The 2017 Audi S3 takes the essential qualities of the company's entry-level sedan, the A3, and dials up the performance level. Beyond its uprated engine that delivers quicker acceleration, the S3's stickier tires and more capable sport-tuned suspension elevate its handling capability. Bigger brakes and a few unique styling flourishes round out the package.
Even with its elevated performance goals, the S3's manners have not been sacrificed. The S3's cabin looks handsome and reasonably upscale — and especially modern with the new Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster — while fuel economy remains respectable. All-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic transmission are standard, making the S3's performance much more user-friendly.
Its list of downsides includes limited rear legroom, a small trunk, and a ride quality that can be a bit too stiff on uneven pavement. Though its available adaptive dampers provide more control with comfort, they are bundled with 19-inch wheels that are less forgiving over potholes. Fortunately, one of the S3's persistent frustrations, a missing USB port, has been rectified for 2017, and a single USB port is now standard.
Direct competitors to the S3 are surprisingly few. They include the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, which is an even more potent performer but has a more downmarket cabin than the more affordable Audi. Scoring top marks for handling, BMW offers the excellent two-door M235i at the S3's price point but nothing with the practicality of four doors. For a bit less money is the potent but admittedly less refined Subaru WRX STI. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the Volkswagen Golf R, a mechanical twin to the S3 but with the versatility of a hatchback body style.
The 2017 Audi S3 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side and knee airbags, side curtain airbags, a rearview camera, a forward collision mitigation system with automatic braking, and front and rear parking sensors. The Prestige trim adds lane departure intervention and blind-spot monitoring. Premium Plus models can also be optionally equipped with the blind-spot monitor (via the Technology package), while rear-seat side airbags are optional for both trims.
In Edmunds brake testing, an S3 with the optional 19-inch tires stopped from 60 mph in 107 feet, an exceptionally short distance for a sedan.
In government crash tests, the structurally similar Audi A3 sedan was awarded the top five-star rating overall, including four stars for total front-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the A3 sedan the highest possible rating of Good in its small-overlap front-impact, moderate-overlap front-impact, side-impact and roof strength crash tests. The A3's seat and head restraint design was also deemed Good for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
trim levels & features
The 2017 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 LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, automatic wipers, a panoramic 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 upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Audi's MMI electronics interface (with a console-mounted controller and a power-retractable display), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a USB port, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, HD radio and satellite radio.
The Prestige adds heated, power-folding exterior mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, LED interior lighting, adaptive cruise control, lane departure intervention and the Technology package (includes a Virtual Cockpit expanded instrument cluster, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, an upgraded MMI system with an improved display and a touch-sensitive controller, Audi Connect online services with 4G LTE mobile Wi-Fi, smartphone-app integration, voice controls and a navigation system).
The Technology package and Bang & Olufsen sound system are available as options on Premium Plus models.
Optional on both the Premium Plus and Prestige are a Dynamic package (19-inch wheels and Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension dampers), a Black Optic performance package (bundling the adaptive dampers with different 19-inch wheels and black exterior trim), an S Sport seat package (manually adjustable sport seats and premium leather upholstery), rear-seat side airbags and 18-inch all-season tires.
Stick with the well-equipped Premium Plus trim level and add the Technology package for the useful Virtual Cockpit. Add the S Sport seats, which save weight and look great. We tend to shy away from large wheel options in the interests of ride quality, so skip the Dynamic package if you prefer a smoother ride.
The 2017 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 dual-clutch automatic transmission (called S tronic) are standard.
In Edmunds track testing, a 2016 S3 leapt from zero to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds using the car's integrated launch-control system. That's quick for any car in this price range, and a tenth of a second quicker than the costlier CLA45 AMG. The Benz, however, pulls away beyond this point.
EPA-estimated fuel economy checks in at 24 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway), a satisfying result given the S3's swiftness.
With a broad swath of power, the 2017 Audi S3's turbocharged engine provides smooth and quick acceleration. There's an unmistakable increase in potency between the S3 and its less powerful A3 sibling, though the S3 falls short of Audi's racy RS models. Its thrust comes on with little delay if you dip deep into the throttle at low revs, and the engine remains bright and alert even when off-boost. The dual-clutch automatic has good manners and clicks off quick, smooth shifts. It does, however, shift at redline automatically, even in manual mode.
Enthusiasts will find the S3's steering quick and precise, if a bit shy on feel, while casual drivers will simply appreciate its responsiveness. Yet this is not a nervous or fidgety car. Its freeway composure is rock-steady, and its civility at speed means you'll find yourself traveling faster than you thought. The optional adaptive suspension's ability to switch among Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes is a useful trick, although the handling of all S3s is suitably nimble. Be aware, however, that the S3's ride is firm even in Comfort mode, and the optional 19-inch wheels only exacerbate the issue. We encourage prospective buyers to drive S3s equipped with both wheel sizes to determine if the trade-off in comfort is worthwhile.
Despite being an entry-level luxury sedan, the 2017 Audi S3 shares the attractive, refined cabin design aesthetic of its more expensive stablemates. It shows restraint rather than flash, boasting high-quality materials, slick buttons and switches, and clever details such as the elegantly simple air vents. The S3's cabin is an eminently comfortable and stylish place.
The S3's front seats strike an excellent balance between support and comfort, serving well on long trips as well as spirited drives. Keep in mind, though, that this is a compact sedan. As such, the S3's front seat occupants enjoy plenty of space, but full-grown adults have limited rear legroom. Rear headroom is snug, though better than in the CLA45 AMG. The S3's 10-cubic-foot trunk suits daily driving just fine but will put the pinch on bulky items. On the plus side, its rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split to enhance versatility.
The optional navigation system comes with a larger central display screen and a revised, touch-sensitive control knob. The touchpad allows you to enter commands by simply scribbling them with your finger, and though it sounds odd, it works surprisingly well in practice. This system also includes Audi's Virtual Cockpit, an expanded, configurable instrument cluster that can display map data with brilliant clarity. Some of the other controls are less intuitive, especially if you're used to a car with traditional dash-mounted buttons. Fortunately, the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for 2017 makes smartphone integration that much easier.
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.