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2023 Audi S3
The letters MQB won’t mean much to most readers, but to automotive insiders they represent the designation for the most adaptable automotive platform ever developed. Encompassing a wide variety of transversely configured front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive Volkswagen group vehicles, the MQB platform underpins models as disparate as the very small (and not sold here) VW Polo to the Audi Q3 to the mid-size VW Atlas SUV. In fact, an astounding 45 distinct models around the globe are MQB-derived vehicles.
The brainchild of late-great engineer and executive Ferdinand Piech, the MQB platform enables Volkswagen to manufacture many distinct vehicles in the same factories depending on local, national, or regional demand. That means that if a country or region has lots of young families, a factory can produce lots of Audi Q3s and VW Atlases, but if gas prices suddenly spike, the same factory, with relatively little effort, can manufacture more VW Golfs and T-Rocs.
I recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of one of the sportiest MQB cars, the Audi S3, and it was a good experience. The S3 is a compact sports sedan, which utilizes surprising power and quattro AWD to produce an entertaining drive. Its main competitors are the Mercedes CLA35 and BMW M235i Gran Coupe.
All 2023 S3 models come with a potent 306-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, and Audi's noted quattro all-wheel-drive system. It’s fast and composed in all types of driving, but rarely exciting.
Does that sound contradictory? It isn’t. The S3 kills it in a straight line—0-60MPH runs take just 4.3 seconds—so merging onto any highway or freeway is no sweat. But the evolved quattro AWD system coupled with advanced software which limits wheelspin and keeps the car moving forward (and not sideways) means that you’re always driving with a digital adult who’s there to make sure nothing untoward happens. All of the software “nannies'' can be turned off, of course, but that takes time and effort, and I’m sure most owners will leave them on.
To maximize the fun factor, keeping the S3 in Sport mode is recommended. I found that Comfort mode meant that the car was almost sleep walking, and hitting the accelerator felt like waking up a hungover friend from a deep slumber and saying, “hey dude get up, we gotta go to the gym!” The gym wasn’t happening nor was any kind of quick response from the S3’s drivetrain. Keeping it in Sport like I did every time I got behind the wheel resulted in a much better driving experience.
Fuel economy is 23MPG City/32MPG Highway, which is very good for a car with this level of performance.
Most S3s outside of North America are hatchbacks, but Audi found that the sedan body style of the A3, upon which the S3 is based, sold much better here than the hatch so only sedan versions of both cars are offered here.
The S3 looks sporty and very Audi thanks to a prominent grille, chiseled head- and taillights, and generally understated styling everywhere else.
Given its modest footprint, it should surprise no one that the S3’s interior is small and cargo capacity is, umm, small. The rear seats in particular are tight, and trying to squeeze three adults back there is not advised.
Nevertheless, the compact Audi S3 is still an Audi, which means that it has a beautiful interior. Everything you see and touch looks and feels like quality, with the electronic gauges and flat-bottom steering wheel worthy of extra kudos.
One thing in the cabin seemed odd to me: instead of a beefy and sporty looking gear selector, Audi went with a tiny toggle switch thing that looks like it was stolen from a Prius. Hmm...
Pricing for the S3 starts at just under $47,000 for the base “Premium” model, climbs to just under $50,000 for “Premium Plus” S3s, then peaks out at around $54,000 for “Prestige” versions. All 2023 S3s come with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, and three-zone automatic climate control. As always, calling BCMS’ Phil Hornbeak will get you your best deal on an Audi S3 or any other new vehicle.
Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform is an impressive bit of automotive engineering, and I was pleased to sample another one of its many progenies, the 2023 Audi S3. It’s small in size but provides a luxurious Audi ownership experience along with an appealing level of athleticism. Anyone looking at the Mercedes CLA35 or BMW M235i Gran Coupe shouldn’t sign anything until they’ve test driven the newest S3.
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