Driven - Aug 2021

Souped up with the S3 Sedan

We spent time trying to figure out if the Audi S3 Sedan is as fast as a compact 4 door family hauler should be.

While Audi’s smaller RS derivatives have been renowned to include the shouty, all powerful 5 pot turbocharged motors, the more affordable boosted 4 cylinders shared with Volkswagen and paired to a quattro powertrain prove to be just as much fun for a more affordable price tag. Not only does the S3 bridge the gap between the mundane-to-drive A3 and the ludicrous RS3, but it’s less hardcore and therefore more usable.

While this may sound daft to read, not many people in the market for a purpose built supercar predator like the new RS3, made up predominantly of youngsters like me, have the finances to back up their preference. The 2021 model year RS3 is expected to cost north of R1,3 million while the S3 only starts at R810 000. 

That’s not to say that the S3 is not a performance capable machine, in fact it’s power of 228kW and torque of 400Nm propel it to 0-100km/h in a time of only 4.8 seconds which can still snap at the heels of the big boys. If you are well versed with Audi products you may think this is a typo since the above specs are exactly the same as the previous model but they are not. Improvements have been made in the mid range when accelerating which give the torque a more linear delivery than before and enable the new derivative to complete the quarter mile fractionally quicker than the outgoing model despite being a bit heavier tipping the scales at 1464kg.

Once you engage dynamic mode and feel the motor deliver its full performance, this becomes completely prominent with torque consistently propelling the car forward all the way up to the redline. It is a fun car to drive enthusiastically, with the quattro system instilling vast amounts of confidence when behind the wheel – sometimes a little bit too much… Not only is cornering at speed in the realm of possibility, but any heartstopping split-second of oversteer is immediately corrected by the clever programming of the Haldex system.

This brings me onto my next point; steering. The dynamics of turning and accelerating give this sedan immense cornering capabilities. While the steering can admittedly feel a bit light and disconnected in Comfort, flipping the drive mode switch to Dynamic immediately remedies this. The lighter front end of the 4 cylinder over the RS models also makes slow cornering and low speed maneuverability much easier to live with. 

For the majority of my duration with the S3, the drive mode was permanently engaged in Dynamic and despite this the suspension remained comfortable, compliments of damper control. The drivetrain was also smooth and the 7-speed S-Tronic gearbox produced prompt shifts without jerking the car along. The only downfall I found was the continually emptying petrol tank which can be expected when the addictive engine burbles on deceleration spur you on. The current exhaust setup is demure in comparison to the outgoing model, particularly with the soft limiter, but once going the induction noise resonates through the cabin and tingles the senses. 

It’s not all good news as Audi have infused sound actuation through the speakers in an attempt to boost the engine noise. The subtle, fake 5 cylinder exhaust note at the top of the rev range makes the model attempt to be something it is not, no matter how good it sounds.

The rear bumper is also scattered with fake vents while only one intercooler vent is functional on the front bumper of the car while the other side is blanked off. It isn’t all bad news for the purists as there are four real exhaust pipes below the diffuser.

Keeping with the exterior, the updated model has sharpened up the previous design extensively with more aggressive headlights and vents dominating the front end. Aside from that and a few tweaks to the rear, their silhouettes are almost identical. Subjectively, the S3 looks streaks better than the awkwardly proportioned BMW M235i Gran Coupe and is probably on par with the squat Mercedes-Benz A35 Sedan. Where the largest update has been implemented is the interior, which feels more modern as opposed to the already outdated previous gen center console.

Premium is the dominating theme in the cabin where comfortable, supportive seats host the driver and pleasant looking and feeling materials dominate everything in front of the eye. For the first time, the infotainment screen has been integrated into the dashboard while Lamborghini inspired aircon vents flank the drivers display.

Much like the previous generation of S3 sedan, the driver and passenger seats have sufficient room all around but the sharp rake of the C pillar has limited the headroom for taller passengers in the second row of seats. To appease their potentially less comfortable journey, the driver can bestow the entertainment responsibility to the passengers in the back seats as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto screen mirroring can be done wirelessly. 

The minimal center console features a minute extrusion which operates in a similar fashion to a traditional gearknob and is a hint to what we can expect in electric powered Audi’s in the near future. Despite looking foreign, it is easy to assimilate to although I found my hand would naturally reach much higher to engage with it from muscle memory. Despite some red stitching and an S logo, the interior still lacks the overall flair of a sporty sedan but not quite on the same level as being stuck in a Post Office in Berlin. 

Since the first S3 model was introduced over 20 years ago, Audi has mastered the sporty premium compact market segment. While the RS model has capabilities to compete with modern day purpose built supercars and with price tags equally as mouthwatering, the S3 might be the better buy when it comes to a well balanced car with good suspension and performance. Its not too hardcore but remains fun enough to put a smile on your face every time you go for a drive. 

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