At first the 2017 Audi S3 might just seem like an overpriced Volkswagen Golf R, and it kind of is. But that’s the wrong way to think of it. It’s better viewed as the experience of Audi’s larger, sportier models, distilled into a smaller, more affordable, more modest sedan. It’s a sprightly, luxurious compact car for your sprightly, luxurious, compact life.
(Full Disclosure: Audi wanted us to drive the refreshed 2017 Audi S3 so badly they invited Jason, who couldn’t go because it was his son’s birthday. I skipped three days of classes and went instead. They flew me from Charlotte, North Carolina to Durham, North Carolina, which is a two hour drive or a 40 minute flight that, in hindsight, really isn’t worth the trouble of going through airport security.)
So here’s the weird thing about the S3 launch program. Audi decided to launch the S3 in Durham, North Carolina to help announce its partnership with American Underground to test out an early Audi shared-fleet program. American Underground is a technology incubator working out of the remnant’s of Durham’s old American Tobacco Company complex, housing over 200 companies.
Audi will use its 700 employees as early testers of a car-sharing app that it will be rolling out nationwide next year. North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park is trying to become another Silicon Valley, one designed to attract young college graduates with a lot of techie jobs. Or basically, the image Audi wants for its S3.
What’s weird about that is that we’re driving the Audi S3, but the car-sharing program will be getting A4s. Odd, because the Audi S3 is perfect for the 20 or 30-something techies that only buy things that are expensive, smart and stylish, which is exactly what the S3 is. Sure, that used to be the S4, but now it’s the S3.
What’s even weirder is that among the old industry architecture of Durham, the Red Star fighter jet we passed by on our journey and the barista-training cafe we stopped at which was housed in the bottom of a ten-story concrete brutalist-looking half-destroyed factory tower, it felt more like a journey through the parts of Russia you’re not supposed to hear about.
This is all mostly because Durham has a huge burgeoning foodie, yuppie, hippie and hipster scene, with breweries, cafes, bespoke denim shops, and whatever else you can convince someone to spend a 50 percent premium on because it’s functional but tastes/looks/feels 50 percent more worth it.
Which brings me to the Audi S3. It’s a modest update for 2017, but you can now get it with Audi’s impressive Virtual Cockpit which replaces the instrument cluster with a completely customizable screen. Audi also updated the Quattro all-wheel-drive system to be a little more playful in Dynamic mode. Beyond that, most of the changes are in the bodywork. That’s not a bad thing. The S3 is a great car and Audi didn’t need to mess with it much.