Used 2015 Audi S3 Review
Edmunds expert review
The 2015 Audi S3 brings high performance to the popular A3 lineup. It may not be a perfect road-trip vehicle, but if you're looking for an engaging compact luxury sedan, the S3 is excellent.
What's new for 2015
If you're looking for performance and luxury at a relatively affordable price, Audi might just have the car for you with its all-new 2015 S3. As the S4 is to the A4, the S3 is the higher-performance version of Audi's equally new A3. Basically, Audi has taken its A3 compact luxury sedan and, in the words of Nigel Tufnel, turned everything up to 11.
"Louder" starts under the hood, where you'll find a heavily modified version of the A3's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Here, it generates a stout 292 horsepower, an increase of 72 hp over the A3. That power is applied to all four wheels through a standard six-speed automated manual transmission, which, according to Audi, is good enough to fire you off to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
You also get the requisite suspension tuning tweaks to increase handling precision, bigger brakes and various exterior styling mods that give the S3 a more aggressive look than the A3. Pleasingly intact is the S3's interior, which is stately and high class without being overdone. The S3 comes well stocked with features, too, as even the "base" Premium Plus trim level comes with items like xenon headlights, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 10-speaker sound system.
While the S3 offers a more thrilling driving experience, it does suffer from some of the A3's same pitfalls. The backseat is cramped for adults and the trunk is quite diminutive, too, offering just 10 cubic feet of cargo space. That sport-tuned suspension will be a drawback if you drive on a lot of poorly maintained city streets, as the ride quality gets pretty harsh in those situations.
Realistically, though, just about everything you compare the S3 to is going to be cramped and rather stiff-riding. That's certainly true of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. It boasts more power, but the S3 is less expensive and wins out in terms of personality and interior quality. We do recommend the two-door 2015 BMW M235i, whose handling abilities are unmatched in this grouping. Or, if you want to get similar performance at a lower price, you could check out the 2015 Subaru WRX STI or the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R hatchback (which is mechanically related to the S3). Overall, though, the 2015 Audi S3 deservedly turns it up to "11" in our book.
Trim levels & features
The 2015 Audi S3 is a higher-performance version of the A3 compact luxury sedan. It's offered in two trim levels: Premium Plus and Prestige
Standard features for the Premium Plus include 18-inch wheels, summer performance tires, keyless ignition and entry, selectable driving settings (known as Audi drive select), automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, automatic wipers, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, eight-way power front sport seats (with four-way lumbar adjustment), driver memory settings, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather and simulated suede upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, iPod interface, HD radio and satellite radio.
The Prestige adds full LED headlights, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding exterior mirrors, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, blind spot monitoring, an MMI controller mounted on the center console, Audi Connect smartphone integration and a navigation system. All these items are available as stand-alone options for the Premium Plus as well.
Available only with the Prestige is an Advanced Technology package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, frontal collision warning and crash mitigation. Other options (for both the Premium Plus and Prestige) include 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, rear seat side airbags and all-season 18-inch tires (no charge).
Performance & mpg
The 2015 Audi S3 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 292 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive and a six-speed automated manual transmission (called S tronic) are standard.
Audi says the S3 will go from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds using the car's integrated launch control system. EPA-estimated fuel economy checks in at 26 mpg combined (23 city/31 highway).
The 2015 Audi S3 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
Optional safety equipment includes rear seat side airbags, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping assist and frontal collision warning/mitigation.
The S3 has yet to be crash tested, but the similar A3 sedan on which it's based received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest score of "Good" in the small-overlap and moderate-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a "Good" score in the side-impact, roof-strength and whiplash protection (seats and head restraints) tests. In government crash testing, the A3 sedan received five out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for side-impact safety.
The 2015 Audi S3's turbocharged engine provides smooth and quick acceleration. Since this isn't one of Audi's more hard-core RS models, it's not going to pin you to the back of your seat with outrageous power, but there's a clear difference between the S3 and its less powerful A3 sibling. The automated transmission is also on point with its timely and quick shifts.
We've only driven an S3 fitted with the adaptive suspension so far. With it, the S3 feels agile and light on its feet. There is quite a bit of steering feedback, which should be welcome news for driving enthusiasts. That adaptive suspension can be switched between Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes, the latter providing increased steering response and additional stiffness in the dampers. Dynamic mode makes for more precise handling and allows less body roll in the corners, though the price paid for this additional athleticism is a notably stiffer ride. The optional 19-inch wheels make things particularly rough, but if you're interested in the sportiest driving experience, this may be a sacrifice you're willing to make.
Up front, the S3's sport seats are supportive for aggressive driving, yet pretty comfortable on longer drives. Being related to Audi's smallest sedan, though, the S3 isn't all that roomy. Headroom up front is adequate, but rear legroom is pretty tight for adults. (The S3 certainly has more headroom in the back than the CLA45 AMG, however.) The S3's trunk is also quite small. Its 10 cubic feet is certainly fine for daily errands and such, but it becomes more problematic if you're thinking about packing up for a long road trip. The rear seat does fold down in a 60/40 split, at least.
There's nothing to fault with the S3's overall design, though. Though some may prefer flashier cabins adorned in swaths of wood or metal, the ultramodern S3 is beautiful in its simplicity. Yet when you look deeper, beyond its broader, minimalist look, you begin to appreciate its top-notch materials and intricate details, like its ornate, jet-engine-inspired air vents, finely crafted switchgear and the fluid action of the MMI display as it rises from and lowers back into the dash.
Every S3 includes that screen, but its display size depends on whether you opt for navigation. So, too, does the rotary controller. Without nav, it's just a knob. With it, there is a pad on top that allows you to write letters with your finger when entering a destination. It's cool and it works. Regardless of MMI version, however, controls for the stereo and other audio systems may take some time to get used to (especially if you're used to a car with traditional dash-mounted stereo buttons), but they eventually become second nature.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.