I had this review all ready to go on 9/28 and just as I was about to click “post” I found out that a dear friend was killed on his way to work. So I figured I’d wait until I was in a good spot to field comments. Friday afternoon is that time.
It’s been almost 16 months since I decided to trade my 08’ E90 M3 in for a 16’ Audi S3. A few weeks before I made that decision I was never going to drive anything but a 3 pedal M car. That was when I was still on an extended BMW honeymoon. My first M3 (E46) which I’ve owned for almost 10 years, never gave me any real shit until recently. The E90 was covered by a warranty for the first two years of ownership, so I had no worries there either. That was until I started having to use that warranty.
I began hesitantly shopping new STi’s, I had an 04’ and not a whole hell of a lot has changed with them in 12 years. I inquired about ordering one with the low profile spoiler, but my local dealer was less than helpful and just wanted to sell me something they had on the lot. Next was the Golf R, until I found out that I couldn’t have one for over 5 months and could expect to pay over sticker. After that was the M235i, but I really wanted something with 4 doors. I was kind of stuck for a week or so. I drove a new S4, but it felt huge and I was looking to go smaller/lighter than the E90. My buddy mentioned the S3 and I was quick to nix it because it is not available with 3 pedals. I got curious though, mainly because I was having trouble ticking all of the boxes with any car.
So I pinged Oppo to see what we knew about the S3, then I headed to a dealer for a TD. After the most entertaining test drive a sales person has ever taken me on, it was my turn in the driver’s seat. I was impressed, it felt every bit as quick and composed as the M3 just without the glorious noise and nearly perfect steering rack. I was hooked, the only problem now is that S3’s could only be found in the standard boring Audi colors (black, lots of silvers, and white). We found a red one but I had a red Jetta that I hated, so I thought that since I was getting a roided out Jetta, that it should be a different color. Sepang Blue proved to be the most difficult color to locate. We found 2 limited edition colors (vegas yellow, viper green) before we found a blue one that I could actually buy. It was worth the wait as I got a blue one with every option that I wanted (Tech pkg, LED pkg, stereo “upgrade”, and black optic performance package).
Audi makes the same suit in different sizes as far as their non-CUV cars go, but it’s a really good looking suit. Proportions are just right and I love the shaven, tight look of Audi cars. I’m not a fan of the standard Audi chrome/brushed aluminum exterior highlights, but the black optic package takes care of all that. Instead of chrome window trim/grille I got gloss black. Instead of brushed aluminum mirror caps, mine match the body color. I like the wheels, but I don’t love them a set of silver FF01’s is in my future. I ended up with black wheels for my winter set, but that was because of fitment.
Everything inside is nice, but not too nice. As William Clavey said “it feels more VW than Audi” and it does. I would rather a nicer material for the dash as well as the sunroof shade. One of my favorite features of the interior is the ability to put away the infotainment screen. Big screens are a trend I loathe in modern cars, so being able to tuck it into the dash is really nice. The seats are good for sports ish seats, but not as deep/supportive as I like.
60mph can be had in 4.4 seconds using launch control, which is really fun. After I demoed launch control for my wife, she asked that I not do it again because it “tickled her brain” and she was not sure how she felt about it. However, where this car really shines is 50-70/70-90. So quick passes aplenty! Turbo lag is slightly noticeable when starting in “comfort” mode, but other than that the car is out like sauerkraut it pretty much any condition.
I use my brakes as little as possible, but I have had to stand one them once since I have had the S3. It stopped real fast and I didn’t hit Bambi so they’re good by me. Pedal feel is nearly as touchy as a fresh Lexus which is good for most and bad for people like my mother in law.
The performance package nets you magnetic dampers which were a must for me as I had become used to them in the M3. Most of the time I leave it in comfort mode as the ride is really nice, not S class nice but Audi nice. In “dynamic” mode the suspension hardens and body roll is barely noticeable.
Two of my close friends have S5’s, in which I have had more than a few drives. While I never really had a thing for Audi’s I was always impressed with their tenacious grip. Just flying around turns jerking the wheel here and there, only to stay right on track with almost no noise from the tires. The S3 is no different. While under normal driving conditions the S3 is pretty much FWD, when you’re on it you would never know. If you need proof, it’s the rear wheels that occasionally chirp when launching. In dynamic mode with your foot on the gas, it feels every bit as planted on all 4’s as every Subaru I have driven. The only thing keeping this score from a 10 is steering feel. In comfort mode steering feel is artificially light, and in dynamic mode it’s over the top heavy…standard for electric racks (BRZ is quite good though). That and the fact that I have driven a few cars that are hard 10’s in this department. I’m sure that you can get this car to under steer near the limit but I’ll never see that limit outside of a racetrack.
That 9/10 was funny to type as I had originally written off the S3 because it only comes with paddles. In the world of automatic transmissions 1=SMG 1 and 10=PDK the DSG in the S3 is a firm 9. In comfort mode it shifts smoothly and early to avoid punchy throttle response. In dynamic mode it holds gears long, and downshifts for you. However, the best way to do when you’re out for a spirited drive is manual mode. Shifts up and down are lighting fast and its pretty much impossible to drive this way without making your own shifting/laser sound effects.
I’m on record hating on factory “upgraded” stereos. I have sensitive ears and aftermarket is almost always the way to go if you’re after good sound. However, I knew going into this purchase that I would likely not go the aftermarket route, and only listen to compressed tunes via my phone anyway so I might as well get the “upgraded” stereo. It’s ok but nothing special.
Side note: The S3 has one of those noisemaker things hidden in the dash in attempt to make the car sound more aggressive. I have tried it at full tilt, low tilt, and unplugged. It does not sound vastly different so I left it plugged in. I knew I would be disappointed in the sound anyway going from an S65 V8 to a 4cyl turbo.
I like the big sunroof, it’s got a backup camera, shitty nav, and a not that great infotainment system. This is the area of a car that I care the least about. Once nice thing about the stereo setup is that all of the legacy components are hidden. Aux is in center console, CD and SD slots are in the glovebox which makes for a really clean control panel.
The S3 has a starting price of $42,500 (good luck finding one under $46k). The most expensive one I saw was a loaded S3 with an individual color (nardo grey and it looked fucking amazing) for $62k. The sticker on mine was $51k and I paid slightly less. Most people would argue that this is not a good value as you can have an STi or Golf R for a lot less. For me though, it’s a great value! It’s everything I wanted minus a manual trans, and now that I have owned it for a while I wouldn’t trade it for a 3 pedal model if you offered. I did the “boy racer” thing (Nissan SE-R Spec V, WRX, STi). Since then I have been after cars that are more “suited up”. The Golf R is a reasonable compromise as it’s a lot nicer place to be than the STi, but it’s not as nice as the Audi and it still has a little of that “racer” vibe in my eyes.
In conclusion, I’m more happy with the little Audi than I thought possible as I was mostly a Bimmer guy. It’s got tons of usable performance and it is a blast to drive. I don’t know whats next, but I’ve got my name on the list to at least drive the first RS3 that becomes available at the dealer where I bought the S3.
P.S. I apologize for all the trash pics, but they’re all I’ve got. Here’s a decent on of my handsome doggo.