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The Hot Sedan

AUDI S3 QUATTRO |

The original S3, launched in 1999, successfully positioned Audi as a serious contender in the hot hatch market. Bringing unmatched premium quality, the S3 provided a more mature and yet formidable alternative for consumers. Building on its success, Audi went on to release the S3 sedan in the car’s third generation, bringing the fight to the likes of the Mercedes CLA. And now, in 2021, with two decades of success under its belt, the S3 Sportback and saloon have received an update. We took the latter to the streets to see where the car stands in today’s competitive market.

Fundamentally, the S3 shares its silhouette with the outgoing model, but luckily there are some visual changes to set it apart. The most notable changes up front are present in the redesigned LED headlights with a new LED DRL signature, which flank a wider and more aggressive honeycomb grille. Complementing the new grille are larger lower air intakes with three slots above the grille paying homage to Audi rally sport. 

Being the S model, the car gets wider haunches and wheel arches, which house new 18” alloys (19” alloys are optional). There are redesigned LED taillights at the back, a sporty diffuser, and traditional S quad exhaust pipes. The car also sits 15 mm lower than the standard A3, which gives it a more aggressive stance. If that’s not enough, there are also plenty of S3 badges dotted around the car to let people around you know that this is not your average A3. Our test car came with a tango red metallic paint finish which contrasted beautifully with the optional black trim package and effectively upped onlooker appreciation value.

All Aboard

The S3’s interior sees dramatic changes in its latest iteration. Where its predecessor had an old school charm to it – with bulbous air vents, an analogue gauge cluster, a standard gear lever and an infotainment system that popped out of the dash – the new one has scrapped all of these. The new cabin is inspired by futuristic elements, with two giant screens dominating the space and the air vents incorporated into ruler-straight lines running the length of the dash. Heck, even the old shifter is gone to be replaced by a rather stubby knob. 

After polling a few friends, it seems that the new interior design is a bit “marmalade” – with most people falling squarely on the love or hate side of the spectrum. I, personally, like marmalade and think it looks premium, classy and definitely in keeping with the times. 

Being an S model, you obviously get some exclusive touches that you wouldn’t get in a standard A3, including a red surround on the start button, S badges on the seats and steering wheel, S kick plates on the door opening and aluminium foot pedals.

The car comes with a 10.1” integrated infotainment system replete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, while the driver faces a configurable 10.25” digital instrument cluster. I was also pleased to note that Audi has stuck with physical buttons for the air conditioning system, which I feel are more intuitive on the move than touchscreen systems. 

The Nappa leather sports seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, striking a nice balance between the comfort required on a leisurely drive and the demands of fast driving on a mountain road. Rear passengers are also treated to Nappa leather seats and decent passenger leg and headspace.

Dream Machine

Lurking underneath the S3’s bonnet is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that comes married to a seven-speed transmission. Much to purists’ chagrin, there is sadly no option for an old fashioned stick shift here. The engine, which shares a lot of its mechanical componentry with the Golf R and other VAG products, produces a scintillating 213 kW and 400 Nm of torque down to Audi’s foolproof Quattro system. Audi claims a 0-100 km/hr sprint time of just 4.9 seconds with a 250km/hr governed top speed. And, while I did not have a telemetry device to confirm exact performance data, the car certainly felt as fast out the blocks as indicated, though, for fear of losing my driver’s license, I did not attempt the top speed. 

The S3 is a pocket rocket that achieves performance levels reserved for supercars just a decade ago. I credit much of this performance to the GmbH magic that is Quattro, which provides an unnatural level of traction on the road. With power efficiently delivered to the wheels and the grip giving me confidence with each corner, I extracted some serious enjoyment from the drive. There is a tad bit of turbo lag that you must accommodate until you climb past 2,500 rpm, where the entire performance spectrum is at your disposal with its raspy soundtrack echoing off the buildings as you whizz past.

Though a little numb at times, the progressive steering was communicative enough for me to know exactly what the front wheels were doing at all times. This coupled with optional adjustable dampers on my teste vehicle – which I had set to the firmest setting to negate body roll – gave the S3 some impressive handling dynamics. It is, perhaps, not the last word in exciting handling, but the performance at hand was rewarding.

The beauty of the S3, though, is that it’s so much more than just a sporty ride. With the driver settings set to the comfiest of settings, the S3 turns into a civil and comfortable family car. The suspension is forgiving, and the ride is composed. Audi claims you can achieve 8l/100 km, though that figure will undoubtedly creep up if you drive the car with a lead foot.

Last Word

To me, the 2021 S3 Sedan is positioned in a good place in its segment, with just the right amount of comfort and class coupled with exciting performance. Sure, the competition gives it a run for its money, but as a comprehensive package, the car holds its own. While its Sportback version is more popular, the sedan is an attractive proposition for those not infatuated by the hot hatch hype. And if you’re looking for a little more performance, rest easy because the rowdy and vocal RS3 is in the pipeline. And if the S3 offers this much driver enjoyment, we can only imagine what the future holds.

Report by BRYAN KAYAVHU | Images © AUDI SOUTH AFRICA 

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