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2015 Audi S3 Compact Luxury Sedan First Drive

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
November 15, 2013
3 min. Reading Time

If you want to sell cars in the United States, a good place to start is by filling a niche that’s been largely ignored by other automakers.  The 2015 Audi S3 sedan takes this rule of thumb a bit further by not only targeting an underserved segment of the market (high performance, subcompact luxury sedans), but ensuring that its one where growth is virtually guaranteed.

Consider the fact that as entry-level automobiles have grown in size and weight over the past decade, so have their prices.  To bring more than a little bit of excitement to those seeking a practical daily driver that’s both comfortable and relatively affordable is a legitimate accomplishment, and one that only a single other brand (Mercedes-Benz with the CLA45 AMG) has bothered to do.  It’s into this void that Audi has rolled the S3 sedan, a vehicle whose mixture of competence and fun is certain to be a hit amongst the premium crowd.

Dress For Success

It takes only a few seconds in the presence of the 2015 Audi S3 sedan to realize that this is no typical subcompact commuter.  A short trunk accentuates the car’s plunging roofline, while up front it’s the large grille and equally plus-size air vents cut into the bumper below and to the side (and filled with a sporty-looking honeycomb) that catch the eye.  My favorite feature of the Audi S3 sedan, however, was the under-bumper diffuser found out back, which also frames the car’s quad exhaust outlets and informs those riding up from the rear that they are unlikely to get a point-by anytime soon.

Inside the car it’s typical Audi, which is to say a perfectly-executed passenger compartment that avoids the barren, clinical feel of certain other modern luxury models in favor of warm luxury.  Even the car’s MMI vehicle interface, a screen that slides up and out of the dashboard and which can be manipulated via a rotary controller and button set on the console, manages to feel welcoming rather than intimidatingly complex.  The car’s flat-bottom steering wheel is certainly an affectation that will not curry favor with all drivers, but it’s hard to argue with the well-bolstered sport seats in the front two positions.  The rear of the car is certainly usable (although taller individuals will most likely come into contact with the S3’s tapered roof), lending the sedan the kind of daily practicality that simply isn’t matched by a coupe.


Thrust, And Repeat

Of course, if looking the part was all it took to turn heads in the luxury performance market, then my job would be a lot easier than it already is.  Not that being asked to shoe the 2015 Audi S3 sedan through the streets of Monte Carlo on my way to the sublime driving roads that crisscross the coastal Alps of France is any type of burden. 

I was curious to see, however, just how well the S3’s paper specs translated in the real world, where tuning, balance, and intangible aspects like ‘fun’ make so much of a difference to those who seek out this type of automobile.  It goes without saying that the Audi S3 sedan’s engine output – 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder – would not have looked out of place in a brochure for a high end sports car at the beginning of the previous decade.  Better still is the fact that the S3 tempers its ferocious attitude out on the road not with a multitude of electronic nannies but rather through its excellent quattro all-wheel drive system.


Mountain-Taming Grip

What this means in a practical sense is that drivers have the ability to truly hammer the S3’s turbo motor without concern that the throttle will be cut mid-corner, upsetting the car and spoiling what would have undoubtedly been a gallant change in direction.  I know this because when negotiating the seemingly endless switchbacks that serves as the ladder to the top of the Col de Braus just west of  Monte Carlo, only once was I able to detect the intervention of the car’s stability control system.  At all moments, the S3’s four wheels gripped the road with the tenacity of the goats that once roamed these alpine slopes, matching their utter disregard for laws of gravity or momentum and ensuring that my wheel-sawing exploits remained heroic without veering into tragedy.  The trade-off, compared to a rear-wheel drive vehicle, is steering that isn’t quite as communicative as I would like, but understeer – long a bugaboo of all-wheel drive performance cars – only appears that the edges of the S3’s envelope.

Of course, if you’d prefer to unleash your shenanigans in a straight line, then the 2015 Audi S3 remains willing to answer the call of your right foot.  The vehicle can sprint to 60-mph from a standing start in the neighborhood of five seconds, and I found it impossible to lug the car even uphill at lower engine speeds – the turbocharger is capable of stepping in and judiciously applying boost without any morale-sapping lag.  I only wish that the U.S. was getting the European market’s six-speed manual transmission, as Americans will only be able to order the S3 with Audi’s S-Tronic dual-clutch automated manual gearbox.


The Real Deal

The Real Deal

The 2015 Audi S3 sedan is a major win for the luxury marque, a performance effort that its Japanese rivals simply have no answer to and that even erstwhile foil BMW can’t match.  Especially in parts of the country where snow and ice are ugly facts of winter life, the S3 presents an appealing, and fun option for anyone who has matured past the stark confines of vehicles like the Subaru WRX STi but who doesn’t want to give up the visceral thrills that go with a turbocharged, all-wheel drive steed.  Think of the S3 as the boy racer that’s all grown up and ready to take on the responsibilities that go with adulthood, all the while maintaining a wild streak that comes out when it’s time to cut loose after a hard Friday at the office.



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