Review: 2021 Audi S3 Sportback sets new standards

2021 Audi S3 Sportback review from Tarmac Life on Newshub.
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

At the turn of this new millennium, German automaker Audi created an up-specced version of its popular A3 compact.

Calling it the S3, it opened the sporty premium compact market segment by offering more power, more athleticism and more desirability.

Now there's a new generation S3 in town and Audi NZ gave me the keys.

Much has changed over the past 20 or so years; however, thankfully the Audi S3's vision of a premium sports hatch has remained constant and this latest iteration goes even further, setting new standards in the category.

My review model came in Ara blue which in Māori means to 'rise up', and this new S3 certainly does just that. It's grown in size, is even better looking, offers greater technology, has an improved all-wheel-drive system, better suspension and stops on a proverbial dime.

Compared with its predecessors, the new S3 Sportback has grown 3cm in length to 4.35m and 3cm in width to 1.82m, which in turn gives more shoulder room and elbow room.

2021 Audi S3 Sportback review.
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

There's no compromise in the rear luggage compartment either with 325L or up to 1145L to play with. 

The S3's new nose comes with a large 'rhombus-patterned' singleframe grille that is synonymous with Audi's current design language and an '80s inspired bonnet slit and big lower air inlets that sit under the optional Matrix LED headlights. 

The shoulderline runs the entire profile from head to taillights while the areas below are curved inward placing a stronger emphasis on the 'quattro blister' wheel arches that envelope the machine finished alloys. And to top of the fresh design, the rear end features a large diffuser and four exhaust tailpipes.

The first thing I noticed when venturing inside was the new compact gear nub which is attached to its seven-speed S tronic box, it really frees up the console space. Leather furniture is a given and there's some decorative aluminium or carbon inlays around the dash that have apparently been designed to evoke the shape of the headlights. 

The cabin is premium but so too is the technology. Audi's virtual cockpit plus comes at the driver with a 12.3-inch diagonal screen sitting behind the steering wheel. Not only does it offer up a multitude of driving details but also shows a full panel Google map to ensure you don't get lost - unless you want to. 

While the instrument panel is a 10.1-inch touch display that comes with Audi's latest (MIB 3). Its computing power is 10 times higher than that of its predecessor, it performs all tasks relating to connectivity with LTE Advanced speed, and it has an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot. Route guidance is flexible and accurate, while navigation can offer high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth, and traffic information. Individual settings, such as frequently selected destinations or air conditioning preferences, can be stored in up to six user profiles.

2021 Audi S3 Sportback interior.
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Connectivity between the new S3 Sportback and the user's smartphone occurs via the myAudi app, as well as via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For music fans, the optional Bang & Olufsen premium sound system with 3D sound delivers a particularly spatial soundscape.

My review time was a five day mixture of domestic duties and sporty thrills, both of which the new S3 handled with vigour - well, the sporty side for sure.  

Around town and in comfort the new S3 goes about its business like an upmarket hatch should. Visibility is good, turning circle not bad for an all-wheel drive, it comes with no end of driver and safety aids (including cross-traffic and park assist systems) and the aforementioned boot space makes it practical too.

However, there is a lot of play in the accelerator and a fair amount of turbo lag when pulling away at junctions. But clear the diary and head for the hills and this sporty fastback more than lives up to its reputation. 

Switch to Sport and the 4-cylinder 2.0 TFSI engine that lies under the bonnet comes alive. It has a maximum power output of 228 kW, with 400 Nm of torque to boot (and boot you will do).

The 0 - 100 km/h sprint can be done in 4.8 seconds, often a bit faster and the combination of the S tronic transmission, quattro drive with intelligent control, and an S specific sport suspension with damper control, has you devouring the twists and turns of NZ's beautiful countryside. 

Behind the scenes Audi engineers have thrown in some clever wizardry to get you moving at pace, high-tech features like the Audi valvelift system (AVS) adjusts the lift of the intake valves as required, meaning that the combustion chambers are well filled, while thermal management helps to ensure high efficiency - it sounds very, very good under high revs.

The S tronic box seems to predict your every gear selection intention and the fully variable hydraulic multi-plate clutch in front of the rear axle moves between the front and the back as required, combining dynamic performance with stability and efficiency, all overseen by the modular dynamic handling control a new system that closely links the quattro drive to the Electronic Stabilisation Control (ESC) and the controlled dampers.

The S sport suspension with damper control sees valves control the oil flow in the dampers so that they can adapt to the condition of the road, the driving situation, and the driver's individual selection in a few thousandths of a second, while the four-link rear axle and progressive steering offers everything required for driving enjoyment.

It can stop too with its new electric brake booster that ensures strong and spontaneous deceleration, while all four brake discs are internally ventilated. The brake callipers come in red with 19-inch wheels as standard.

It's been over two decades since the Audi S3 first hit the road and over that time it's made its mark on the automotive landscape. The new model is better than ever and such a blast to drive, it really sets a new standard in the category and I for one can't wait to see what they've done with the RS.

  • Why you should: A thrilling drive with uprated suspension and Audi good looks
  • Why you shouldn't: It is a little laggy when not in Sport mode
  • What else to consider: Mercedes-AMG A Class Hatchback, BMW 1 Series M135i, Cupra Leon, Golf GTI, Hyundai i30 N are all good places to start.

Tarmac Life