While the interior features of the car were well thought-out, it's the engine that really made this car shine. With output of 210 hp and a strong torque curve all the way up the RPM range, the S3 accelerates forcefully and just keeps on pulling. It is most certainly not as quick as my S4, but it actually feels quicker. I attribute this to the relatively smaller size of the body and the fact that the car gives up over 350 lbs. in curb weight to the S4. One of coolest features of this car -- and one I haven't really noticed to the same extent from the other 1.8T vehicles in Audi's lineup -- is that you can really hear the turbo spool-up during hard acceleration. There's just something intoxicating about zipping up through the gears and following the whine of the turbo as boost builds!
Audi was thoughtful enough to put their 6-speed manual transmission in the S3. The money gears, just as in the S4, are 2nd, 3rd and 4th, although I couldn't complain about the launch in 1st gear. I made plenty of quick launches, running upwards through the gears as my wife looked on unapprovingly. Of course I had no way of timing my runs, but I can subjectively say that the car feels quick and nimble -- it just plain drives fun. On the highway at much higher speeds in 5th and 6th gears power is still available, although maybe not as much as in the lower gears. I definitely got the feeling that the car was more in it's element flying around through tight corner and putting on quick bursts of speed rather than as a highway cruiser.
Kudos should also be given for the S3's suspension which was about as tight as any I've ever felt on a stock factory vehicle. The suspension settings for the car are undoubtedly a result of two things: 1) Vehicles in Europe are generally tighter than North American models; and 2) The fact that the car carried the "S" badge. I think the most telling commentary on this subject came when we got home from the trip. Back in Toronto and on the way home from the airport in my S4 my wife remarked, "Boy, our car sure feels bouncy compared to that S3." Amy is no stranger to cars (I guess that'd be impossible since she's married to me), but her knowledge of suspensions would be fairly limited. She was simply verbalizing what I already knew -- my North American S4 has a suspension tuned for highway cruising, whereas the S3 was setup to be driven aggressively.
My overall impressions of the S3 were quite positive. I will admit that I wasn't expecting as much as the S3 ended up delivering in the end. The car was nicely-styled, comfortable, included a long list of standard features and packed a wallop when the accelerator is pressed. What more could you ask for? I'm also certain that the fuel economy for the S3 would be reasonable, especially compared to it's gas-guzzling brothers the S4, S6 and S8. On the downside, the car did not have the same quiet cabin that I've come to expect from all Audis. This car was brand new, so it should have been sealed tight! But at speeds over about 55 mph it got noisy and at 120 mph it was annoying. The only other negative was the lack of any realistic seating for passengers in the rear. Many small cars are tight in back, but I'm not sure that the S3 would work for anybody except for kids (or maybe if the kids were driving and had the seats all the way forward then adults could sit in the front!)
The smallest "S" definitely delivered big. Put me on the bandwagon for importation to North America.