Review: 2015 Audi S3I Can't Stop Thinkin' 'Bout You

Have you ever seen that episode of Seinfeld where George leaves his hat behind at a girls apartment so he’ll have a reason to come back? You know, the one where he says his own last name to the tune of the “by Mennen” jingle on his way out the door (COS-tanza!) as an earworm to get her to remember him? I think this Audi must have done something similar to me, because it’s gotten under my skin. It’s infiltrated my brain. I just can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t eat (well, yes I can), I can’t sleep (well, yes I can), and I can’t go a single hour without picturing this blue beauty nestled safely in my garage.
I psychologically want to have it. I physiologically need to have it. I’ve driven a number of excellent cars, but only two have been this close to exactly right fresh out of the box (Porsche’s 991 Carrera 4GTS PDK, and this Audi S3). I wouldn’t change much about this car, and those things I would change are minor. Read on to hear what I would change, and why I love it so.

A few days ago, I had an opportunity to be in Los Angeles to help Mr. Glucker shoot a video of an exciting new convertible McLaren supercar. Yeah, it was neat and all, but for some reason I wasn’t really excited by it, probably mostly due to its wrong-side-of-ridiculous pricetag. It was pretty, it was fast, it was more a car than ever I’ll be a man. I didn’t fall in love with it, though, because I cannot conceivably ever own a car like that one. It is a poster on a wall. It is an edifice. As far as I’m concerned, it may as well not even exist, a mere figment of my imagination, a solipsistic creation of carbon, aluminum, turbos, and butterfly doors. In stark contrast, though, the Audi S3 is something that I could have. There could come a day when I could make the case for sitting one of these in my garage. Strike that, there WILL come a day when I purchase one of these as my daily driven fun machine, there simply must!
The Audi served as the camera car for Jeff’s Macca video, and I the camera car driver. Sure, the McLaren was WAY faster, but the Audi was more than capable of hauling ass at a slightly slower pace. There was one point in the day where Jeff told me to drive ahead of him so that the car wouldn’t be in the rear facing shot of his video, and I obliged by lighting the wicks and putting the pedal to the floor. I was as proud as a papa when at the next stop The Glucker Himself commented “You were really hustling that thing through the corners.” Yeah, sure, with his 640-whatever horsepower, he was able to amply keep up without trying, and if he had been pushing even half as hard I as I had, he’d have shoved the nose of the 650S straight through the back bumper of the S3. Still, a compliment on my driving is a compliment on my driving, and my ego needs all of the stroking it can get.
There are a few things we need to discuss with this car, however. 10 things, in point of fact. So let’s get started.
1. Why would you buy an Audi S3 when Volkswagen’s Golf R has the same powertrain for $4500 less?
There are a few reasons that I prefer the S3 to the Golf R. Chief among them is that I am an adult with no desire to grow my snapback flatbrim hat collection. Secondly, while the Golf R’s hatchback two-box layout makes for a more useable space in every day instances, the S3 just plain looks better.
You might say “But isn’t the Golf R going to be available with a stick?” and you’re right, I’m normally a no-stick, no-care kind of guy. These dual clutch gearboxes are just getting so darned good that I’m starting to sway my vote. Audi’s S-tronic (in this application, exactly the same as Volkswagen’s DSG) isn’t quite Porsche PDK levels of quasi-precognitive shifting, but it’s pretty close. I’d never be able to shift as well as this car, even after a million miles on a race track. Let the gearbox do its thing, because that thing is just so good.
2. What options should you choose, and which should you avoid when spec-ing out your 2015 Audi S3?
This is all based on personal preference, but really I wouldn’t tick all that many boxes. Just two; Sepang Blue Pearl paint at $550, and the 19″ Performance Package with Magnetic Ride at $1500. The ‘base’ car is called the ‘premium plus’, and that’s fine for me. If they offered one below that, I’d get that. The Prestige model comes with MMI, LED headlamps, a Bang and Olufsen 14 speaker stereo system, and a reverse camera, none of which matters to me. I have tinnitus, so I can’t tell a good stereo from a bad one. I have terrible vision, so LED headlamps don’t do much for me anyway. Audi’s MMI isn’t bad, but the pop up screen from the center of the dash is my biggest annoyance with this car. I don’t want any of that, just give me the bare bones. The car I drove was packed to the gills with all of the options, and it stickered somewhere just above $49,000. That’s too much for this car, but at about $43,000 with minimal options, I could see this being a good car for the dollars.
3. What’s up with that pop up screen from the center of the dash?
I know, right? I flippin’ hate it. The dashboard in this thing is really nice, and they had to blemish it with that dumb screen. The screen is useable and easy to read, but it’s in a dumb place, and looks like an afterthought. Get your crap together, Audi!
4. How does this car sound so flippin’ amazing?
