Audi S3 is a svelte firecracker

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At first glance, the 2017 S3 is completely recognizable as an Audi: tight character lines, distinct headlamps with bordered LEDs and the signature four-ring logo prominently centered on the grille.

You think you know what you are getting into, literally and figuratively, but there are surprises that explode with excitement and manage to delight at every turn. Although the Audi S3 shares its looks, interior and its underpinnings with the A3, that “S” could stand for Super. At its core, the S3 is nothing short of a speedy sophistication. It will stand up to some pretty impressive competition with the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 and BMW M2.

There are two variations of the S3: Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels.

Inside the cabin, the Audi Virtual Cockpit treatment is prevalent everywhere you look. Most impressive for me was the new LCD screen that has replaced the analog gauges. It is incredibly nimble to manipulate and makes it easy to pick out key data.

As expected, the cabin is extremely quiet. While the S3 is no S7, Audi did not take away any of the craftsmanship, attention to detail or quality leather material placements. Sure, there’s less wood and less leather than in higher-level Audis, but it is beautiful and comfortable nonetheless.

While I really do love the big, round vents that protrude from the dash, the No. 1 aspect of interior appointments has to be the power-operated seating. With side bolstering that holds and a firm bottom cushion that supports, the S3 offers exceptional comfort. Front passengers enjoy plenty of room, but rear seaters will feel cramped at best.

Sight lines are excellent, and the glass surround feels sporty and fun. Considering its compact dimensions, the S3 is easy to maneuver, park and place in the exact position you want in the driveway or in a parallel parking space (thanks, rear-view camera, as always).

Under the hood is really where this Audi is special. Considering the lithe curb weight (only 3,462 pounds) and the bountiful horsepower being catapulted from the turbo powerplant, buckle up and be alert; there’s serious fun to be had.

The S3 features a 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged inline four that delivers 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This four-cylinder has an impressive cache of data: 0–60 mph in less than 5 seconds; top speed limited to 155 mph. A serious, paddle-shifted, dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission pairs perfectly to the turbo and dishes out torque to all four wheels (all-wheel drive is standard).

In addition to the expected airbags and stability control are a new pre-collision restraint prep and simulated torque vectoring system for the front wheels made possible by the S3’s anti-lock brake system. The S3 scores five stars overall in NHTSA testing, with four stars in front-collision and rollover tests.

The Audi S3 rates at 21 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined on premium gasoline. Base prices start at $42,900 but easily climb with options. My tester, featuring three distinct upgrade packages, finished at $51,325.

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