It is no secret that cars have been getting bigger. In BMW terms, the current 3 series is the size of an old 5 series, and the current 5 series might as well be a 7 series (it’s on the same platform). Audis too have been getting larger, although not to the same staggering degree as BMWs. Many of us enthusiasts now long for the way cars used to be, wanting the compact size and similar packaging as models that are 10 or 20 years old. Audi’s new A3, which will be hitting US shores, seems like it might be exactly what we are yearning for.
Specifically I want to look at the Audi S3, the hot and spicy one that we all really want. Looking at the details, it seems very similar to the B5 Audi S4 of the early 2000s. A car that is well loved by enthusiasts despite some rather large flaws. On paper the B5 S4 looks like a great car, with a 250hp turbocharged V6, all wheel drive, a good suspension, all in the package of a typical sedan. However, these S4s have had some pretty serious reliability problems, including turbos that fail around 70k miles and quirky electronics. The B5 S4 is a great car if you have the money, and patience to deal with its issues, but I think we all wish it didn’t have those issues in the first place.
Enter the new Audi S3. With cars getting bigger, it is now around the same size as the old S4, and is on the same chassis as the new VW Golf. Like the B5 S4, the S3 also is turbocharged, this time with a 300hp version of Audi’s 2.0TFSI engine. Turbocharging makes things easier for those who seek to modify their car, and it was sorely missed in the V8 equipped S4s that followed the B5 S4. Thankfully the S3 has a turbo, so it should be able to gain power pretty easily. It also has the latest version of Audi’s S-Tronic gearbox. That, mixed with its smaller engine and modern technology, should mean that the S3 will far out-do the old S4 in fuel efficiency. I will be very surprised if the S3 doesn’t see at least 30mpg on the highway. All of this makes the S3 a car you really want. Audi’s build quality has skyrocketed since the B5 S4, so the S3 should have all of the same high points with none of the reliability drawbacks.
I have seen the number $39,000 being thrown around as the S3’s starting price, but supposedly many typically optional features come standard (sunroof, leather, satellite radio). This will put the S3 right in competition with the Subaru STi and Mitsubishi Evo, and will severely undercut the $47k Mercedes CLA45 AMG, which is looking to be more of an Audi S4 competitor. Keep in mind that both the STI and Evo will touch $40 grand, with the Evo MR reaching as high as $45k. The Audi S3 is right in that range, and seems like it will be far “nicer” than either of the rally cars for the money. I don’t mind cost cutting on materials in exchange for focusing on performance, but when we’re starting to talk $40k, some nice fit and finish is expected. That is what the Audi S3 will offer, and I think it looks to be the package that the VW Golf R models should have been all along.
Audi is saying the S3 will go on sale next year as a 2015 model, so there is a bit of time before you can have one. That said, it looks like quite a ripe little package, and something that will add some much needed excitement to Audi’s lower range. The only thing purists will surely complain about is the lack of a manual transmission, as currently only the S-Tronic is slated to be used. I’m willing to bet Audi will offer it in manual by the time it launches, but even if they don’t, the S-Tronic’s functional versatility should suit the S3 well enough. Remember that this is still an executive level car, so most buyers will likely be sitting in rush hour traffic at least as often as they are attacking back roads.
The more I think about it, the more I realize just how right the Audi S3 will be. I am definitely excited to see it at NYIAS, and even more excited to drive it as soon as I get the chance. Audi, you’re doing it right!