The 2015 Audi S3 Is the Best Sport Sedan for the Money
Yesterday I visited a friend who works at BLK DNM, that fashion brand specializing in tight dark jeans and subtle European style.
He’s a tall, lanky fellow named Jacko who has a preference for leather jackets and women’s jeans (they fit his hips better than men's, he says) and he loves cars. I told him all about the crazy whips at the Geneva Motor Show I’d just covered, but his attention really came alive when he misheard me say I was driving an Audi S3 this week. He thought I said “R8.”
Funny thing is, when I told him it was “just” a sport sedan rather than the $116,000 R8 coupe, he was not that disappointed. He knows the S3 is a great car.
In fact, the 2015 Audi S3 Sedan is athletic, good-looking, efficient, and well-made. At $41,100 it’s the best deal you’ll find on any car in this segment.
This is way more than “just” a juiced version of the A3.
Best Bang For The Buck
Audi has always made its sedans closely mimic each other in both form and function. Too closely, maybe. How many Americans could identify an A6 over an A7? Or an A6 over an A8? It’s something to think about.
The S3, anyway, has plenty of new treats to make it feel special. This is the first and only S3 derivative Audi will bring the U.S., despite rumors that it would also bring over the RS3 in diesel and hatchback versions. Which is fine by me because with this one, we gain additional power to the A3—plus improved suspension, upgraded exhaust valves, bigger brakes, and a new turbocharger.
I drove the 2.0T Quattro S Tronic (turbocharged, all-wheel-drive) version for a week in Manhattan. It had some extras (such as the $2,600 navigation package and a $1,500 performance package with summer ties and 5-double-spoke wheels with anthracite polish), but even those pushed its price only to $47,045. That is barely more than you’d pay for an option-heavy A4. It bests the cost of the (less nimble and slower) $48,000 S4.
If you’re in the market for a sport sedan, consider this one against the $48,000 Mercedes CLA45 and the $33,000 BMW 3-Series. If its 31 miles-per-gallon highway efficiency and 4.7-second, 60 miles-per-hour sprint time don’t beat them both (it beats the BMW off the line but is less efficient, for instance), it wins for overall value.
Smooth and Seductive
The 4-cylinder, 292-horsepower S3 is refreshing and uncomplicated. (It felt especially so after I drove the Cadillac ATS last week.) Yes it’s a practical daily driver, but it’s nowhere near humdrum. Driving the S3 feels like a holiday.
Last Tuesday, as I cruised down the FDR Drive, I found myself considering that weird x-factor thing that can make engines—and cars—greater than the sum of their parts. The Porsche 911 has it. The Rolls-Royce Wraith has it. So does the S3.
The car is like a good butler—invisible, until you need it to do something, and then blessedly present. It’s discreet, implacable, civilized—serene around corners, with a silky smooth, instantaneous transmission. It brakes perfectly, neither in that abrupt nausea-inducing way that track-heads claim to love, nor in the soft, maddening way beloved among the pensioner set. Body roll—that feeling as the weight of a car shifts to the outside of the corner as it turns—just doesn’t exist in this baby .
I also like how it sounds. Unlike the (admittedly exciting) screams of the Jaguar F-Type or AMG Mercedes coupes, the S3 moans as it surges forward. It’s more seductive. The tone fits hand-in-glove with the car’s overall mood: Sexy, strong, and confident enough to be quiet.
(That said, the expensive Mercedes CLA45 AMG and BMW M3 do beat the S3 for sheer aggression. They feel like they’ve been driven a bit mad by their appetite for asphalt—they’re hungry, and they’ll make you pay. The S3 is way more polite.)
As a side note to those requesting an (unavailable) manual S3, may I suggest that a stick shift would only slow it down? It would. The steering-wheel paddles are supremely effective.
Let’s See Your Grill
The S3 is arguably the best-looking sedan Audi makes. (I do have a soft spot for the elegant slope of the A7 roof, but that’s an admittedly polarizing opinion.) It proves that a hot car doesn’t have to scream LOOK AT ME. It shows that the double-take effect can last longer than the slap of a first impression.
The S3 is more artfully sculpted than the S4, with its short rear and a punchy nose that give it an athletic demeanor. The blacked-out honeycomb air intakes on the front look fast and low; the rear lamps in the back are cut straight and aligned parallel to the four tube exhaust pipes. Its side body is as remarkable as the line running from the bottom of Michael Phelps’s six-pack stomach to his lats.
One friend characterized the S3 as a better-looking Subaru WRX. I’d argue that it’s considerably more refined than any Subaru, but he may not be far off.
One thing on the S3 does clamor for attention—or, rather, warn everyone to get out of the way. The massive ladder grill on that rounded puppy-dog nose grabs your eye when you first see the car, especially if you’re a bearded skater dude slinging back beer downtown, or an older European man shopping in Soho with your wife. These were the type of normally subdued people who most often did a double-take as I conducted this test drive. They’d get nearly past the car before they realized it wasn’t just another Audi.
If you’re in the club, you know.
Extras That Don’t Cost Extra
Audi has managed to make an interior on the S3 appropriate to its outer appeal. It’s wrapped in soft leather, has comfortable and firm 12-way adjusting sport seats, and is unusually quiet. The standard panoramic sunroof drenches the interior in light, and the flat-bottom steering wheel is compact and responsive. The knobs on the dash are set to just the right resistance as you turn them; like the satisfying thud of a Bentley door as you close it, the effect is subtle but significant. It feels as if it has real heft.
In the car's center console, the info system controlling sound, climate, and mapping is as intuitive as that of any car I’ve driven. It was the opposite of the electronics McLaren had cobbled together in the 605S I drove last week in London. The contrast was extreme.
Elsewhere, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, ambient LED lighting, keyless start/stop and entry, heated seats, and matte-brushed aluminum inlays all come standard.
Cue The Applause
It’s clear when you get inside that the rear seats don’t offer the head- or leg-room of, say, the A7, but they come close. The space is sufficient, not extravagant.
Crossing cobblestone surfaces down on Greene Street, I wondered why anyone would need much more of sedan from Audi than this. Do you really need a fat sedan to pick up groceries and drive to the office? Unless a driver handles your commute while you work (or sleep), probably not.
As I left BLK DNM, Jacko’s friend Reggie joined us. He asked what car I had and where it was parked. The security guard at the door jumped right in—he had overheard our conversation—and pointed outside: “It’s just there—the best car on the block!”
He was right.