Launched in North America nine years ago, the A3 successfully completed its mission of attracting new customers to Audi showrooms. However, it was only available as a hatchback, and we all know how much drivers in the U.S. prefer sedans.
For this new generation, the company therefore decided to offer the compact A3 in 4-door configuration. The Sportback isn't totally gone, mind you, as Audi will sell a very limited number of A3 e-tron models on our shores. More interesting perhaps -- at least to Audi driving enthusiasts -- is the all-new S3 variant that comes to North America after years of being left out.
Subtlety is the theme
Those in the know will immediately recognize the treatment given to Audi's S models: a squatter stance, larger front air intakes, a brushed aluminum grille, oversized wheels, and oval-shaped twin tailpipes. The S3 has all the styling ingredients to belong in this family of sporty Audis. At the same time, though, designers kept a subtle approach, so if you're looking for a bold, in-your-face performance car that will turn heads, you should probably look elsewhere.
Spicing things up inside
Likewise, the interior of the 2015 Audi S3 is not fancy or super-complex. Everything is clean, functional, and designed to help sporty drivers focus on the road. The flat-bottom steering wheel, bolstered seats, “S” badges throughout, and boost gauge (discreetly integrated at the base of the tachometer) confirm that we're dealing with a special version of the A3.
Similar to every other model in the lineup, the Audi S3 boasts impeccable fit and finish, as well as quality materials. On the other hand, while front-seat access poses no problem, the same can't be said in the rear as the low roofline forces occupants to watch their head when they get on board. Trunk space is fairly limited, too, with loading height being the main drawback.
Wonderful 2.0 TFSI
While S variants of the larger A4/A5 benefit from two extra cylinders, the 2015 Audi S3 relies on the same engine as the TTS coupe, which happens to be a 2.0L TFSI unit with extensive tweaks. Output is rated at 292 horsepower (versus 220 hp in the base A3), and all 280 lb-ft of torque are accessible at just 1,900 rpm.
Naturally, this muscular little sedan hugs the road with the legendary quattro all-wheel drive system, while a 6-speed, dual-clutch transmission is the only way for drivers to control power. That's right: Despite being more affordable than other performance models in the lineup, the S3 doesn't offer any other gearbox.
A joy to drive any day of the week
Purists might cringe at the absence of a manual option, but the fact of the matter is that the 2015 Audi S3 is pure bliss on the open road, as well as through the urban jungle. I must admit that I fully took advantage of the snowy conditions during my test week to spend a fair amount of time going sideways.
With slippery surfaces, a good set of winter tires, and ESP turned off, the S3 turned into a street-legal rally car. On the flip side, the stiffer suspension produced a slightly uncomfortable ride at times (blame Quebec's poorly maintained road network, not the car).
Beyond this small irritant, the 2015 Audi S3 delivers strong acceleration and sounds pretty much like the new TTS coupe that will hit the market this fall. Braking is highly effective, too, and the steering feels precise and pleasantly heavy.
A good deal?
Starting at $45,400 (my tester raised the tally to $52,750), the S3 competes with a number of cheaper rivals from more mainstream makes. As far as direct competition goes, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG is essentially the only alternative; it costs $50,600 without any options.
At the moment, the 2015 Audi S3 stands as a more spacious and practical solution than the TTS, yet it remains almost as sporty.