2014 Audi S3 Sedan: The Ultimate One Car Garage under $50K
When I was shopping for a car to finally replace my rapidly ageing V35 Skyline, I had one goal in mind: finding the ultimate all ‘rounder car for under $50K. I didn't need any off-road capability, so the requirements were: a comfortable, luxury interior, daily drivable practicality (including reliability, but more on that later), plus great power and nimble handling. In a sense, I was looking for a true bipolar vehicle, with comfort and reliability for commuting as important as great handling and performance during a Sunday morning mountain drive. While I drove a range of cars, both well above and below the budget, I ultimately chose a 2014 Audi S3 Sedan.
Firstly, let’s look at daily drivability. The particular Audi S3 I chose had the optional magnetic ride suspension (variable ride stiffness with the push of a button). This turned out to be the most important option to enable the true bipolar nature of the vehicle. During the week, driving on rubbish inner-city roads, the car can be in comfort mode, absorbing the potholes and manhole covers without any issues at all. Then when going for a spirited Sunday morning drive, place the car in dynamic mode for a much stiffer, better-handling experience. This drive mode selection runs further than the suspension too, with comfort mode noticeably reducing throttle response (great for better fuel economy on the daily commute) and quieting the exhaust to a respectable level (more on that to come).
My particular S3 has been modified to a level known as Stage 2, which is a fancy way of saying it's got a higher flowing exhaust and an improved air intake, along with the all important APR tune. This combination adds roughly 80hp and 150Nm to the S3’s already impressive factory outputs of 280hp and 380Nm respectively. As you can probably imagine, this really transforms the S3 when compared to a factory vehicle. While the outright speed and sub 4 second 0-100km/h are impressive, what you notice most is the night and day difference in torque delivery. Driving back-to-back with a friend's completely stock Golf R (same engine as the S3) is night and day. You really start to feel the torque coming on hard at about 2500rpm in the S3 while the stock version of the same engine is closer to 4000rpm. This makes a world of difference to performance on a daily basis with the car feeling so much peppier and responsive at engine rpms you’ll actually encounter day-to-day (not just on those mountain runs).
Driving the S3 back-to-back with another friend’s 2018 Audi RS3 (well outside my budget unfortunately), really makes it clear just how much the tune has helped the performance of the S3. While the RS3 definitely has a more responsive (and better sounding, much better sounding) engine, the outright performance between them is hard to pick. The RS3 is truly competing in the same ballpark with the APR Stage 2 tune on the S3. Outside of the engine, the brakes are great in both daily driving and mountain roads, while handling is excellent with the Quattro all-wheel drive system feeling noticeably more rear-wheel drive biased than most AWD systems I sampled (including the Golf R’s).
The interior is one of my favourite parts of this car, with its perfect balance between daily driving, luxury comfort, and sporty, performance-focused design. The seats are great, offering good comfort while holding you in place during the previously mentioned mountain drives. Also, the Audi leather doesn't seem to make you sweat as much as some of its competitors (it’s the little things). They also look amazing and I challenge you to find a nicer looking seat in a car under $50k. My particular S3 is fitted with the optional Bang and Olufsen sound system, which is excellent and won't disappoint even at high volume. It's clear, sharp and distortion free. The only thing missing from the interior is the virtual cockpit found in newer Audi’s, which is an awesome feature I now sorely miss after driving the new RS3.
As you can probably tell by now, I well and truly love the S3 - particularly my model - but it's certainly not without some negatives. Expensive negatives. Since owning the used S3 it’s had nearly $8500 in warranty repairs. While the magnetic ride suspension is excellent on a daily basis, it’s properly financially crushing when it fails or is due for replacement. Not only did all four corners need replacing, the useless dealership (I won't name the dealership, but it's not an Audi dealership) made every attempt possible to cut corners during the repair before finally ordering the OEM parts, turning a relative straightforward repair into an eight-week saga. Ever since I have had an underlying fear of something else critical failing, especially given the tuned nature of the vehicle.
The only other real dislikes I’ve had of this vehicle are the boot being too shallow and some parts of the interior being a little to plastic-y for a car nearing $80,000 new with options. Overall though, I couldn't recommend an Audi S3 enough; especially if, like me, you are seeking the ultimate one car garage for a responsible budget. My final word of warning would be: Watch out for potentially crushing repairs and get a strong warranty if buying used.