Three generations later, the Audi S3 is still going strong, capturing the hearts of young professionals everywhere. Evolving to be better, the S3 still has performance in mind while living to expectations that Audi is known for. The S3 is only offered in a sedan and while it looks very sleek, it does have issues. What better way to explore the best and the worst than a road trip!? Let us at Supercars.net take you on a cross-border journey with our companion from Ingolstadt.
A New Generation
Under the MQB platform, the Volkswagen Group is able to create the S3 in the same underpinning as the Volkswagen Golf GTI/R to compete with the Mercedes Benz CLA, and the BMW 2 series.
The MQB, which stands for “Modular Transversal Toolkit” in English, gives the Group a singular platform to provide easy maintenance, engine/secondary parts interoperability while giving unique design cues on the exterior and interior.
Modularization also gives the Group a competitive advantage, by creating individuality on aspects that matter.
The reason why the engine is uniform is that the mounting point is the most exhausting part to develop in order to meet regulations. Beyond electrical and physical mounting points, anything is fair game.
Third Time is the Charm
The third generation of the S3, dubbed 8V, has a complex and interesting history:
S3 First Generation 8L (1996–2003)
- Introduced only in Europe and Japan
- 3-Door Hatchback configuration
- Manual or Automatic Transmission
- 1.8 Turbocharged 4 Cylinder
- 0-60mph: 6.6 s
A3 Second Generation 8P (2003–2012)
- Introduced worldwide
- 3/5-Door Hatchback configuration
- Manual or Automatic
- No S3
- Irrelevant to this conversation.
S3 Second Generation 8V (2013–Present)
- Introduced worldwide
- 4-Door Sedan (North America)
- 3/5-Door Hatchback configuration (Rest of the world)
- S-Tronic (DSG) Automatic Transmission)
- 2.0L TFSI 4-cylinder engine
- 0-60mph: 4.6 s
Since North America is tasting the S3 for the first time, we’ll focus as if the other two doesn’t exist. In this case, they got this package right. As a compact sedan, it’s reminiscent of the early Audi S4 sedans of the late 90s/early 2000s. The early B5/B6 iterations of the S4 were the right balance of power and handling, with a slight understeer. Compared to the new S4, the S3 is a pocket rocket with great design features that give it a special charm. It’s not as slick as the Mercedes Benz CLA, but once you get inside, you’ll know why that’s a disadvantage.
With a muscular stance, the side profile is very intimidating, with a great flare line at the back, and it’s a great silhouette overall. With the S series, the side mirrors are contrasted with silver and depending on the technology package, the 2015 S3 may have 18 or 19-inch alloy wheels. It’s a pretty car to look at in the sea of beige econoboxes.
On the Road Again…
For this exciting adventure, we brought the 2015 Audi S3 to a road trip from Canada to Portland, Oregon. In the land where keeping things weird is the norm, it’s the perfect location to test out the quirkiness of this delightful vehicle. A mixture of twisty roads, flat, buttery-smooth interstate highways, and early Americana-designed roads filled with random turns, tight spaces, and potholes, it’s a testament to what this machine can do.
This 2,400km round trip gave us a long time to get acquainted with the S3 and we feel that it was quite adequate on the highway. With a peppy 2.0 liter engine, the oomph was definitely there when you need it, and with the S-Tronic transmission, the quick shifts made it easy to pass slow moving traffic. The 2015 version has the 6-speed gearbox versus the newer 7-speed and you don’t really feel the need for another gear. The powerband does peak at around 5000-ish rpm and no point going to redline. It’s just buzzing noises after that. The DSG shifts add that exhaust ‘fart’ that is common with this transmission and you do feel the torque when you punch it.
