2017 Audi S3

PHOENIX — The Audi A3 sedan arrived on the U.S. automotive scene a couple of years ago as the entry-level vehicle for the brand. Since then, Audi has launched Audi 3 versions in convertible, plug-in hybrid Sportback e-tron, and the high-performance S3 sedan tested here. Think of it as a smaller version of the popular Audi A4. 

For 2017, the A3 lineup gets a mild appearance update — all-new front fascia with a high-gloss grille, new Xenon headlamps, new LED taillamps with sequential turn signals — as well as new technology and safety features.

The S3 shares its performance engine — a turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter 292 horsepower four cylinder — with its parent company’s excellent VW Golf R. The engine is paired with a six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission. Audi’s on-demand, all-wheel-drive Quattro is standard.

S3 models also have larger wheels and brakes, and quicker steering than the standard A3. There’s also the optional electro-magnetic adaptive suspension and available 19-inch wheels with performance tires.

Inside, build quality is impressive, but materials are a mixed bag. Quilt-pattern sports seats are excellent, but on the firm side and operate manually for adjusting. Overall, the interior seems more Volkswagen than Audi.

There’s a newly available Audi virtual cockpit with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster to display sharp Google Maps images. The updated infotainment system includes smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Driving performance, of course, is the reason one would choose the S3 over a standard A3 sedan. While not in the same class as the upcoming 400-horsepower RS3, performance is nonetheless impressive. Zero to 60 mph is reached in just 4.7 seconds. The automatic transmission shifts quickly through the gears, up or down. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow for manual shifting.

The driver can also toggle through the Audi drive select feature, with performance and handling settings for comfort, dynamic, automatic or individual. Choosing the dynamic setting, the powertrain increases the vehicle’s performance, with sharper steering, and amplified engine acoustics. Other settings tamp down the performance, acoustics and handling. But know that the S3, even in comfort, delivers a ride that may be too firm for some.

Overall the S3 won’t disappoint. But if you want to save a few you could get a similarly equipped, but more powerful Ford Focus RS, or the nearly identical Volkswagen Golf R, with a manual transmission.

Vital Stats

Price: $42,900
Price as Tested: $51,725
Seating: 4
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbocharged 4-Cylinder
Horsepower: 292 hp
Fuel Economy: 21-MPG City – 28-MPG Highway

Fab Features

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit
Electro-magnetic adaptive suspension
Bang & Olufsen audio system

— Jim Prueter