Johannesburg - Maybe I’m going a bit crazy. I’ve had the new Audi S3 Sedan in my garage for the last week and as much as I know very well what it actually is, for some reason I keep having to remind myself that it’s not an S4.
But perhaps there’s a good reason why it keeps tricking me. The new Audi S3 Sedan (along with its plainer A3 sibling) has evolved into a larger and more mature package. The second generation, launched late last year, has in fact grown 40mm in length and 20mm in width but it looks even bigger than those numbers suggest.
While the front end looks ripped with its typically oversized grille, the bodyshell appears more elegant than before. While getting a puncture fixed, I ended up parking our test car next to a middle-generation Audi TT and while its owner came up to admire the S3, I found myself ogling at his car and I was impressed that I could still see some TT influence in the new S3’s window lines around the C-pillar.
Beneath the bonnet you’ll find the familiar 2.0-litre turbopetrol motor and it seems Audi has returned to its previous policy of detuning cars for our “hot weather” market. Whereas the European model dishes out 228kW, the local S3 offers up just 213kW, although our car still matches the Euro model’s 400Nm maximum torque output.
It might be down on power, but Audi says the new-generation S3 does at least make better use of its power in more dynamic driving situations thanks to its updated S-specific suspension system and quattro all-wheel drive.
What it’s like to drive
Audi says its new S3 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds, and that certainly feels plausible under hard acceleration. But unless you follow the five-or-so steps required to activate the launch control system, which includes deactivating the ESC and stop/start system, the S3 can be a bit laggy off the mark at altitude, even if you have it dialled into Dynamic mode.
The sporty mode does at least give it a more raspy exhaust note as well as a sportier overall feel, but it’s never overbearing like these modes are in some other performance vehicles.
You can quite happily drive this vehicle with its sporty settings activated and it never feels like an automotive hooligan. And that’s the essence of the new Audi A3 and perhaps part of the reason I kept thinking it was an S4. This is a comfortable and refined package that you could comfortably drive every day.
As for fuel consumption, Audi claims a combined figure of 7.8 litres per 100km, but in real-world driving you’re looking at upwards of 10 l/100km.
Power goes to all four wheels through a slick-shifting seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch gearbox and a fully variable quattro all-wheel drive system. Handling is neat as a pin and the S3 can dissect fast corners with the greatest of accuracy and precision. But it’s not necessarily an exciting experience either, and the steering lacks a little in the way of feel and feedback.
The Audi S3 rides fairly comfortably for a performance vehicle, although the standard 19-inch wheels can make things a little choppy over ripply surfaces. It’s probably well worth spending the extra R13 000 that Audi charges for adaptive dampers. The vehicle ships as standard with a sports suspension system that brings it 15mm closer to the ground.
Fighter jet cabin is big on digital
While the exterior design of the new A3/S3 range is relatively evolutionary, the cabin design makes a radical departure. Whereas the previous generation looked smooth, elegant and uncluttered (and as easy on the eye as you could possibly expect) the new dashboard looks like it was ripped straight out of a fighter jet.
Make what you want of it though, but the new A3/S3 certainly feels a lot more futuristic, digitised and - dare I say - more Lamborghini like. Build quality, of course, is impeccable and the materials are all of an impressively high quality.
Although a 10.25 inch digital instrument cluster comes as standard, you will have to pay more for the fancier Virtual Cockpit Plus with its configurable screens.
The central command centre is a new 10.1-inch infotainment screen with modern, crisp graphics and haptic feedback. It can also recognise letters entered by hand and drivers who’d rather call the shots verbally can take advantage of the voice control system with natural language recognition.
Thankfully Audi hasn’t bundled the ventilation controls into the central screen, instead they reside on a partially digital panel beneath that.
As with the Golf 8 GTI, the automatic gear lever is a small lever positioned on the centre console, which also houses the start button for an easy and convenient start-up process.
Our car came with the fine nappa leather sports seats with embossed ‘S’ logos and they really look the part with their generous bolsters, diamond quilting and contrast red stitching, however they do cost an extra R21 500, to which you can add a further R19 300 if you want electric operation.
Pricing, features and value
This brings us neatly to the elephant in the room that exists with most German cars. There’s a lot of really nice-to-have stuff on the options list, but it can quite easily send the price of the vehicle spiralling.
In base form the Audi S3 Sedan costs R830 000, but our test car came with R177 800 worth of options, pushing it just north of the R1 million mark.
For instance, the Technology Package, which adds all the nice electronics like MMI Navigation Plus, Virtual Cockpit Plus and Infotainment Plus, will set you back a cool R33 500. The Bang & Olufsen Premium 3D sound system does seem rather reasonable though at R8 500.
A bit harder to understand, however, are some rather basic features that one needs to pay extra for. The reverse camera, for instance, costs R6 500, while Park Assist is R5 800 and you don’t even get a split folding rear seat backrest unless you pay an extra R3 500.
On the other hand, the Audi S3 Sedan is still somewhat less expensive than its only direct rival, which is the Mercedes-AMG A35 Sedan, starting at R974 798.
Not as boisterous as the five-cylinder RS3, the latest Audi S3 Sedan does everything you’d expect from Audi’s middle performance model, albeit in a more practical, mature and digitised package that keeps it bang up-to-date. It’s certainly not the most exciting performance car around, but overall it finds a good balance between performance, dynamics and everyday usability. Once again, as you’d expect from Audi. Just make sure you’ve budgeted for those many hard-to-resist optional extras.
Audi S3 Sedan quattro
Price: R830 000 (February 2022)
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbopetrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automated
Drive: All-wheel drive
0-100km/h: 4.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (claimed)
Fuel use: 7.8 litres per 100km (claimed)
Boot capacity: 325 litres
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km