The hot hatch without a hatch | 2017 Audi S3 First Drive

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.

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.

Indeed, having so much power in such a small sedan is a novel and grin-inducing experience. The throttle response is sharp enough in standard mode, but tap the dash-mounted Audi Drive Select toggle to choose Dynamic, and it comes even more alive, eagerly shooting the S3 forward with the merest hint of a toe wiggle. The DSG is also quite happy to downshift when called upon, either by said toe or by itself when under braking. Blipping down two gears when heading into a corner is commonplace here, as are the sharp little barks that emanate from the S3's quad exhaust tips. Read more...

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07 Jan 2017

By James Riswick