EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I like this 2015 Audi S3 a bunch. It’s terrific to look at; I appreciate the MQB’s stiffness, have always liked the VW Group 2.0-liter turbo four (that horsepower number just keeps going up and up, and if there’s turbo lag here, I didn’t feel it) and dig the confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive. This is actually a couple cars in one: A soft(ish) sedate cruiser when you want that, then you switch to dynamic mode and the steering, suspension, engine/gearbox mapping and god knows what else all stiffen and the car gets faster and more responsive and frankly becomes quite the little hooligan. A well-controlled one, though.
The kids in the office will call me old, but I like Audi’s dual-clutch. It’s quick as ever and fun to snap up and down with the paddles.
Interior build quality is typically Audi good, and the layouts and controls are simple and intuitive. The flat-bottom steering wheel is one of the interior’s best features. This car feels perfect.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: The 2015 Audi S3 we have is about the size of an old A4, weighs 3,450 pounds and costs just under $50K. It’s got a dual-clutch transmission and almost 300 hp. The good news for Audi is that it’s built on the wonderful MBQ platform that makes the Golf such a joy, it’s not bad to look at, and somehow $50K isn’t too much for some people to pay for a “small” car anymore.
However, of the MBQ platforms I’ve driven, the S3 is probably the least engaging in day-to-day use. Pushing it is rewarding, and I bet it’s great fun at the track. But on the street, the transmission keeps the engine from ever really waking up. Mash the gas at low-speed and it lags like an old torque converter unit. It feels and sounds like the clutch is slow to engage. In sport mode, it gets a little snappier, but it never feels like the trans is meant to be working with this engine. With the six-speed manual equipped Volkswagen Golf GTI, you get this wonderful surging power feeling. It’s the same thing (for the most part) with the big Audi S7. Here, the engine seems either disconnected in comfort mode or trapped in sport mode.
Interior wise, the S3 is nice to look at, though, the material choices are more “nice VW” than “cheap Audi.” All automakers are somewhat constrained in that regard when they do little, entry-level luxury cars. Somewhere in Europe, there’s a guy pushing a tiny, three-speed manual transmission-ed version of this car with a .01-liter diesel engine. Most of the interior stuff in his car will have to work in the $50,000 U.S. version in our fleet. The S3 does have a nice steering wheel, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same one you get in the GTI.
Overall, my advice would be to drive a Golf GTI. If for some reason, you believe that you need all-wheel drive, wait a minute for the Golf R.
The engine under the 2015 Audi S3 is motivated by a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under the hood coupled with a six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual.
Options: Audi MMI navigation plus package including CD/DVD player, HD radio, MMI navigation plus with voice control, Audi MMI touch, color driver information display, six-month Audi connect with online services ($2,600); 19-inch performance package including 5-double spoke star-design wheels, anthracite polished, summer tires ($1,500); driver assistance package including parking system plus, rearview camera, Audi side assist ($1,400); Misano red pearl effect exterior paint ($550)
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