This big question you have for yourself when spending near $50k for a compact exec car is: does the performance upgrade make up for its lack of scale?
For the same money as the revised 2017 S3, you can find yourself in a (small-engined) fullsize luxury car like Genesis G80 or even Audi's own A6.
While that is a rational thoughtline for your brain, it all goes out the window in real life. The money spent upgrading an A3 to this S3 quattro sedan with S-tronic all goes directly to your cheeks. To help you smile bigger, and laugh harder!
S3 makes every drive a thrill with its chuckable handling, never-ending torque and incredible steering life. It's true: this S3 in Dynamic mode becomes another car altogether.
How? Much clever tech and fine-tuning - discussed in detail via headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Price.
This high-def drive video embedded below is quite something. Slingshot launches and heady redline blasts. Click play to begin.
HD Performance Drive Video
EXTERIOR - Design Analysis
The A3/S3 line is fresh for the 2017 model-year with new LEDs and fresh nose/tail designs. The nose becomes very S8-inspired with its singleframe grille in several silvery and grey accents. Wrapped in slim dark chrome is a new shape for the trademark Audi face, too.
Spotters can find it easiest as the new model thanks to the headlamps. These are actually chopped now with the inner edge still part of the painted bumper. Within those slimline headlamps are new LED daytime running lights. These form a pinched trapezoid as they reach the hood/fender corner. Squared-off projectors for the full-LED low and highbeams look cool and new on the road versus round balls. Detail thing, sure, but important. The foglamps are also LED-powered and live in the lower outside corner of the lamps.
The amber for turn signal duties is the whole top section of white LED DRL. Elegant and hightech on the road for sure.
All this lighting is very class-leading versus many BMW and Mercedes rivals -- which often lack even xenons without many options. Audi standard.
Below the fresh grille? This is where the S3 really adds some visual heat. You know it's a fast car with all these functional air intakes! Lining the bottom of the grille is a smile of intake clats, with yet more in the wide side scoops. These feed the intercoolers as well as the brakes. A VERY cool look from up front.
LED Demo Video
Much less freshness in profile for the S3. Our tester upgrades the stnadard 18-inch wheels for 19's with summer tires (and magnetic ride control!) as part of the Dynamic package. The five-spoke blocky star design is new and definitely looks Audi-cool.
But still this somewhat stubby glasshouse, still lined in chrome. We'd like to be a bit less obvious about what S-car this is, but definitely an Audi trademark look.
Not to take away from the big sill extension versus any other A3. The S3 has a wide-track stance with strong shoulders visible from all sides.
Not much new action back here aside from new-shape and new-LED tail lights. The new look has double upward pointing arrows lining the trunk.
The lower diffuser is contrast-grey and silver -- like a spotlight on the S3's pride and joy: its quad exhaust pipes.
Just seeing this makes me want to put a ski-rack on top and head for the mountains! So cool to be a part of the fast-Audi club.
As far as mid-cycle model updates go, the S3's is a solid thumbs-up for making existing metal feel brand new in traffic.
Moving inside the S3 now, and you'll be glad there are S Sport seats with Nappa leather as a $950 option on our tester. You'll need the seats because your knees might go weak.
It is like stepping into the future when you sit down and press the Audi's engine start button. The dashboard is so low! The gauges are all not just TFT screens... but laser-sharp with graphics like a hologram. The central display motors up from its hiding place and sets a 2025 tone right off the bat.
Your hands feel a steering-wheel that seems like a baby's cheek versus most car "leather." It is perforated and wide-stitched around the flat-bottom rim in a way you can't help but love. So high-quality.
The $3-grand Tech package really changes the game for the while car business. Why?
It's called Audi Virtual Cockpit and you may have heard of the idea. The whole gauge area can show the MMI Navigation's Google Earth SAT VIEW images. With 3D buildings, street-view level detail when needed, and detail that makes Every. Single. Other. Navigation. Obsolete.
You also have some traditional gauges with nav tucked to the side, or full performance setup with central tachometer. This frees the central screen to handle entertainment. So seamlessly integrated -- we can't say enough good things about Audi MMI lately.
CarPlay is standard as well as Android Auto -- and in general the car is just supremely adjustable. Five parameters for your performance settings is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet S3 is also pretty easy to figure out. Separate HVAC controls outside the screen and knob interface help here. The dash stays looking almost clutter-free and so, so premium and chic. Plus well-made and far more plush than any 3 series.
The S3 whips to 60-mph in a boosty burble: just 4.9 seconds is our conservative estimate of its pace. That barely does it justice though. 292HP and 280 pound-feet of torque really feel MUCH stronger in the car, which surges delightfully forward up its gears like this is its favorite thing ever.
In Dynamic mode with all its sport modes selected, the S3 is ravenous. It literally eats corners and loves first-to-sixth runs at full throttle. So eager to please.
The S-tronic DSG acts a bit more like PDK with Audi's tuning versus the Golf R, but that might be psychosomatic.
Real upgrades make the S3 much more than a Golf R, by the way. Stiffer chassis is the first piece of puzzle. More even weight distribution is the second building block. And the Dynamic pack's magnetic shocks take the top VW's DCC drive modes to next level.
In full Dynamic, S3 pivots, grips and pulls out of corners like you would not believe!
LOVE this car all the time, though, not just twisty roads.
S3 is meaty and direct in traffic. Unflappable straight-line stability and actually great steering feel on the highway are new for Audi. The fact that S3 passes and downshifts like a black fast-lane blurrr? Never gets old.
Finally, the adjustable engine note is a nice detail. On or off, this motor is a rockstar full of torque and character. Two big thumbs up.
The S3 sedan 2.0T quattro S tronic, to give this car its full name, stickers from just under $44k with delivery. From there, our Mythos Black over black test car adds $575 for the enchanting paintwork.
Three grand for the MMI Nav and Virtual COckpit also brings blind-spot monitors and Audi Connect trial.
The $1500 Dyanamic Pack is critical to make the S3 dance like a dream in corners, yet also ride smoother on highway. New wheels/tires, as discussed, and magneto-rheological suspension. Incredibly good.
$1450 for the S Sport seat pack has depth adjustment via the seatbase squab extender and huge support for your shoulders/upper body.
Lastly, a thumping Bang & Olufsen stereo adds $950. Good value for Bang audio, actually.
All in, the tester costs $51,325.
S3 might be the junior S model in the Audi quattro sports range. But it's nobody's wimp. Far from it.
This is a car that proves the value of $15k in extra performance, style and tech above the standard A3.
The result is a car that changed this author's entire opinion of Audi performance cars. Screw ski fantasies -- this S3 will drift sideways on a sunny day! Snappy steering and engaging powertrain, indeed.
The fresh styling the industry-leading exterior LEDs? A bonus. How about industry-leading cabin luxury and Tech with a capital T?
This S3 makes a hell of a strong case for itself. Take one for a spin and you'll see why S3 is perfect middle ground between a musclecar and luxury limo.
An A-plus machine. 2017 S3.