It's Not an A4? Driving the Visually Refreshed S3
Not all vehicle refreshes are created equal. For 2017, Audi has made mostly aesthetic changes to the S3, redoing the bodywork and updating the interior to more closely match the A4. One of my favorite updates for the new model year: the Vegas Yellow exterior color borrowed from TTS and available on the S3 at no extra cost. If that’s a bit bold for your tastes, the beautiful Ara Blue Crystal is another good option, although that color runs $1,075 USD. Regardless of which color you choose, though, the 2017 Audi S3 has been updated to better take on the competition, and I recently spent some time behind the wheel to discover how well it performs.
Like the rest of the refreshed 2017 Audi A3 family, the S3 has grown out of its baby face. It now adopts the same “undercut” headlights and hexagonal grille as the new 2017 A4. Standard LED headlights and LED taillights with sequential turn signals complete the look. Inside the cabin, the minimalist 2017 S3 benefits from a newly available Audi virtual cockpit, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that can display all sorts of data including navigation info via crisp Google Maps images. An updated infotainment system, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and finally, USB connectivity, are also now on the list of goodies. As part of a $1,450 USD package, the S sport seats with strong bolsters and diamond stitching are sumptuous and supportive without being stiff, and proved perfect for spending all day on the road driving the S3 through the suburbs of North Carolina.
Under the sheetmetal, the Audi S3 has undergone few changes. The 2.0-liter turbo inline-four engine, good for 292 hp, carries over from the previous model year as does the silky smooth six-speed dual clutch transmission. Audi estimates a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds, the same as last year’s S3, but we managed to reach 4.4 seconds in that car. On the pavement as on paper, this unit proves plenty powerful—almost too powerful for what this sedan needs—although you won’t complain when you hit the gas pedal and receive a satisfyingly guttural growl as your reward. The gritty engine sound becomes sweeter the more you accelerate, proving this is not the car for subtlety. That job goes to the standard A3.
Taking a cue from the TT and TTS, the S3 receives an updated Quattro all-wheel-drive system that allows for increased rearward torque bias and won’t reduce power in an oversteer situation, making the S3 much more pliable than before. Put the car in Dynamic mode, and you’ll see the effect of this update. Driving in Comfort mode results in a much tamer experience.
Despite any misgivings you may have about entry-level luxury cars, Audi has done well for itself in that category. The automaker sold 26,571 copies of the A3 family (including all A3 and S3 variants) in the North America this year through October, a number that’s only about 1,000 units below the larger and newly redesigned A4. The S3 escapes much of the entry-level luxury stigma of the A3, offering improved performance and more standard features. It’s also a bit more exclusive; Audi told us the S3 accounts for only 12-15 percent of total sales for the A3 family.
But in one way, the 2017 S3 reminds us of its less expensive sibling. Just like previous A3s I’ve driven, the S3 lacks confidence when faced with road imperfections, no matter the drive mode. Even the simplest potholes and patchy road surfaces can be a chore for the S3, one indicator that the car doesn’t provide the same type of cruising luxury you’d expect from other models in the Audi stable. And when I wasn’t driving, I had a very difficult time taking notes in the passenger seat of the S3 because of the rigid ride on typical roads. Steering feels a tad unsatisfying as well. The S3 is reasonably good at keeping wind noise at bay, although it’s not nearly as quiet as the A4 Allroad I drive recently.
The 2017 Audi S3 starts at $43,850 USD, but can reach $56,000 USD when loaded up. Although the price may seem a bit high due to the car’s lack of refinement in some respects, the car keeps its promise on cornering, power, and overall performance, which are much more important qualities for this car. The S3, whose closest competitor is the BMW M240i, is currently on sale now with other members of the refreshed A3 family. Next year, a 400-hp RS 3 model will arrive to challenge the 375-hp CLA45 and take its place above the S3 in the A3 lineup.