The 2018 Audi S3 is a blast to drive, but it suffers from a tiny rear seat and the Volkswagen Golf R offers the same performance with more room for less.
The Audi S3 may start out as the relatively pedestrian Audi A3 sedan, but it has some performance upgrades that bring spice to the party. Offered in both Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels, it shares its engine with the Volkswagen Golf R, and can be looked at as a more luxurious sedan counterpart to that hot hatch. That’s either a blessing or a curse, because the S3 costs about $10,000 more than its VW counterpart, but U.S. buyers prefer sedans over hatchbacks.
Standard all-wheel drive helps the S3 put the power down and its compact footprint teams with some relatively simple mechanicals to create a corner-carving character. The interior boasts some cool tech, but back seat space is tight and the materials aren’t as premium as you get in other Audis. Given these strengths and weaknesses, we rate the 2018 Audi S3 a 7.2 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Changes for 2018 are equipment related. Two USB ports are now standard, as are heated front seats. A new S Sport package combines red brake calipers and Audi magnetic ride dampers.
The S3 is a rival for the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 and BMW M2, though it doesn’t make quite as much power as either. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder spins out 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to motivate the S3 from 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The S3’s 6-speed dual-clutch transmission is quick to react and a blast to operate through the standard steering wheel shift paddles, but we wish the S3 also offered a manual transmission in the United States like it does in Europe.
The S3 shares the Golf R’s platform and both cars use all-wheel drive. But the S3 benefits not only from Audi’s brand cachet, but also some handling and interior technology. Available magnetic-fluid filled shocks improve the handling of what is already an agile compact car while making the ride quality with even the optional 19-inch tires more livable than you get in the Golf R.
Inside, the S3 is certainly a cut above VW levels of quality, but is less opulent than most Audis. Still, it comes with the brand’s excellent MMI infotainment system, and is offered with the slick new Audi virtual cockpit, which consists of a highly configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument panel screen. The back seat is tight on space, as it is in the Golf R, which benefits from greater head room.
Every S3 is well-equipped. Standard features include power adjustable leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
The safety story is a good one, too. The S3 comes with a nice spate of safety features and it has performed well in most crash tests.
It’s even thrifty for the power it offers, delivering 25 mpg combined, according to the EPA.