Choose Your Path
The S3 has a ‘Drive Select’ mode, where you can switch between driving profiles with an option of creating your own. By selecting a mode using a button located in the central console, you can choose:
- Comfort: Turning radius isn’t as tight, the suspension is cushy, and the launch starts at second gear with earlier shifts to minimize jolt and a smooth transition
- Dynamic: Tighter turning radius, a more responsive (hint: stiffer) ride, and launches at first gear with the option to go to redline (although it will auto-shift for you if you don’t action it)
- Auto: The car predicts which profile you need
- Individual: You can manipulate steering/suspension/acceleration based on one of the three criteria above
The 2015 Audi S3 has Magnetic Ride or ‘MagneRide’ developed by Delphi and described as,
“[…] When the magnets are off, the fluid travels through the passages freely. However, when the magnets are turned on, the iron particles in the fluid create a fibrous structure through the passages in the same direction of the magnetic field. The strength of the bonds between the magnetized iron particles causes the effective viscosity of the fluid to increase resulting in a stiffer suspension. Altering the strength of the current results in an instantaneous change in force of the piston. If the sensors sense any body roll, they communicate the information to the ECU. The ECU will compensate for this by changing the strength of the current to the appropriate dampers.”
Neat stuff, eh? Well, the end result is either stiff or stiffer. You can tell the difference on the twisty mountain roads, but when you’re driving on flat Interstate roads, you can feel every bump. It’s like driving on a teenager’s acne-prone face. It’s not bone jarring but it’s not a sublime ride by any means.
The transmission responds well to the Drive Select and I kept mine on ‘Individual’ with:
- Dampening: Comfort
- Steering: Dynamic
- Transmission: Dynamic
- Engine Sound: Dynamic
A Tight Squeeze Interior
We love how it lacks a touchscreen but has a pop-up display in the middle of the dashboard. The instrument cluster was clean, unobtrusive, and ergonomically sound. The HVAC display works great. The sound/volume knob is an odd placement, as we kept turning off the blower instead of turning down the radio. When you park the car, it has a clean design and you have the option of stowing the screen away when you’re driving at night to minimize light distractions.
The sport bucket seats at the front are multi-adjustable and you’ll be able to find your comfort spot. The steering wheel is comfortable, with the ridges at 3 and 9 o’clock for a prime driving position. A lot of cars don’t have this feature and it makes a difference when you’re driving for a long time. This Audi S3 has the blind-spot monitoring package but not the active braking, lane departure warning, etc. which is nice. Yes, we understand the great advances in safety technology but it’s just nice to have minimal nannies and just have the essentials. The blind-spot monitoring is a nice touch because as small as this car this, the B and C-pillars are horrendous when you’re switching lanes. I wouldn’t depend on it but is it ever annoying to look at the pillars. They are huge.
The Audi navigation interface has vastly improved throughout generations, especially with the addition of touchpad with handwriting recognition within the control knob. It makes navigating for an address way easier. The voice recognition needs work, as the Mercedes voice navigation I found, was better at recognizing addresses, or contacts.
Not everything is rainbows and butterflies though: the sunroof shade is flimsy and rattles at times, so you have to slide it back into place. The rear seating with the sloping roofline is adequate but not if you’re 6 feet tall and over. On the plus side, the rear seating is worse on the CLA. This is how much room I have with someone sitting the same height as me (5’7″). I mean, one Kleenex box is enough knee room, plus there are built-in passages within the front seat to add more leg room. Overall, it’s not bad to sit in the back but I don’t know how my passengers dealt with that. Maybe it’s the Candy Crush.
A good interior modification that we did was adding Clear Mounts. A custom-fabricated solution, Clear Mounts is an ingenious solution that gives a smartphone a magnetic mount that fits on the Audi A3/TT air vents. You can check them out more here, and we’re just big believers of the product. It’s well-built, well-packaged, and adds more room for other items to take space.
However, the worst offender of all: the front cupholders. In our opinion, this was a complete afterthought. The cups are too close to each other and sometimes, not deep enough. We had trouble fitting two small-sized coffee cups from McDonald’s, and they basically had to overlap one other. Which means if I wanted to drink my coffee, I had to inform my passenger to lift his out first before I can retrieve mine out. Also, check out the configuration when we add water bottles into the equation. As you can see, the tall bottles get in the way of the HVAC controls, but I feel like we’re just nitpicking now.
It also gets in the way of the 12V plug, but at least there’s a tiny shelf in the back of the cupholders to fit random change or hand sanitizer.
