Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Audi S3

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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We all have our “thing” – that one style or type of any given product that really appeals to us. For some it’s a watch with a skeleton face, for others, it’s a new smartphone with a curvy screen.

While the engine is quiet, its tone hints at the big stick it carries.

For me, when it comes to cars at least, that “thing” is pocket-sized sport compacts. Specifically, the ones with turbocharged four-cylinder engines and diminutive wheelbases. The sort of perky, agile, lively car that makes the driver grin and the passengers smile with mock annoyance.

The $57,595 2017 Audi S3 Technik is one such device.

From the moment forward motion begins, the S3 seems to shrink around you. The engine sparks into life and then immediately settles into a quiet but present burble in your ears. You become aware of the location of each wheel patch, and through the seat of your pants are able to very quickly get a sense of exactly how much room you need and don’t need. Agility in most normal situations is therefore excellent. Want to flick out around a pothole, or dart into a gap in traffic? The S3 is right there with you, happy to do your bidding.

At higher speeds, and in longer corners, the S3 tends to pick up a little bit of push, which is not uncommon and exactly as modern cars are designed – understeer, you see, is safer after all. Because the S3 is all-wheel drive, you can pull it out of corners with gusto, and it’s the exits of long corners where this car really shines.

That 2.0L turbo is a lively little fella too. The accelerator gives the driver access to 292 hp at 5,400 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque from 1,900. And while the engine is quiet, its tone hints at the big stick it carries.

Ultra-fast gear changes from the six-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission (DCT) are announced with a muffled bark, and the paddles translate request to change in speeds that satisfy even my ever-impatient desires. If you’d like more than six gears, wait for a 2018 model – they get seven.

The 1,570 kg chassis is a little heavier than you might expect from a car of this size, you can thank the all-wheel drive system for that. The S3 will still scurry up to highway speed in 4.9 seconds.

In fact, the only way this car could be better is if it were rear-wheel drive. Which it will never be. Not only because there are four rings on the grill, but because overwhelmingly people are giving into the marketing hype that two-wheel drive is unsafe. It’s not, of course, but we live in a post-truth world.

My moaning about the desire for RWD is mitigated somewhat by the ability to shunt a full 100 percent of power either rearward or forward. The differentials have all been reworked for this year and the DCT control unit is now connected to the same control module as the ABS, stability control, and torque distribution systems. That means those things all work well in unison and respond extremely quickly – it also makes it impossible to trick them into letting you rip a sexy doughnut on a closed course under controlled and legal conditions. It definitely prevents that happening in public and illegal conditions, which is not a problem for me, because I’d never try that.

The fact is though, while the S3 is gratifying to flick about, it resists oversteer with the stern and tenacious chastity of a nun. And yet, I was still delighted. In usual circumstances, I enjoy driving the most when things are a little untidy, but the S3 was still making me grin even while forcing me to colour between the lines. Sometimes discipline is a good thing, I suppose.

Visually, the S3 has been about the same on the outside for the last few years, but inside, the tiny Audi gets the company’s spectacular 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit. This digital instrument cluster shows a mix of navigation, audio, and of course, speed and engine speed dials all in a vibrant, large, and customizable display right in front of the driver’s face. It almost renders the centre-stack-mounted screen and its puck controller obsolete. Almost – because passengers still like to do things. And the puck controller has Audi’s touchpad surface, so you can draw the letters to spell things out. Except I’m left handed, and drawing letters with my right hand renders hilarious results. Especially the letter P.

With the addition of Android Auto, Audi has elevated its infotainment system, but the SiriusXM station list still lacks detail and looks a little dated. It’s the only nitpick in an otherwise solid system though, and you’ll find it easy to navigate and use. Not everybody is an keen on knowing what’s playing on other channels before selecting them as I am anyway. And you can always set an alert to be told when Shoop comes on next. Now let me get back to the subject….

This car is absolutely a driver’s car. The flat-bottomed leather steering wheel is your first clue, it’s as sexy as a steering wheel can be, and will make your heart flutter just stepping in. The seats hug tightly, giving you a sense of security even when “getting up on the wheel” – but am I the only one who’s starting to tire of the red leather trend? I still prefer it over boring black leather, but the red is a little too pleatheriffic for me.

For my small family, the S3 is a great size, allowing room for my daughter in the back and a solid 348 L of grocery space in the trunk. It fits in our parking spot easily and is a breeze to back in thanks to the rear-view camera. For a small car, there’s plenty of room inside for us.

Being a small car means the performance doesn’t hurt too badly at the pumps, and at 11.0/8.5/9.9 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb the S3 is reasonable. Despite driving mostly in the city, I ended the week on 8.7 L/100 km – so real-world figures are much better than the EPA numbers would suggest.

That’s a good way to sum up the S3 really. It’s better than the numbers suggest. The 2017 Audi S3 puts a smile on your face from the moment you pull out of your parking space to the moment you pull back in. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll keep smiling long after you’ve taken yet another look back at it, and closed your front door.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 292 hp @ 5,400 rpm
Peak Torque 280 lb-ft @ 1,900 rpm
Fuel Economy 11.0/8.5/9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 348 L
Model Tested 2017 Audi S3 Technik
Base Price $50,700
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $57,595
Optional Equipment
$4,700 – Nano Grey Metallic paint $800; Advanced Handling Package $1,600; Technology Package $1,400; Black Optics $500; Red Brake Calipers $400