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Audi S3: The Facelift Review

Bradley Brownell November 10, 2016 Audi Reviews, Featured 12 Comments

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The new iteration of Audi’s S3 is pretty damn good. The old iteration of Audi’s S3 was also pretty damn good, but this one has a few updates that really make the car shine. I loved it before, I adore it now. For most automotive enthusiasts, this thing is nearly perfect. It’s the right size, it’s got all of the power, tech, and handling you really would ever need. I just wish it came with a stick. Or as a wagon. Read on for more info.

Drivetrain: 

The drivetrain of this car is really the part that matters. This car shares basically the same architecture as the outgoing pre-facelift version, a 2.0T four cylinder engine mated to an S-tronic dual clutch gearbox driving all four wheels via a new-gen Quattro system. The engine has received a bump in power to 305 horsepower (up from 285) and 295 foot lubs of torque. The Quattro system has been updated with new computer controls and an updated stability control system. Granted, I drove the old car and the new car more than a year apart, but it drives pretty similar to the old one. Which is to say “excellent”.

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The Facelift: 

The new car is, when you boil it down to basics, the same car as the one it replaces. The front has been slightly tweaked to make it look more like the S4 with edgier headlamps, a slightly changed grille, and a more open lower bumper with multiple open elements to direct air more efficiently. At the back, there are different taillights, which incorporate a Mustang-style directional cascade. In a side profile, the car looks nearly identical to the one it replaced. Different, more aerodynamic mirrors are new, but that’s about it.

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Inside: 

The inside of the car is where the change has really been made. The most important change of all is the new “Virtual Cockpit” gauge cluster. This system is amazing. The high definition screen where you’d normally find gauges is fantastic. Audi currently has this system in the TT and the R8. I believe this is the first “regular” sedan to receive the system, though Porsche’s upcoming Panamera will also use the system.

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This system is easily controlled by buttons on the steering wheel, and you have all of the information you’d ever need on this massive gauge-cluster screen. The center stack still has a pop-up screen that comes up from the dash, but I never really wanted to use it, and left it down as often as possible (it’s also an ugly tacked on looking screen, so the car looks better inside with it down). Virtual Cockpit is only available as part of the Technology Package on the “Premium Plus” trim, however, which is a $3000 add on that includes Audi Connect, MMI Navigation, and blind spot monitoring. This package *might* be worth it. Virtual Cockpit is standard in “Prestige” trim models.

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People will be happy that Audi has finally integrated USB into their cars. As we become a more and more mobile culture, your phone needs to be with you in the car, and you need to be able to connect and charge with USB. This has also allowed Audi to integrate standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Works great, and everything is easily stowed in the center console. Nice integration.

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The final thing of note inside the car is the new Sport Seat option. The quilted leather looks pretty cool, but I’m not so sure about the Cobra Commander look to the seat with the flared out bolsters. They sure are comfortable and hug nicely. The S Sport Seat package is $1450 dollars, however, and I’m not sure they’re that much better than the standard S seats.

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The MMI knob now incorporates touch activation, so you can “write” on the top of the knob with your finger. It’s neat, but seems a little gimmicky in practice.

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The car starts at $42,900, which is only a few hundred more than the outgoing model. The one I drove was fully kitted out with sport suspension (dynamic package), sport seats, Bang & Olufsen stereo, and LED everything, bringing the as-tested price to about ten grand over base.

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Personal preference, I’d have this car with just the Dynamic Package, which includes Audi Magnetic Ride and the 19″ double-five spoke wheels (A $1500 option). This brings this car to about forty-four grand delivered, which is a lot of car for the money, if I’m honest. The more I think about it, Virtual Cockpit is cool, but I wouldn’t spend three grand on it. You might, and I wouldn’t fault you for it. The standard audio would be fine for my use, I don’t care about the Bang & Olufson and it certainly isn’t worth the $950 price to me.

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Conclusion:

This is a very comfortable car that offers a lot of performance for reasonable money in the current market. It’s been described as a modern B5 S4, and that’s pretty close to the truth. This would make an excellent daily driver for me. I’m not sure what I’d compare this to on the current market, perhaps a BMW M235i or a Merc CLA45 AMG? I know I’d much rather have this over the Merc. The BMW might be the only one that I’d consider against the S3. If only the S3 came with a stick and three pedals, it would be far-and-away the better car.

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[In the interest of full disclosure, Audi flew me to North Carolina, treated me to dinner, and put me up in a nice hotel. I’ve done my level best to not let these factors influence my opinion of their product. All photos copyright Bradley Brownell/Hooniverse 2016.]

  • Rover 1

    Do they still make an Audi A3 Sportback? How hard to make an S3 version and plug that hole in the range?
    http://pictures.topspeed.com/IMG/crop/201604/2017-audi-a3-hatchback-11_1600x0w.jpg

  • Damasconian

    I’m 40, just came out of a M4 and am looking for an AWD car. Being a Texan its not required but I enjoy the driving dynamics. Am I too old for this thing?

    • Bradley Brownell

      If you’re not too old for an M4, then you’re definitely not too old for an S3. This is a very classy car, it only becomes a hooligan when you want it to.

      And I got something like 26 miles per gallon while driving like a baboon.

  • MixtecoBlue

    Is it bad that I read this in your voice Brad?

  • Maymar

    So, what I’m hearing is you really want a Golf R?

    Either that, or I’m projecting my preference of Golf R over S3 onto you, and in that case, you’re really cheap and would be even happier with a base GTI with the righteous plaid seats.

    • Bradley Brownell

      I’ve espoused my hatred of the Golf R elsewhere. The S3 is gorgeous. The Golf R looks like a turd.

      What I really want is an S3 Sportback with a manual.

      • Yet another reason to head to the UK

      • Maymar

        Well now I have to do the internet car guy thing and want a Golf R in brown, really embrace the turdness.

        I can’t dispute that the S3 is nicer looking, but as I am so cheap, its hard to overlook that it’s 25% more expensive (at least up here).

  • Ross Ballot

    I really wish they would do away with the pop-up, visibility-hampering, ugly-to-look-at screen in the center/top of the dash. Especially with all the room they opened up by going to the Virtual Cockpit, I see no reason why that screen should be so out of place.

    Also, those seats look incredible.

    I need to drive one of these sometime…

  • So nobody took the low hanging fruit and commented about the CEL in the virtual cockpit image? Being an Audi, do some things never change?