Well, there’s talk about this car having one of those electronic exhaust enhancing devices that uses an auditory output to enhance the audible level of the exhaust without increasing the level of noise coming from the outside of the car. Yeah, it’s got a speaker that amplifies and changes the tone of the exhaust note. You’d think I’d hate something like that, but for some reason I don’t. It just sounds so good that I can’t fault it. If you think about it, music is an artificial noise that is played for the enjoyment of the ears, and that’s all that is happening here. Audi is playing a really nice bass solo through a speaker that is in perfect key with your throttle foot. It’s way more guttural and primal than any VAG 2.0T could ever be, and there isn’t quite enough turbo noise being plumbed in for my taste, but those full throttle upshifts just sound so good it’s all worth it.
5. So, how’s the interior?
Well, I really liked the weird flat-bottom steering wheel, as it was quite comfortable and easy to grip. The shifter paddles were a bit of a reach for the fingertips, though, and I have large hands. Luckily, leaving the car in auto with the sport mode engaged was still an excellent drive. Just focus on throttle, brakes, and steering, and the transmission works its own shifts out, while still making you look like a driving superstar. The seats were great, except when they were not. In the interest of comfort, it would appear that Audi has skimped a little on seat bottom bolstering. The seat bottoms were very comfortable to sit on, but when the car really started dancing around in the corners, I found myself having to hold myself in the seat with my knees against the door panel and the center console. For eating highway miles, the seat would have been great, but for canyon carving, I’d like a lot more bolstering. I think this might be a win for the Golf R, as that car has a LOT more thigh bolstering. If I had the spare cash, I’d buy a set of Golf R seats from some hooligan that was swapping his stock seats out for Recaro Pole Positions, and have them re-stitched to say S3 instead of the Volkswagen R logo.
I liked the dash, I liked the center console, I liked the HVAC system, I liked the armrests, I liked it all. Very nice space to sit in for long periods of time.
6. Is the S3 the spiritual successor to the B5 S4?
Yes, only better in every conceivable way.
7. Why is the magnetic ride and 19″ wheel package a necessity?
Because, without a doubt, that option package saved my life. During that aforementioned drive down the Ortega route that Jeff uses to shoot video, I was hauling way too much speed through the corners, at the absolute limit of my driving abilities, but probably not the car’s abilities. There was a moment where I thought I might die as the road rose to a peak and fell down the other side through a right hand sweeper turn. I was settled down into the turn quite well, hunkering the car right to the yellow line. Unbeknownst to me, there was a nasty dip in the pavement just after the crest of the hill. As I went over that dip, the whole car shuddered and felt like it jumped a foot in the air. I doubt even one tire ever lost contact with the pavement, but in the panic of the moment it sure felt like it. A light adjustment of the steering wheel, a bob up and down of the suspension, and a light correction as things settled down to avoid moving into the oncoming lane, and everything was just as it was before. Those sticky Continentals, the glorious QUATTRO all wheel drive, and that perfectly damped magnetic ride suspension saved me from plummeting to my death down the side of the mountain. [Perhaps slightly dramatized for effect. If my wife is reading this, none of it is true.]
8. Will it hold its value?
No, it probably won’t. But you shouldn’t really buy a new car these days worrying about value proposition. If you don’t already plan to drive it until you, or it, or you both are dead, you can probably afford to take the loss on it come resale time. The worst depreciation I’ve ever seen was on the last of the Mercury Grand Marquis, which lost about 49% of their value in 12 months. This will certainly hold its value much better than that, and even if it didn’t, it’s fun enough that you shouldn’t care. These will never make the used market, because everyone who buys one will want to keep it literally forever. Even if this car slowly poisoned you in your sleep over time [Audi’s lawyers would like me to inform you that the S3 does not, in fact, poison you in your sleep], I’d keep it around. People still smoke cigarettes, right? It’s at least as addictive as that, and a lot less deadly.
9. How does it compare to the Ur-S, Rowdy The Audi, my 1995 S6?
Quite favorably. I really love my old Audi, but I love this S3 a bit more. It has about the same power (mine’s been beefed up a little bit over stock), but it feels so much tighter and refined. The steering is better, the all wheel drive is better, the suspension is better, it’s lighter, and more comfortable (but Rowdy does have better seat bottom bolstering!). If someone asked me to trade them square up an S3 for my S6, I’d have to do it. I’d be sad, but I’d have to do it. Heck, I might even throw in a few grand cash.
10. Burnouts?
This is the most hoony question possible, and unfortunately I didn’t even try it, but I suspect it might if you disable all of the nanny stuff. I dunno, go for a test drive and try it out yourself… Just don’t tell Audi I told you that.
Well done, Audi. You’ve made a hell of a car in this one, and while I’ll probably pick mine up on a CPO with financing, you can bet I’ll own one of these one day. It’d make a really good replacement for my Mazda3 that I still hate. Plus, the wifey would like driving it. She loves Audis, and always has. For those of you of the TL:DR persuasion, I’ll sum it up in 5 words for you; THIS CAR IS A RIOT!
All photos ©2015 Hooniverse/Bradley C. Brownell, All Rights Reserved.

