First drive: 2015 Audi S3

MONACO — The new Audi S3 is best described as being the A3’s evil twin. Everything that makes the A3 such a delightful drive has been amped up to the max. This touches all of the senses, including sound — the S3 has a very naughty exhaust note that actively urged this driver to drop a cog or two and enjoy the bassy cacophony whenever the twisty drive route straightened.

As with the Cabrio, the S3’s body has grown ever so slightly. Where it differs is the ground-effects kit, aluminum-capped mirrors and the quad tail pipers that protrude from the rear valance. It all comes together to suggest fast without being over the top.

Read our first drive of the 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet

The biggest change to the S3 is its motivation. In this case, it earns a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four that puts forth 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet at 1,800 rpm. The fact the intercooled air is blown into the direct-injected engine at 17.6 psi certainly helps the output and speed with which the S3 piles it on. The power is, to state the obvious, plentiful, especially in a car that tips the scales at a svelte 1,430 kilograms.

It's handsome, it's refined, and it's really fast. The 2015 Audi S3 provides a dynamic, fun drive that's also fit for the family.

It’s handsome, it’s refined, and it’s really fast. The 2015 Audi S3 provides a dynamic, fun drive that’s also fit for the family.
PHOTO: Handout,

The tester arrived with a six-speed manual, although when the car lands in Canada towards the end of 2014, as a 2015 model, it will only be offered with a six-speed S tronic transmission (twin-clutch) that includes a launch control function for maximum takeoffs.

That aside, the manual gearbox was wonderful (please bring it Audi!) — the clutch bites in the perfect spot and the shifter can be rowed at the speeds required to keep up with the engine. As a result, the run to 100 kilometres an hour, according to Audi, takes but 4.9 seconds, which is pretty darn quick. More impressive is the 80 to 120 km/h time as well as the engine’s flexibility. The passing move, according to my hand-held stopwatch, came in at 4.2 seconds. The engine’s flexibility showed up in third gear — it ran from 30 km/h to 140 km/h without missing a beat, and the pull at the low-end was very impressive.

The S3’s handling is equally as impressive as its engine. To give it the right base, the ride height has been dropped by 25-millimetres when compared to the regular A3. This not only hunkers down the look, it does some very nice things for the handling. The optional magnetic ride control suspension dials out any body roll and it provides a surprisingly compliant ride — it can also be altered according to the tone of the drive.

Then there’s the steering. It is firm to the feel and razor sharp to turn into a corner. The S3 does understeer at the limit, but the electronic system acts very quickly to rein in the push and set the car pointing in the intended direction.

The S3 comes equipped with the sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel.

The S3 comes equipped with the sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel.
PHOTO: Handout,

A big part of the dynamic stability comes from the quattro all-wheel-drive system. As with the Cabriolet, the system sends the bulk of the drive (56%) to the front wheels. When the optional P235/35R19 tires started to break loose the power switch to the wheels and the even 50/50 split was incredibly fast.

The S3 tester also arrived with Audi’s drive select. It allows the driver to choose between efficiency, comfort, auto, dynamic and individual modes. The latter lets the driver tweak the individual facets — engine, suspension, steering, exhaust tone and the manner in which the cruise functions. The best setting, at least when out for a hard and fast charge, is dynamic mode. It sharpens the throttle and steering, firms the suspension and gives the S3 the aforementioned bassy burble when the gas pedal is flexed and the engine reaches for redline. Changing the settings can be accomplished through the Multi-Media Interface, or via a simple dash-mounted button. The latter proved to be a much easier proposition as the driving conditions changed from tight village streets to wide-open twisting roads.

Inside, the S3 is markedly different from the A3. To begin with the steering wheel is flat-bottomed and the base sports seats provide plenty of lateral support. Moving up to the S sport seats, which include an integrated headrest and flared shoulder areas, should be considered a “must” option given the lateral forces the S3 is capable of generating. Ditto the Bang & Olufsen audio system and the sound it blasts through 14 speakers. Actually, cancel that thought, as the exhaust is music enough.

Other touches include a boost gauge that’s nestled within the tachometer. It tells the driver when the turbocharger is blowing its not so little vanes out. Finally, the screen sitting between the main dials relayed a variety of information, including the turn-by-turn directions on the navigation-equipped test car. In all other areas, the S3 mirrors the A3 in terms of its space (decent rear seat room) and cargo capacity (390 litres).

The S3’s pricing starts at a very compelling $44,000. This gem left one lingering question after the preview: Given the price, why would one purchase an A4 over the S3? My money would be going on the latter, as it’s a dynamic delight that’s fit for the family as well as pushing the limits on the road.

The new S3 features quad tail pipes that protrude from the rear of the car.

The new S3 features quad tail pipes that protrude from the rear of the car.
PHOTO: Handout,

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