The 2018 Audi S3 is a hotter version of the excellent A3 small premium sedan. Not the hottest, though, because the all-new 400-horsepower RS 3 (reviewed separately) has just debuted for the 2018 model year. However, like every other S car from Audi, the S3 is a well-thought-out package of power, equipment and refinement that’s absolutely compelling.
In straight-line acceleration, it nearly matches the larger, more powerful S4. The handling is also impressive, and the interior displays typical Audi excellence.
Naturally, there’s a price to pay for such goodness. Some larger, more cosseting sedans cost roughly the same, but they can’t match the S3’s combination of speed and sophistication.
What’s New for 2018?
Blind spot monitoring and ambient cabin lighting trickle down to the Premium Plus model, and the erstwhile Dynamic options bundle is replaced by the S Sport package. See the 2018 Audi S3 models for sale near you
What We Like
Serious acceleration; precise handling; classy and sophisticated cabin with cutting-edge technology
What We Don’t
Limited trunk and passenger space
The S3 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. This is linked to a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard. The transmission (Audi calls it S tronic) is like a conventional automatic to operate, but there’s also a manual gear-change mode via shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel for fingertip control.
Fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. That’s quite respectable, considering the S3’s sports-car acceleration. According to Audi, the sprint from standstill to 60 mph takes just 4.7 seconds.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Audi S3 compact sport sedan comes in Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels.
The Premium Plus ($44,625) has 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, performance brakes, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, variable-ratio steering, selectable drive modes (which adjust steering assistance, gear shift points and throttle responses), full LED lighting with automatic headlights, a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield-washer nozzles, keyless entry with push-button start, 8-way power-adjustable front sport seats (heated) with driver’s-side memory settings, leather upholstery, a flat-bottom tilt-telescopic steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a self-dimming rearview mirror, aluminum pedals, ambient LED cabin lighting, forward-collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, the Multi Media Interface (MMI) infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity (phone and audio), a USB port, an SD card slot, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a 10-speaker audio system with HD Radio and satellite radio.
The Prestige ($49,925) adds the Virtual Cockpit configurable driver’s information display, the upper-level MMI system with navigation, handwriting recognition, voice control and online services (including Google integration and Wi-Fi), 705-watt/14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assistance, lane-keep assistance and power-folding/heated exterior mirrors (self-dimming on the driver’s side).
Some of the Prestige’s features are available on the Premium Plus as options, including the Bang & Olufsen audio, Virtual Cockpit and the better MMI system.
Both trim levels are eligible for the S Sport package, which brings red-painted brake calipers and adaptive magnetorheological suspension dampers. This latter feature widens the spectrum of the S3’s comfort and sportiness levels.
Trunk space measures just 10 cu ft., not great even for a compact sedan. Anyone carrying longer items, such as golf bags, on a regular basis should make sure they fit properly before buying. The rear seats can split and fold in 60/40 fashion.
The S3 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock brakes and six airbags (front, front side and full-length side curtain). Side airbags for the rear seats are an option.
In government crash tests, the S3 received a perfect five stars overall, including four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) made the A3 (it hasn’t crash-tested the S3) a Top Safety Pick+ thanks to stellar performance in all the major categories.
Behind the Wheel
The S3 comes with materials and design on a level with luxury sedans costing thousands more. Sport-themed flourishes such as the flat-bottom steering wheel are subtle but effective, and the standard front sport seats provide superb support. Rear passenger space is tight, however, so you might be better served by a different model if that’s a priority.
As with the larger S4, the S3’s MMI infotainment system comes in two degrees, with the base version’s controller knob mounted somewhat inconveniently on the center stack. The optional upgrade features a more ergonomic knob between the seats, and the display screen is also bigger and brighter. This fancier system also includes the Audi Connect telematics suite with touches including Google integration and Wi-Fi.
The S3 builds pace with breathtaking ease thanks to its lag-free turbocharged engine. The transmission performs near-instantaneous shifts and matches revs when changing down, contributing to a virtually seamless drive in all conditions. Handling is sharp, aided by precise steering and tenacious grip from the all-wheel-drive system and summer tires. The S3’s athleticism can be felt in the hands and hips as it’s steered through corners. The brakes, meanwhile, feel strong without being abrupt.
In more sedate driving, the S3 continues to impress, but the optional 19-in wheels have an impact on comfort levels. In general, the S3 rides firmly but not harshly, and road noise is mostly subdued. The experience isn’t over-the-top luxurious, but there’s a fine blend here of sport-tuned tautness and a premium character.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 BMW M240i — Only available as a coupe or convertible, but enthusiasts should really give this one a try.
2018 Cadillac ATS — Although the ATS technically competes against the 3 Series and company, it feels a half size smaller. You should be able to find a suitable specimen for S3 money.
2018 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 — The AMG-tuned version of the CLA-Class sedan is wonderfully fast and capable, but its sloping roof means less rear headroom than in the S3.
2018 Volkswagen Golf R — Same engine as the S3, but less expensive. Comes with hatchback practicality and the alternative of a manual transmission.
Anyone with the funds to seriously consider an S3 can probably afford to stretch to the Prestige version. The adaptive suspension is worth thinking about, and the Virtual Cockpit is a must-have for its coolness factor alone.