2017 Audi S3 First Drive

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2017 Audi S3

The 2017 Audi S3 is a car without equal. That might end up on a billboard, but it’s actually meant quite literally, as in the S3 has no direct competitor. Other compact luxury sedans, of which there are few, can’t match its performance. The BMW 2 Series has two doors, plus it’s rear-drive. The bonkers Mercedes-AMG CLA45 is on another power and price planet altogether. The mechanically related VW Golf R isn’t a luxury car and has a hatch instead of a trunk.

2017 Audi S3

And so the S3 exists as an oddity. But it’s a fun oddity, and a well-made one too. For 2017, it receives a number of noteworthy changes to keep it fresh and technologically relevant. Most also apply to the 2017 Audi A3, the car on which it’s based, which itself gets a new 2.0-liter turbo four base engine in place of the old 1.8-liter. Paired with front-wheel drive and essentially a variation of the Quattro model’s carry-over 2.0-liter, it produces 186 horsepower (up from 170) and returns 29 mpg combined (up from 27).

That revamped A3 wasn’t on hand for the press drive in Durham, North Carolina, so we were not-at-all stuck with the 2017 S3. Its own 2.0-liter turbo four is unchanged, still pumping out 292 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. Audi says it’ll hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which is a full second quicker than the 220-hp A3 Quattro as well as about a half-second quicker than the Audi A4 Quattro. That bonkers CLA45 is around the four-second mark.

Visually, the 2017 S3 gets the new, more angular Audi grille shared with the A4, TT, Q7, et.al., as well as a small indentation in the opening’s lower half that houses sensors for the forward-collision warning and auto-brake system now standard on every A3 and S3. The headlight cluster now possesses the same kink as the A4’s, as well as standard LEDs (xenons are standard on the A3), and integrated fog lamps. The larger corner air dams and the scooped-out portion below the grille are new as well.

Around back, both the A3 and S3 feature a more prominent lower valance finished in gray, though the S3’s features a diffuser and an extra pair of exhausts. The LED taillight cluster has also been redesigned, and like the A4’s, it features a brake light strip that pulses outward in the direction you’re turning. It’s cool, albeit in a ’64 Thunderbird kinda way.

Then again, you could think of it this way: A similarly equipped A4 would also cost around $51,000. It offers a comfier ride and more space (the A3/S3’s back seat legroom and trunk remain cramped), but it has less power and isn’t as sharp to drive, and we can’t say it provides a significantly superior interior. Plus, thanks to the S3’s visual updates, they even look alike.

Which brings us right back where we started: The S3 has no equal. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s inconsequential, maybe we should just be glad that such a fun, handsome, and luxurious little car exists for whoever chooses to bring one home.