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  1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    That blue. Very nice.

    1. skitter Avatar

      11. Is it green?
      No. It's blue. Green was dropped in favor of yet another shade of black.

  2. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    …so….did you like it, BB?

  3. JayP2112 Avatar

    I'm really hoping these tank in the used car market that I can afford a CPO.
    This may be the only car that would get me to forget the scars of the last 2 A4s and bring me back Audi.

  4. caltemus Avatar

    Theres something I still dont like about spending that much on a car that shares it's hard points with a much cheaper car. I'd rather have the current STI any day, and it's a far better value proposition. The STI would probably hold its value longer too.

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      It'll be interesting to see how the Focus RS settles in here.

  5. Jeff Glucker Avatar
    Jeff Glucker

    -I'd opt for the Golf R. Save the money on basically the same car, but with better rear room and cargo space. The interior of Volkswagen products is top notch right now, and that also makes the Golf R a potentially smarter buy over even a WRX STI. It's only one to two tenths slower to 60, can be had with actively damped suspension, and your choice of gearbox… and it's under 40k. The one I drove was maxed out at 39k (video coming soon).
    (Also.. the "moment" Mr Brownell mentioned that he nearly had in the Audi was probably more terrifying from my point of view in the McLaren. I know that road, and I knew that was coming. It's an off-camber bump in the middle of a left turn that leads into a very short straight before a quick right turn.
    The Audi S3 lifted up, shimmied left and right maybe a fraction of a degree both ways, but Bradley did exactly what you're supposed to there when in an all-wheel-drive machine. Keep that damn foot in it.
    It was pretty fucking impressive… and yes, the swear is warranted. I was driving harder than he thinks (ok, the 650 had plenty left) but Bradley is yet another camera guy who can probably out drive my ass… Jason Connor being the other one.)

    1. BradleyBrownell Avatar

      <img src=""&gt;
      ** Hearts Eyes Forever **
      Thanks for the vote of confidence. Also, thanks again for letting me tag along, it was a really fun day.

  6. BradleyBrownell Avatar

    As an aside, I saw one of these in the parking lot of the Palazzo in Vegas over the weekend. It was white.
    I really wanted to go all Oceans 11 on that car. It didn't help my attempts to forget this one, either.

  7. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
    Dean Bigglesworth

    I wonder how much the adaptive suspension improves the car.. The one I drove had the stock suspension and while it was firm it did work quite well when up to speed.
    In D on wet roads it felt decidedly FWD and sometimes a bit squirrely as it couldn't decide how much power to send where and which gear to be in, in S it seemed to direct more power towards the rear and felt more planted and predictable.
    In M i was too focused on working around the stupid transmission logic to actually enjoy driving. If you nudge the rev limiter just before a breaking point it will up-shift just as you hit the brakes, resulting in going up a gear and then then you have to manually shift down again. Which, since you did something the trans didn't expect, can take well over a second while furiously pulling the paddle and shouting obscenities. And while accelerating out of a third gear corner you push the accelerator a tiny bit too much, causing it downshift and unsettle the car.
    It is fast and it does look very good, though. Particularly the sedan.
    Don't know if you noticed but I'm feeling a bit cranky.

  8. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    Something about the A3/S3 just looks off to me. I think it's the combination of the shortened rear with the too high belt line. Seems to tall and blocky. If you cut out the bit between the windows and the character line that runs between the lights, it would look better.
    That said, it does sound like a rather good car.

  9. Jason Avatar

    Yeah, but would you trade your URS and 40k for it? Isn't the nostalgia of driving an uber rare 20+ year old Audi with a legendary engine for under 10k too much to give up?