Quick, agile and compact, the 2020 Audi S3 offers a great mix of performance and luxury in a small package. The S versions of Audi vehicles hit the sweet spot of performance and equipment, and the S3 has the lowest cost of entry of any S model.
In straight-line acceleration, the S3 nearly matches the larger, more powerful S4. Handling is also impressive, while its interior shows off typical Audi excellence. Naturally, there’s a price to pay for such goodness. Some larger, more cosseting sedans cost roughly the same, but they cannot match the S3’s combination of speed and sophistication.
A3 and S3 will debut for the 2021 model year, leaving the current-generation model a bit of a lame duck. Still, it offers great overall refinement, and in the case of the S3, good performance, too. So, while we still recommend it, just make sure you’re getting a good deal, as dealers are more than likely looking to clear out old stock to make way for the all-new model.
The base A3 and 394-horsepower 2019 Audi RS3 are reviewed separately.
What’s New for 2020?
Not a lot changes with the S3 for 2020. While trim level choices for 2019 were Premium Plus and Prestige, the 2020 S3 is offered in Premium and Premium Plus trims. Premium Plus models now come standard with a Bang & Olufsen sound system, automatic high beams, the interior storage package, a rear USB port and heated, auto-dimming, power-folding sideview mirrors. There’s also a new color available — Quantum Gray. more leather-wrapped surfaces and an air purification system with different fragrance options. See the 2020 Audi S3 models for sale near you
What We Like
- Serious acceleration
- Precise handling
- Classy and sophisticated cabin
What We Don’t
- Price climbs quickly when you add basic options
- Limited trunk and passenger space
- Rear side airbags are optional
The S3 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. This is paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is standard.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the S3 at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 29 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 0-to-60 miles per hour takes just 4.6 seconds.
Standard Features & Options
The 2020 Audi S3 subcompact sport sedan comes in Premium and Premium Plus trim levels.
The Premium ($43,995) has 18-in alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, performance brakes, variable-ratio steering, selectable drive modes (adjusting 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 and ignition, 8-way power-adjustable front sport seats (heated) with extendable thigh supports, leather seating surfaces, a flat-bottomed tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a self-dimming rearview mirror, aluminum pedals, ambient LED cabin lighting, automatic emergency braking, 7.0-in Multi Media Interface infotainment display, Bluetooth connectivity (phone and audio), a USB port, an SD card slot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, wireless charging, phone signal booster and a 10-speaker audio system with HD/satellite radio.
The Premium Plus ($46,595) gains a 705-watt/14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, a wireless phone charger, eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar adjustment for both the driver and passenger seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist, lane-keeping assist, parking assist and power-folding/heated exterior mirrors (self-dimming on the driver’s side). The Premium Plus also comes with what Audi calls the interior storage package, which nets you rear seat USB charging ports, along with a grocery hook and a 12V power outlet located in the trunk.
Both trim levels are eligible for the S Sport package that brings red-painted brake calipers and adaptive magnetic-ride suspension dampers. Additionally, there are available S Sport seat, Driver Assistance, Navigation and Black Optics packages as well.
Trunk space measures just 10 cu ft., which is not great, even for a subcompact sedan. Anyone carrying longer items on a regular basis, such as golf bags, should make sure they fit properly before buying. The rear seats can split and fold in 60/40 fashion.
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 gave the Audi A3 a coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation thanks to good performance in all the major categories.
In addition to your typical safety fair, such as stability control, anti-lock brakes and six airbags (front, front side and full-length side curtain), the S3 comes standard with automatic emergency braking. Features such as rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist are either optional or offered only on the Premium Plus trim. Side airbags for the rear seats are, strangely, optional.
Behind the Wheel
The S3 comes with materials and designs on-level with luxury sedans costing thousands more. Sport-themed flourishes, such as the flat-bottomed steering wheel, are subtle but effective, and the standard front sport seats provide superb support. However, rear passenger space is tight, 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 AWD system and summer tires, when equipped. The S3’s athleticism can be felt in the hands and hips as it is 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 premium character.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe — BMW‘s new 2-Series Gran Coupe sedan offers similar specs to the S3, but at a slightly higher cost of entry. Still, some buyers find the allure of the BMW roundel difficult to beat.
2020 Mercedes AMG CLA 45 — The 375-hp, AMG-tuned version of the CLA-Class sedan is better aligned with the performance credentials of the top-spec Audi RS 3. It’s wonderfully fast and capable, but it lacks the S3’s subtle sophistication, which we feel is one of its biggest assets.
2019 Volkswagen Golf R — This is the S3’s mechanical sibling, but there is no 2020 Golf R. However, buyers interested in an S3 will want to check for any leftover 2019 models or look to the pre-owned market. The Golf R offers all the same features, hatchback practicality and an available manual transmission for $15,000 less than the S3.
The S3 and its A3 counterpart are nearing the end of their life cycles, and an all-new version of Audi’s compact sedan will likely go on sale here in the U.S. for the 2021 or 2022 model year. Still, the current-gen S3 remains a great mix of performance and luxury, and its poise and sophistication set it apart from the competition. If you’re looking for a fun, comfortable commuter that makes a good impression without breaking the bank, and you don’t need the added flexibility of a larger vehicle, the S3 is tough to beat. Find an Audi S3 for sale