Audi used to make a small sedan. That small sedan was called the A4. Yes, Audi still makes the A4, but it has now ballooned in size. Even though the 2015 S3 sedan is basically the same size as that original A4, it has grown up in every conceivable way. Especially under the hood.
(Full Disclosure: Audi wanted me to drive the 2015 S3 so bad that they flew me to fucking Monaco. I failed to find a member of royalty to marry while I was there, which means I'll never be returning.)
Audi has brought the A3 to the USA in the past, but it only came in hatchback form, which is a body style akin to a nut allergy for many Americans. And that's how it sold. While the rest of the world loves the small diesel, hatchback A3, people here seem to see it as a glorified Golf with four rings on the nose.
So they've gone drastic for 2015. It's no secret that the A3 sedan was designed for the American market. It's a product that Audi of America says they've been begging Ingolstadt to build for the last seven years. And after seven years, they've finally bribed the right people.
And they really bribed them, because the sedan barely shares any bodywork with the A3 hatch. The rounded hatch is replaced with a short rear deck, integrated spoiler, and angular lights. Character lines pull the sheet metal tight across the body. It's one hell of an attractive small sedan. If you choose your cars based solely on looks, I don't see how the Mercedes CLA could even be a choice. Unless you like cars that look like plastic after a stint in the oven.
On the S3, you get a new grille, 19-inch wheels, and a few other mods to make it appear more aggressive. Audi made a big deal in the presentation to us about the spoiler being integrated into the trunk lid and how it doesn't look tacked on. But the S3 has a little lip spoiler on top of the integrated one. Isn't that the definition of tacked on?
Other than the USA, the A3 sedan is a play to gain even more marketshare in China, where Audis are the Toyota of the upper crust. Add another, cheaper option, and even more people in China will be rolling around in black Audis.
Inside, Audi continues being a modern interior DaVinci. The S3 has a great flat bottomed wheel, a thin, pop-up seven inch screen for the MMI and nav, large air vents that are artistic and look a little like boobies, easy to read gauges, and great seats. There is less room in here than an A6 or A7, so instead of a controller and a separate touchpad, the MMI controller itself has a touchpad on top. I didn't try it, but heard that it has some difficulty recognizing certain letters from fellow journalists.
They have time to straighten it all out before the car goes on sale next fall.
Then we come to the engine. And what an engine. The S3 has the new 2.0 liter turbo four that will also be in the Golf R. Audi hasn't officially stated power output, but said it'll be close to 290. In the Golf R, the car makes 296 horsepower, and some Audi engineers that I tricked into divulging secrets during lunch told me power should be the same in the S3.
So yeah, 296 it is.
This is one of the best in the new generation of turbo engines, methinks. No, it isn't the maniacal powerhouse that's in the CLA45, but it's smooth and tractable, aka the opposite of me talking to an attractive woman. We'll have to wait for an RS3 (which I assume will be a thing) to really take on the CLA45 in the massive testicles department.
Not that the S3 doesn't have meaty balls of its own. On a run up through the mountains of southern France running through the gears elicited crazed laughter from everyone in the car as it pulled to redline. It's a four cylinder freight train. The little Audi only lacked for power when revs fell below 2,500 around some tight hairpin bends. That necessitated a pull of the paddle to get it into first, which then spools up the snails under the hood and shoots it out of the corner.
And yes, a pull of the paddle. As of right now, the S3 will only be offered in America with an S-Tronic double clutch gearbox. All of you are collectively placing a voodoo curse on Audi for a lack of a three pedal setup, but don't be too mad. Europe will be getting a manual S3 sedan, but I'm not sure I'd pick it. After driving the manual car, I found throws on the gearbox a little long for my taste. Also, the brake pedal and throttle are not placed well for heel toe downshifts.
Still, Audi said the manual might happen in America if there's enough demand, but don't hold your breath for it. They need to make money on this car (novel idea, right?), and bringing in a car that won't really sell doesn't make business sense.
So looks? Great. Interior? Excellent. Powertrain? Out-of-sight. But what about how it handles?
Small Audis have always had an issue of an engine mounted about 35 feet in front of the wheels, which meant they understeered like no other. They also had poor ride quality and steering more numb than a Jello mold.
Here, the lump is still up there, but it isn't an anvil hanging over the wheels. The front still washes out when you pile it into a corner, but the Haldex diff transfers power to the rear pretty quickly and gets it rotating. It just doesn't like to get loose; This is not an easy car to upset.
The new S3 also has electric steering and magnetic ride. Magnetic ride transforms the S3. It's rock hard when you want and smooth as glass the rest of the time. The special sauce is to put the suspension in auto mode and leave the rest of the car in dynamic. It's the best of all worlds.
Steering is still a little artificial. Like in the S6, it's as if someone said "dynamic steering is heavy steering," so they made it heavy without a correlation to the road. That's not to say there's no feel and it isn't fairly direct, it's just a bit too electric for my taste and not communicative enough. Maybe an RS version can solve that.
Instead of being the highest powered, hardest core, M and AMG fighting cars, Audi's S models are now the upgraded engine and a slightly more aggressive body. The S3 isn't a direct CLA45 competitor. It slots somewhere between the CLA250 and its big balled brother, which means there's room for something more powerful, aggressive, and expensive in the A3 lineup.
When the A3 sedan makes it here late next year, it'll have a base price of $29,900 for the 1.8 FWD version. In a perfect world, the S3 will start for less than $40,000. A $39,900 price tag would be really sweet for the best looking small performance sedan out of Germany.
If it's near $50,000, you could just get a faster, manic car that looks like it's melting. But I have faith that Audi won't make that mistake.
Photo Credits: Audi