Hours later, we did arrive in Portland. Navigating through the early streets of the Pacific Northwest requires a vehicle that’s agile, small, and easy to park since everyone in Portland loves parallel parking. In comparison to a fellow MQB vehicle, the S3 isn’t that imposing and is perfect to navigate around the city. It has more than enough power to do over-takes, while it’s short enough to park with ease. The rear-view camera and the surrounding sensors are a great touch to easily park the car in-between.
While exploring this great city, we found that it has great eateries and breweries throughout! It was a foodie’s place to explore and we are so fortunate we had a great car to navigate along with. As we drove through narrow streets, many roundabouts and random one-way, a longer car like an S4 or a Mercedes-Benz C-Class might be a little bit of a struggle but not by much. Having the length of the S3 made things way easier though. An oddity in Portland though is that it’s illegal to fill up your own gas tank! How bizarre is that? Our first instance of this event involved a Q&A session with the gas attendant, to which came up with no conclusion. No one could really tell me why this law exists, but it just does.
We first stopped by Oven and Shaker to grab some delicious pizzas late night and enjoy our first night in Portland. The 50-liter tank in the S3 made long-distance travel a cinch, but with the premium octane requirement, the savings were diminished but not by much compared to a V8 engine. As we continued to explore downtown Portland, the sports suspension does show their true color, bouncing around bridges, ruts, and train tracks. It becomes annoying as the days go on, but that’s completely based on your tolerance level.
The next day we stopped by Pioneer Square and visited Nike’s flagship store. Inside was a multi-level nirvana for any sneakerhead and had the NikeID section where you can customize your own shoes. I mean, I couldn’t walk away without getting a pair of my favorite brand so it had to be done. I’ll leave you guessing as to what it is, but it wasn’t an Air Max 270 since they didn’t have my size.
Next, we stopped by a new Vietnamese fusion restaurant called Hem 23, which gave us a unique take on Vietnamese noodle soup called phở. A spicy beef noodle version with mixed greens was a delight there. Parking as always is tough but relatively easy for the S3. The spicy beef broth was as impeccable as the leather seats and the soft-touch dashboard but unfortunately, not as delicious as the soup itself. Then for dinner, we stopped by the legendary Pok Pok, which was just a single Portland restaurant way back when that turned into a food empire. Providing traditional Thai cuisine to Portland, it was an eclectic atmosphere that was out-of-character for the proper, refined Audi. However, we did enjoy some great eats that will definitely fuel up for the ride home.
You’re probably wondering why only these places? Because we literally drove for the weekend to enjoy the sights and sounds. That might sound odd to some, but as a car fanatic, you’d understand. You’ve had random nights where you just drove, drove… And drove. There were days where you just took your favorite car out to go on a ride to the mountains, or just to be one with your prized possession. This is what we did and we had a goal of enjoying every minute of it!
All Good Things Must Come to an End
So while we ate, we did do some outlet mall shopping and this is where the S3’s other disadvantage comes into play: trunk space (or the lack of it). Because it’s a compact sedan, it doesn’t leave much room to the imagination on what it can fit in the back. We filled our suitcases to the brim with goodies, and with our soiled clothes from the vacation, trunk space was tricky. Here is what we had to fill in at 5 AM on the way home:
- Two computer bags
- Four hardshell carry-on bags
- Multiple plastic bags of soiled clothes
- First Aid Kit and Emergency Tire Inflation Kit
- A small messenger bag
Through some joint manipulation and many hours of Tetris training, we got everything to fit. The thing that makes the S3 gorgeous is also the most fatal flaw: the wide arches in the back, the small stature with a sharp tail sacrifices trunk space. Compared to an S4, what we carried could have been swallowed up easily. In the S3, we struggled and that is the sacrifice you have to make when you travel with the S3. The peppiness, the good looks, and the efficiency comes at a price.
The Definitive S3 Conclusion
- Great on gas
- Gorgeous looks
- Usable power band
- Compact and easy to park
- Well equipped for the age
- Pop-up screen is a joy
- Terrible design on value-added features (cup holders)
- B/C-Pillars are huge and unsightly when shoulder checking
- Trunk space leaves little to be desired for
- Carriage-like ride
- Below-average rear seat space