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Sunday, September 28, 2014

2015 Audi S3 Adds Power, But Loses Personality: First Drive



      Small cars are getting bigger. Big cars are getting smaller. Mercedes and Audi both sell cars that start close to $30K, yet are still considered “luxury.” The world has gone insane.
      But what do I know? The Audi A3 is proving to be one of the brand’s best selling cars in recent history. Actually, last month was the automaker’s most successful sales month ever. You can partially thank the A3 for that massive increase.

      So with the A3 solidifying Audi’s role in the small sedan market, the next logical step would be to heat up the relatively tame sedan with some go fast parts a la Audi’s “S” line. And that they did.

      Audi S3 2
      This is the new Audi S3, and it’s definitely better looking than the lowly A3. It gets a new set of 18 or 19-inch shoes, a teeny-tiny little rear spoiler, a lower stance, and an interior filled to the brim with amenities. It’s arguably as handsome as the S4, although, that’s not saying much.

      Inside, you’re getting a fully loaded interior with an infotainment screen that pops right out of the dash, navigation, a backup camera, and a big, clunky steering wheel that reminds you you’re driving something expensive. But it’s not just all show and no go.

      The new 2.0-liter TFSI turbo pumps out 292 horsepower, up from the A3′s 220 horsepower. It manages to get to sixty in just 4.7 seconds. And did I mention it only comes in automatic? Because it only comes in automatic.

      Audi S3 5
      I know, for shame. But if I’m being honest here, the S3′s dual-clutch autobox is better than most in the segment. It doesn’t feel like you’re forcing the gears to do something they don’t want to. Those aggressive shifts give way to the aforementioned 4.7 second 0-60 mph time, on to a limited top speed of 155 mph.

      That being said — is it safe to say that this sporty Audi drives like a sporty Audi? Surprise, surprise, it does. You get pretty responsive power, you get really crisp steering, and even when you’re not in “Dynamic” driving mode, it doesn’t sacrifice sporty cues in the name of mpg. We even got a chance to drive it around Circuit of the Americas in Austin, which was only slightly terrifying.

      Audi S3 4

      At the end of the day, I found the Audi S3 to be super capable, super handsome, and pretty affordable at only $41,995 (you are paying for an Audi, after all). So why did I walk away not overly impressed?

      The A3 and S3 sit on Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, which underpins the new Golf, GTI, Golf R and a few others. Like the new Golf and GTI (which I’ve already driven), the S3 feels too safe, too ordinary. There’s nothing about it that really reaches out and grabs you.

      It looks better than the A3, sure, and it drives better too, but you’re not getting near the same amount of personality behind the wheel that you might find in, say, a CLA45 or BMW 235i. It’s just not there.

      Audi S3 3

      I seriously doubt that one writer’s snarky opinion will keep Audi from selling like a billion of these things, it’s still a good car. Especially considering it is the cheapest in the segment.

       But for me, I can’t get behind a car that just feels like another high-powered cog in Volkswagen Group’s well-oiled machine. I just can’t.

      Let’s all just cross our fingers and hope Audi will be adding an R to the beginning of that nameplate, or at least a manual gearbox. Then they might get my attention.

      Audi S3


      Engine: 2.0-liter TFSI
      Horsepower: 292
      0-60: 4.7 seconds
      Price: $41,995


      Very precise
      Quality interior
      Refined gearbox
      Comfortable ride


      Lacking personality