It’s very rare that I become so enamored with cars I test drive that I’m suddenly rifling through my bank accounts to see if I can afford a new car.
Engine: 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder
Output: 292 hp, 280 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 21 city, 38 hwy, 24 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.3 city, 6,9 hwy, 8.2 combined
US Price: Starts at $42,900, $51,850 as tested
CAN Price: Starts at $52,795, $58,595 as tested
(all prices include destination fees)
The 2018 Audi S3 is exactly that type of car. This Audi is everything I personally want in a car and it is a very rare example of a vehicle that has so few faults that I might put my money where my mouth is and buy one, and it helps that it’s not exorbitantly priced. I want this exact car in my garage.
The Drive is Alive
The S3 is powered by VW Group’s heroic 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. In this little sedan, the engine outputs a healthy 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, which helps it rocket from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds (zero to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds). For the record, that’s quicker than one of my other favorite cars, the supercharged V6 Jaguar F-Type, which does the trick in 5.1 seconds (zero to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds).
Torque is seemingly available instantaneously, coming on strong anywhere from 1,900 rpm to 5,300 rpm. This is a triumphant engine and for such a little motor to be so powerful and yet so smooth and sophisticated is something to be celebrated. The four-cylinder never displayed any harshness or vibration and provides a delightfully snappy turn of speed.
Power gets to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic, which fires off quick and well-timed shifts. It does display some hesitation in a full throttle situation and can shift harshly from time to time, but it’s not a dealbreaker, as it works pretty much as expected. Steering is accurate and well-weighted if even a bit on the light side (unless in Dynamic mode) and not terribly communicative, but if you fling the S3 into a corner, it just grips, stays flat, and holds your line so well that it encourages you to keep pushing it. The suspension is stiff even in the most comfortable setting and the wheels are big, so it can be a bit harsh driving over broken pavement and train tracks, but the payoff in how it handles a corner is more than worth it.
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What I love most about the S3 is how easy and accessible it is to drive – this isn’t some mega-horsepower unwieldy monster that feels like it’s going to kill you at any moment. You don’t have to be an expert driver to get the most of this car and even if you’re not tracking it on the weekends, the balanced handling and quick turn of speed are entirely rewarding.
I also love how this Audi has a highly customizable Individual driving mode, along with presets for Eco, Comfort, Auto, or Dynamic driving. The modes tweak engine mapping, transmission responsiveness, steering feel, suspension stiffness, exhaust sound, and the differential so that drivers always have a mode to suit their mood. This car is great because it’s not always on and you can drive it as calmly or as aggressively as you like and it’s equally rewarding no matter how you drive it.
I’ve come to expect Audi cars to be exceptional: Well built, solid performers, and very quick. They aren’t, however, typically very fun or personality-driven cars, as they take a more serious approach to performance. This car is quite different in that it actually has a personality, especially when painted in such a fun, loud color like yellow. I came to love how the little car snarled and how the exhaust is loud enough to make you smile, but not childish enough to make you embarrassed.
Interior and Tech
Being an Audi, the interior is able to meet the high standards the German brand has set for itself. The company’s excellent digital dash has trickled down to this little sedan and combined with the retractable screen on the center stack, makes for a pretty user-friendly setup. Not only is the Virtual Cockpit bright, customizable, and easy to use, but it’s also really impressive to passengers lucky enough to ride with you.
The flat-bottom steering wheel is tidy, small, and feels good in your hands. The steering wheel buttons are also easy to use but are also not distracting. Not having a touchscreen always takes some getting used to, but the rotary-knob and button-controlled system becomes second nature quickly. The top of the knob also acts as a touchpad so you can draw in information with your finger, but the voice recognition works really well and was able to understand my every command.
The center stack is mercifully clean and free of too much clutter, controls are easy to find and use, and the little details sprinkled through the cabin constantly remind you that you’re in a premium product. Nothing feels cheap in this Audi and it appears that no corners have been cut.
The best safety and driver assistants are also available, with blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability all working smoothly and confidently without being too intrusive.
The S3’s most obvious competitor is the BMW M240i xDrive, although that other German is only available as a coupe. On paper, the BMW has a few obvious advantages — it’s powered by a turbo 3.0L six-cylinder engine that has a higher output (335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque), has two more gears than the S3 for a total of eight, and costs a few thousand dollars less. As a result, it does the zero-to-60 mph trick in 4.2 seconds, a hair faster than the S3’s 4.7-second time. Fuel economy is pretty much a wash and they both require premium gas.
I’ll need to drive the two back-to-back to see which one is more engaging and better to drive, but for me, I would need the practicality of having four doors (my parents are just getting too old to comfortably get in and out of coupes and my very tall boyfriend might appreciate the extra doors to make child seat installation easier). I also prefer Audi’s infotainment setup over the BMW’s, and that bright, clear and configurable digital dashboard is also a big bonus.
The Verdict: 2018 Audi S3 Review
The 2018 Audi S3 is the perfect car for me (except for the fact that it doesn’t come with a manual transmission, but my boyfriend can’t drive stick and the auto is pretty great anyway). With the right mix of luxury, performance, practicality, and downright fun factor, the price Audi is asking for this sporty little sedan seems like a bargain. So many people told me that this car suits me, and I not only was I flattered by the compliment, but I’m also convinced that I need it in my life. And there’s no better endorsement for a car than that. Audi, take my money.
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