2015 Audi S3 Sedan First Drive

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2015 Audi S3 Sedan

(2.0L 4-cyl. Turbo AWD 6-speed Automated Manual)
  • 2015 Audi S3

    2015 Audi S3

    The 2015 Audi S3 sedan goes on sale in the United States in August 2014. | November 06, 2013

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First S3 for America Arrives in August 2014

Wealth oozes from the gutters in Monaco, and if we lived here year-round, we wouldn't be driving a 2015 Audi S3 sedan. We mean no disrespect to Audi's new compact sport sedan. But if you want to do business in this tiny principality, you need the key to something expensive and Italian, or a really impressive yacht.

Right outside this excess, though, are some of the world's most spectacular mountain roads, and the S3 sedan is exactly the sort of car for exploring them. Forget the casinos and the oversize boats; this is the real point of our journey.

First Audi S3 for America
Although the Audi S3 will be all-new to us when it arrives in the United States in August 2014, it's a familiar nameplate in Monaco and environs. Indeed, we've already sampled the new-generation S3 three-door hatchback that's on sale in Europe now. The S3 sedan is the new, American-themed body style of this car, a logical high-performance companion to the A3 sedan that will reach our shores a few months earlier.

2015 Audi S3 Sedan

Like the others, and its mainstream Volkswagen GTI cousin, the S3 sedan uses VW's MQB compact-car architecture. No doubt you've heard about the weight savings associated with this architecture, but the sedan is a significantly longer car than the S3 hatch we drove earlier: It's 8 inches longer at 175.9 inches with a 1.4-inch-longer wheelbase (which, at 103.6 inches, is identical to that of the 2015 GTI).

At 3,152 pounds, the Audi S3 sedan is not exactly lightweight, but compared to the current A4, it feels noticeably more bite-size and, even in the medieval French towns, it never feels too large for the road.

Plenty of Engine
It's quick through the mountains, too. The 300-horsepower rating on European-market S3s tells you as much, though final numbers are pending for the U.S.-spec version of this turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder engine: For now, we're told it makes an "estimated 290 hp" at 5,500 rpm and an "estimated 280 pound-feet" of torque at 1,800 rpm.

All that torque remains at your disposal until 5,500 rpm, creating a near endless midrange that defines the car's character. This engine is even-keeled to a fault, and if it weren't for the dramatic and satisfying exhaust burp on full-throttle upshifts (in the six-speed dual-clutch, automated manual transmission's most aggressive shift mode), you might make the mistake of calling it boring. But frankly, no car with a 0-60-mph estimate in the low 5-second range should ever bore you.

2015 Audi S3 Sedan

Note that the 2015 Audi S3's engine is not just a tuned version of the 220-hp 2.0 TFSI engine offered in all-wheel-drive A3 sedans. In addition to the expected bigger turbocharger and intercooler, this more elite 2.0-liter has its own cylinder head design with unique cams, exhaust valves and valve seats and springs. The pistons are different, too, while the connecting rods, crankshaft bearings and crankcase have all been strengthened. And there are two balance shafts instead of one.

Manual Gearbox for America? Maybe
Early reports on the Audi S3 sedan gave the impression that the six-speed automated manual gearbox (known as S tronic) would be the sole transmission offered in the United States. But this might not be true.

Initially, the S tronic transmission will drive all four wheels of every U.S.-bound S3 sedan, which has a standard clutch-type all-wheel-drive system. The S tronic features the usual Sport and Manual modes (plus launch control), and you can further customize its behavior by playing with the settings in the Audi Drive Select menu (one of the pages you can bring up on our test car's optional 7-inch Multi Media Interface display). Most consumers will be very happy with it.

2015 Audi S3 Sedan

In regular "D," this transmission has nearly the smoothness and ease of a regular automatic. But when you put the drivetrain in the "Dynamic" setting and shift manually with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, it upshifts very quickly and rips off perfect rev-matched downshifts.

Still, we prefer to rev-match our own downshifts. That's why we're clinging to the hope that Audi will eventually export a conventional manual-shift S3 sedan like the one we tried later in the day. It's a six-speed gearbox, of course, and the pedal setup suited us perfectly. The shifter is trimmed in knurled metal. We're smitten.

Mind you, Audi officials have made no promises about the manual coming to America. At the event, Filip Brabec, director of product management, advised journalists, "We're not ready to make an announcement on it." That sounds more like yes than no to us.

