Audi's new A3 and S3 pairing hit the ground running in New Zealand
Search Driven for Audi A3 for sale
2021 Audi S3 quattro
Of all the automotive brands that have expressed interest in cleaning up emissions, Audi has been one of the most assertive, putting dates on when fossil fuels will be ditched completely.
Earlier this year the German brand revealed that it had completely stopped developing new petrol and diesel engines, and then more recently revealed that the last petrol-powered model will be launched in 2025. Just yesterday, Audi New Zealand boss Dean Sheed mentioned that all new Audi models will be exclusively electric by 2025, and production for petrol-powered Audis will cease completely in 2033. But before Audi is done with petrol completely, they’re looking to have some fun with the new A3 and S3 models.
Known as the entry-level Audi, the A3 has always been a competent package, but this new one ups the ante by adding stunning styling and a plethora of tech (which is mostly good).
Starting on the outside, both the A3 and S3 look more refined than the last generation. Bumpers have gotten more aggressive air intakes, and side profiles are more sculpted than ever before. In terms of dimensions, the wheelbase has remained the same, but it has gotten slightly wider and slightly longer, with a longer overhang up front to help with pedestrian safety.
On the inside, this translates to a little bit of extra legroom in the second row, but space has never really been an issue here.
The interiors of both the A3 and S3 are largely the same, but the sportier S3 gets contrast stitching to symbolize the extra performance. Thankfully, Audi didn’t follow in the footsteps of Volkswagen with the new steering wheel, and has left buttons on it. Below the 12.3-inch infotainment display you’ll also find a set of good old fashioned buttons dedicated to the climate control system. Unfortunately, Audi has slightly spoiled this impressive space by replacing the volume dial with a strange dial in front of the centre console, which isn’t the most responsive, and I found it far too easy to overshoot the mark when attempting to increase the volume.
In New Zealand, Audi plans on selling the A3 in two specifications, and the S3 in just one. The 35 TFSI Advanced represents the starting point to the A3 range, and is priced from $57,900. It gets a turbocharged 1.5-litre engine that sends power through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to the front wheels. Alongside the new 48-volt mild hybrid system, this engine makes a total of 110kW and 150Nm of torque.
Moving up in the A3 range gets you into the 40 TFSI Advanced. It’ll set you back $69,900, but it gets a more powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, and utilizes Audi’s iconic Quattro system to send power to all four wheels.
Unsurprisingly, the step up to an S3 is quite significant as it starts at $89,500, but a worthwhile one in my books. This new S3 gets 228kW/310Nm from its turbo 2.0-litre and will hit 100km/h in 4.8 seconds thanks to the DCT and quattro combo
Every model in the A3/S3 range comes standard with a host of modern driver assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control and parallel parking assist.
On the road, the 35 TFSI is exactly what you’d want from a premium hatch, as it offers a comfortable, quiet ride even on the roughest of roads. Power is adequate for its size, but managing space when passing on the open road is a good idea. The transmission is incredibly smooth, throttle response is impressive, but the suspension has the tendency to wallow through the bends.
In terms of driving dynamics, the S3 offers the significant step up from the A3 that you’d hope for. With a 0-100km/h time of almost half the A3 at 4.8 seconds, it rockets off the line at launch, and slides through gears effortlessly towards speeds that are frowned upon. Unlike the A3, the S3 gets damper control, and things get a lot tighter in sports mode. On the road, everything is kept very tight in sports mode, but selecting comfort mode will loosen things up. Even in the softest setting, the suspension is still a little sharp over rough tarmac, but not to an unacceptable degree.
Like a lot of modern Audi performance cars, grip is abundant, and there’s no shortage of torque to play with.
This new S3 is a lot more composed than other hot hatches on the market, and while it will burble and pop on upshifts, it’s rather subtle. Braking traction is almost impossible, and understeer is kept to a minimum. Because of this, buyers might find the S3 a little less exciting than other options, but that’s only because it’s so competent in what it does.
In terms of cross-shopping, you’ve got slightly cheaper options like Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class and BMW’s 1-Series to look at alongside the A3. When it comes to the S3, it’s a similar story with the premium brands, but it also could be worth waiting on Volkswagen’s new Golf R if performance is what you’re after.
Then of course there’s Audi’s upcoming RS3, which will return with its iconic 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine making 300kW, but that’s in hyper hatch territory, and will be priced well into the six-figure region.