It’s been more than 20 years since Audi introduced the S3, a high-performance version of the A3. Back then, its 20-valve 1.8-liter four-banger made 207 horsepower, a number that seems quaint today. While that original S3 never made it to the United States, we did get the 292-hp S3 in 2015, a punchy and attractive sports sedan capable of hitting 60 in 4.4 seconds. We were so smitten, we wondered why anyone would spend more for the slower S4 sedan.
A new S3 has arrived in Europe, and we took the first-to-market four-door Sportback hatchback for a drive. Audi won’t be bringing the Sportback stateside, like the last generation. We’ll only get the S3 sedan, and it’ll come sometime in 2021.
The S3 has truly grown up. It weighs a bit more than before at about 3300 pounds, and power is up from the last-gen’s 292 horsepower to 306 from Audi and Volkswagen’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. As smooth here as it was in the previous S3, the engine makes 295 pound-feet of torque from 2000 to 4750 rpm and maximum power from 5450 to 6500 rpm. Power is seemingly right there whenever you hit the accelerator, and there’s a lovely snarl that comes into the cabin. The S3 builds speed with ease and confidence.
Audi claims that the sprint from zero to 62 mph takes a mere 4.8 seconds. We’re guessing that estimate will prove to be a few tenths conservative than what we’ll extract from the sedan when we test it next year. Should you want more power, a new RS3 is in the works, and its turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder will produce more than 400 horsepower.
All-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission are standard. The six-speed manual offered in the past is gone, even in Europe. The S3’s all-wheel-drive system uses a multi-plate clutch to manage the torque distribution between the front and rear axles.
On tight, curvy roads, the S3 shines. It is easy to go fast in this car. The electrically assisted power steering is crisp and on the slightly lighter side, turn-in is aggressive, and the limits of adhesion are extraordinarily high. An 18-inch wheel with 225/40R-18 tires is standard, and 235/35R-19 tires are optional. Our S3 wore the 19-inch wheel option, which offers a remarkably harmonious compromise between agility and comfort. The softness of the A3 is gone, although the Comfort setting turns even the S3 into a very comfortable long-distance cruiser.
The interior of the new S3 is spacious, with ample room both up front and in the rear. We have praised the materials and workmanship in the A3, but the S3, which will start at about $45,000 when it hits the U.S., isn’t sufficiently differentiated from the less-expensive A3. While we like details such as the frameless mirrors and the stitching on the instrument panel, the hard plastic around the air vents looks out of place. And the shifter paddles on the steering wheel feel flimsy, with too little travel and a lack of feedback.
The exterior design is sporty and attractive, but the S3 is fitted with a number of faux air vents. The Audi S3’s segment is expanding. Mercedes-AMG offers two sedans, the A35 and the CLA35. BMW rolled out the M235i Gran Coupe this year. Cadillac’s excellent CT4-V’s longitudinal engine and rear-drive layout is a standout against this class of transversely mounted all-wheel-drive machines. If the lack of an S3 hatch is holding you back, a new VW Golf R should arrive stateside in late 2021 and is expected to share the new S3’s mechanicals. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to test out the S3 sedan, but our time with the Sportback leaves few doubts that another great S3 is on its way.
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