engine start/stop button down here.
The screen for the infotainment system is not a touchscreen; all inputs must come through controls on the steering wheel or buttons throughout the cabin. It can also be tucked away into the dash to open up a clear line of sight and a no distraction driving experience. The software itself is clean and sophisticated with easy to navigate menus. Audi, a few years back, also opted to use Google Maps for their GPS system and it looks better than ever in this new S3.
Enough about looks and luxury though, it time to see what makes this an S3 and if we think it lives up to the hype.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged TSFI engine pushing 292-horsepower and 280-ft.lbs. of torque. That may not sound like much but even comparing that to another compact rocketship – the Ford Focus ST – it’s pretty stout. This engine is also strapped on to Audi’s S-tronic 6-speed dual-clutch transmission which helps to make shifts fast and effortless. This car, being an Audi, also comes standard with their Quattro all-wheel drive system which is known all over the world for being one of the best in the business.
What all of this translates into is a small vehicle that can really take off and once you’re going you can attack any corner with confidence and roll right back into it. Speaking of rolling into the throttle, the exhaust note on this S3 is awe-inspiring and will keep making you want to put your foot down to give another listen. During our week with the S3 I had it in all sorts of environments from dirt roads, country twistys, highways, to city streets. In every environment and any situation this car felt right at home. The suspension isn’t too rough – like some sports cars – where you regret driving it on rough roads. The power delivery is excellent whether you’re making a pass on the highway or slamming your foot to the floor coming out of a corner. Maintaining grip, with the Quattro system by your side is, done with ease even on loose gravel or wet roads. If you’re just cruising and not even thinking about driving, the Audi will still keep you in luxury and comfort and make sure you arrive at your destination in style.
I’ll be honest, as much as I love Audi when I first got into the S3 I was already skeptical and didn’t think I’d like it that much. I’ve heard from others how this car is basically a Golf R and you shouldn’t waste your money. So much was in my head already I was ready to dismiss the car and say just go buy a Focus ST or a Golf R or a BMW.
Boy was I proven wrong. After my week with the car I wanted to own one as bad as any Audi I have driven. This car hits all the right spots for me and I’m ready to throw down some cash. Of course now it is time to look at just what this car will set you back. Our tester wasn’t quite spec’d to the max but had a resulting MSRP of $48,045. The base S3 starts at just over $41k but let’s face it, no one wants to buy a base Audi. If you’re in the market for a great, small, and fun luxury compact car you really can’t go wrong with this one based on it’s direct competition. If you’re looking for all those qualities in and don’t need the luxury branding, the Focus ST is a great way to go.