There are very few things that can make a man look better than a high quality, well tailored suit. When it fits just right, confidence, perception and a bit of opulence exude. You feel a little better about what you can do, and according to some, you also perform better in the boardroom and in the club room. I recently test drove what I think is the automotive equivalent of a well tailored suit: the 2017 Audi S3.
Recently refreshed for 2017, the headlights now match the new corporate LEDs and the hood sheet metal is wrapped tighter around the frame. The result is a slightly more aggressive styling with cleaner lines. The rear keeps the quad exhaust tips and the rear lip spoiler. Sadly we do not get the slight bump in horsepower that the European version receives.
The Audi S3 is the smallest member of the “S” family (S for Sport) but don’t mistake it for a poseur. Equipped with a 292 HP turbo four engine, the S3 has plenty of kick. 0 - 60 is achieved in ~4.5 seconds and has enough torque to glue your passengers to their seats during the acceleration. Turbo lag is improved over the period generation engine found stateside in the MK2 Audi TTS, though it still persists during heavy acceleration. The S3 comes with larger brakes over the A3, and stopping distance improves to 105 feet during my 60 - 0 test.
The S3 is based on the MQB platform by Volkswagen and is shared by the GTI, Golf R, and the Audi TTS. The platform has proven itself to be competent and fun to drive, and the lighter weight architecture helps with fuel economy.
Taking the Audi S3 through the Santa Cruz mountains reveals a car that is willing to play. With plenty of grip via the Michelin Super Sport tires and a Haldex all-wheel drive system, most drivers will slow well before hitting this car’s limits on backgrounds. While I’m are on the subject of Haldex, I’m pleased to report the system comes vastly improved over the prior generation I tested in the prior generation Golf R. No longer shy about engaging the rear differential, and upgraded with sportier settings, the S3 to feel confident and toss-able. Steering feel is still quite dead on center but livens up when pushed.
The S3 comes standard with DriveSelect, Audi’s software for changing the settings on the suspension, engine responsiveness, all-wheel drive, exhaust and steering. Settings include Eco, Comfort, Sport, Auto and Individual. The latter allows you to manually choose and save custom settings for the five variables. Auto engages Audi’s algorithm to understand how you drive and adjust automatically as the conditions change. Unfortunately, even in Individual it’s impossible to permanently disable the “auto-off” feature which turns off the engine at stops.
Comfort felt a bit too soft for my standards with the transmission doing a lot to keep the car out of the turbo boost range and steering feeling largely dead all around. I recommend putting the steering and engine into Sport, with suspension settings at Comfort, particularly if you live in a state with poor roads. I’m looking at you, California.
The interior exhibits high quality materials, taking the Audi S3 setup well above its Golf R sibling. Leather wraps the dashboard and high quality materials are found throughout the cabin. Seats are comfortable over long hauls and, similar to the Golf R, allow you to find the perfect driving position quickly.
My car was equipped with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which we cannot recommend enough. It’s easy to use, quick, and able to display gobs of information. Navigation is simple to access and saves an extra second from having to direct eyes elsewhere on the dashboard. You can also display sport gauges to show boost pressure and other metrics.
In the TTS I recently test drove, I complained about the lack of engagement from the front passenger on the Virtual Cockpit. This problem is solved in the Audi S3, with the standard pop-up 7inch screen on the center of the dashboard. Passengers are able to see the same information as the Virtual Cockpit, allowing them to change songs or edit route guidance, without interrupting the Virtual Cockpit screen. The center screen can be lowered into the dashboard for times when you’re driving solo which makes the dashboard look clean and more like the TTS.
Like a fresh suit, the Audi S3 is a car you can’t help but want to get into. Driving it adds a sense of swagger unlike other cars in the segment. It’s fun to drive, well-balanced, attractive and offers features that feel quite a bit ahead of competitors. While it may not be the sportiest car I’ve driven, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when it came time to turn it in.