First Drive Review: 2015 Audi S3 Sedan

 

“Snap” drives the all-new 2015 Audi S3 much to our jealousy. Is it a worthy car to take on the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG? Is it better than the upcoming Volkswagen Golf R? Hmm…

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I drove the A3 four-door notchback sports sedan (This is my review and I have chosen to refer to the car in this way, so back off.) a few months ago in rural Hungary. It left me hungering for more. (Get it? Get it??) Now, I get the S3 sedotchback in far more fun southern France.

This trip to go drive one of my personally most anticipated new models of the year, the all-new Audi S3 quattro sedan, was particular indeed. Flight itineraries between my place in Milano and the Côte d’Azur in SoFrance basically suck and so a car can be faster. Audi suggested they send a long-wheelbase A8 4.2-liter TDI limo to fetch me and whisk me along the sun-soaked Ligurian coast to their event. Well…okay. This was a perfect start to a brilliant day of driving on some of Earth’s greatest roads.

It was all dramatic, too, since the hardcore strange warm alpine winds were howling down off the mountains to the sea and it made the sky and low seasonal sun about twice as bright and vivid as they would normally be in autumn. Scene set, I gunned it, Serengeti sunglasses on.

This long-awaited 296-horsepower four-door S3 – the first S3 ever to come officially to North America – is less powerful than a Mercedes CLA45 AMG but, in MY opinion better looking by a healthy bit. The BMW M2 may be a stunning thing in future, but then will come the Audi RS3 sedan…and so on and so forth in that German brother-battling-brother way. I enjoyed the A3 on boring Hungarian roads, but it just made me starve for this very day in France.

The S3, for starters, sits nearly a full inch lower to the ground than its steroid-free sibling and all the day’s test cars were, as you should expect, completely optioned out like Santa’s big sack of gifts. The full S-line treatment is aesthetically aboard, of course, and I had optional 19-inch summer rubber on all four corners – Continental ContiSportContact 235/35 R19 91Y. The Audi Magnetic Ride adaptive damper set was slapped on as well and inside they sat me down into the manually adjusted optional Sport seats with all that proper lateral support. Can I go now?

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The initial part around the densely populated and diamond-studded principality of Monaco showed me not so much really and I was actually starting to have disappointment creep in. Then finally, at around 1,000 feet above sea level on one of the cliff-hugging two-lanes rising up onto the higher plateau, I switched the Audi Drive Select on-board interface to Dynamic mode, found a few longer tunnels carved through mountains, and forced the party noise from the four exhaust tips that flow from the 2.0-liter TFSI transverse four-cylinder. The sound is really good, made even better by not being too much tuner-boy.

What makes the S3’s version of the omnipresent 2.0-liter TFSI such a good unit is down to a few new parts: it starts down at the heat-treated and lighter crankcase, strengthened crank bearings and connecting rods. From there, we get new pistons, camshafts, exhaust valves, valve seats and springs. It is all topped off with the spanking new cylinder head. Once all of this lower friction mix of better parts is in motion, throttle play is augmented by the larger volume turbocharger and correspondingly larger intercooler. The 280 pound-feet of ready torque is spitting out between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm of the 6,500 total possible revs, then the 296 horses max out between 5,500 and 6,200 revs. This is a fairly winning combination on an all-wheel-drive sport sedan weighing in at 3,152 pounds. No, the S3 is not a super-light, but then it’d be purpose-defeating if it were. The car already leaps to 60 mph from a stop in just 4.8 seconds, too. We’ll be seeing this exact same powertrain on this exact same chassis, but without a trunk, when the new Volkswagen Golf R pounces in next year.

These roads are car-test heaven in southern France and the weather and temperature were heavenly as well. The ContiSportContacts did an impeccable job with all and any input from the “faux” clutch-based Quattro all-wheel traction. Not only did the Quattro-ish system feel more responsive than I ever remember previously, but the electronically actuated variable steering was really steady with terrific point-and-shoot in its blood. Having that nice S-quality level of power and torque so available for so long in the meat of the rev range is the overall reason for the drive being so damned fine.

I drove a Misano red S3 with the six-speed manual shifter and it is a worthy setup, though I have always disliked the actual pedal placement that essentially discourages slick heel-and-toeing. The feel of the embossed metal shift lever is ideal for me on the manual, as well. But…I would take the six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch. The sheer variety of drive and shift modes gained with the S-tronic and shift paddles (or via the sequential lever on the console) is too sweet to deny. Plus, S-tronic is more fuel-efficient and provides rev-meeting up and down shifts. It has gotten to a point where I doubt the next generation of smaller Audis will have any manual shifters available even in Europe. But North America doesn’t get the manual tranny anyway, so move to Europe.

The A3 four-door arrives by June of 2014 in the United States and this S3 is due in around September. Current projections place the base price on this exceptional S3 (also now with between 13.8 and 24.0 cubic feet of trunk space) at roughly $40,000. Okay, so, it had better be really good at that price. And it is.

VITAL STATS

2015 Audi S3 sedan

Engine: 2.0L i4 turbo

Power:  296 HP / 280 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed S-tronic auto

0-60 mph Time: 4.8 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 130 mph

Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,152 LBS (est.)

Seating: 2+3

Cargo:  13.8-24.0 cu ft

MPG:  24 City, 36 Hwy (est.)

Base Price: $40,000 (Est.)

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