Is It Any Fun?
Going around turns in the 2015 Audi S3 sedan is fun regardless of the transmission. Compared to the A3, the S3 has a 25mm (0.98 inch) lower ride height, and our test car has the optional magnetic adaptive dampers, which will be offered on U.S. models in combination with a 19-inch wheel/summer tire package.

Based on our trip through the Maritime Alps, we can't see ourselves not ordering this option. Thusly equipped, the S3 feels controlled and athletic through corners, yet even in the suspension's most hard-core setting, you'd never describe the ride as brittle. Even with 235/35R19 91Y Continental ContiSportContact tires, the S3 is downright forgiving on the roads in Southern France. We'll wait and see if that transfers to Southern California.

In recent years, we've not been that impressed with the electric-assist power steering systems in various Audis. But the setup in the S3 is better than we expected. This is a passive variable-ratio setup (with variably spaced gear teeth), and you can adjust the effort level to suit in the Drive Select menu. Predictably, Dynamic mode is too heavy for our taste, but in the other modes, the steering is quick, precise and enjoyable.

The Rest of Your Day
Audi is known for its top-quality interiors, and the 2015 Audi S3 sedan's cabin lives up to that reputation and then some. Every surface in the car that you might ever have occasion to touch has a pleasing finish to it, and the fit and finish in our test cars is outstanding. You'd expect this in an $80,000 car, but in one that we expect to cost a little more than half that, it's pretty striking.

Everything looks crisp and modern, too. The flat-bottom steering wheel is small in diameter and fits nicely in hands of modest size, and the circular vents and aluminum trim are nicely executed.

We're not as thrilled about the infotainment screen that deploys from the top of the dash and looks a bit like an afterthought. It doesn't impede visibility, though, and it certainly allows for a simpler control layout on the center stack. Our test cars all have the optional navigation system and a 7-inch screen as a result. If you don't order nav, you'll have a smaller screen, which may not look as good.

2015 Audi S3 Sedan

If you care about tech, take note that the A3 and S3 have the most sophisticated version of Audi's MMI, which is designed to be more easily upgradable (to the point that the system's Nvidia Tegra 2 processor can be swapped out when it becomes obsolete). In addition, the car's Wi-Fi router is 4G LTE-capable, and to support that, Audi will ditch T-Mobile in favor of a yet unnamed wireless carrier with LTE coverage.

Audi will offer two different front seat designs. We've only sampled the optional S line seat (with manual adjustments), which we're told offers more serious lateral bolstering than the standard seat. This seat is comfy and supportive, but not the least bit confining and should meet with the approval of commuters and larger drivers alike.

The rear seats, meanwhile, are mainly intended for occasional use. The bench itself is comfortable, but anyone taller than 5 feet 10 will probably find headroom and/or legroom a little tight. In comparison, the GTI's backseat is roomier.

A New Era of Entry-Level Performance
When we talk about high-performance versions of entry-level luxury cars, the old farts among us inevitably look back at cult classics like the E30 BMW M3 and, more recently, the 1 Series M. Special cars, both of them, but you have to be at least a little hard-core to enjoy them.

But the 2015 Audi S3 sedan is aimed at people with busier lives who favor a more balanced approach to performance. Maybe driving is fun for you, but you also expect a comfortable ride, a fantastic interior and leading-edge tech features because, well, you've got to drive to work every day. And in that case, cars like the S3 sedan and the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG make more sense.

Audi is months away from announcing pricing on the 2015 S3 sedan, but as long as it comes in a bit cheaper than the quicker CLA45 and whatever BMW comes up with next for this class, we see no reason it won't find its buyer.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

Most Recommended Comments

By gurds7
on 11/07/13
4:46 AM PST

Looks like a great car and I would like to replace my S4 with a smaller and lighter car such as this. The deciding factor will be the availability of a manual transmission. Dual Clutch = Excluded, 6-speed manual = guaranteed purchase. I will only buy any vehicle if it is a manual transmission. If you are drag racing or constantly racing on the track, I understand the dual clutch, but there is no reason for it outside of that. Real world fuel economy (not the easily tricked EPA numbers), fun factor, and driver engagement are much better with a manual. Audi, please give us the manual.

Recommend  (93) (22)

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By themandarin
on 11/07/13
12:52 PM PST

Appears to have been designed in the 80s

Recommend  (3) (21)

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