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Has a Ring to It: Audi A3 and S3 First Drive

Earlier today, we were invited to the New Zealand launch of Audi’s fourth generation A3 and S3. It should come as no surprise that the Audi A3 has been around for 25 years now and was responsible for creating the premium hatch segment. The same goes for the S3 which was the founding father of the performance premium hatch. So why then does this name have a ring to it?

Firstly, it’s an Audi and their emblem is literally four rings. Secondly, the A3 is most people’s first foray into Audi ownership. So for most people, the name has a ring to it!

It should come as no surprise to most that Audi chose to release this fourth generation A3 in New Zealand. Even though, 60-70% of Audi’s sales here are SUV based, the A3 still has a strong pull. Even more so worldwide where 30-40% of Audis sold are SUVs so the A3 occupies a much larger market. Alongside that, Audi have set their ICE expiry date at 2033 which is still 12 years away! Kiwis love our sporty Audis and the stats back that up with 44% of NZ Audi buyers opting for S & RS models. The now launched S3 and soon to come RS3 make up a big part of that so it was vital for Audi to launch these new cars here. And they did!

Audi's S3 and A3 on show in Auckland
With some serious design changes and performance tweaks, these two are going to be good!

Before we could drive these new hatches, we were treated to a stats fest from Audi’s terrific trio of Dean, Jared and Mark. All of whom were the source of the information above. They also briefed us about Audi’s past, present and future. All this over a nice coffee courtesy of Ozone which was perfect for a chilly Auckland morning.

Back to the cars. I paired up with a fellow young journalist and we jumped at the chance to drive the S3 on the way up to lunch. He took the first half of the drive up and I navigated, heaven help us. As you will know, I am hopeless with directions but there we were. Time’s up and now I get to have a go behind the wheel. Great stuff but we got so carried away talking in fact that we blew past our turn off onto the twisty roads. The clock was now against us so I changed the car up to dynamic, turned on my focus and went for it. I was really flying around the corners, so much so that I managed to make a guy who doesn’t usually get car sick, well sick! The only reason I could do that was down to the S3. It feels so planted around corners and even the soaking roads couldn’t faze the hot hatch. The grip was just phenomenal. So was the braking, plenty to get me out of trouble and then more than enough on tap to get me back into trouble. A great drive which made for quite the adventure around those back roads. Thanks to the surefooted cornering ability of the S3, we ended up fashionably late with just enough time to catch lunch and dessert.

A white 4th generation Audi S3
Our weapon of choice, the new S3

The location for the meal was a place called the ‘Fisherman’s’ something or other. That wasn’t the actual name, I just can’t remember what came after Fisherman! You can just imagine what I’m like with road names. The food itself was excellent, the lamb I had was just falling away from the bone and then there was a gorgeous chocolate mousse to top things off. With the lovely lunch down, it was time to hit the road again. Our stint in the S3 was now finished, it was time for us to take on the A3. Our review model came in Atoll Blue which is an all new colour for this generation of the A3.

Front view of the 4th generation Audi A3 in Atoll Blue
After driving the S3, could the A3 be the surprise package?

As you can see, the new A3 looks a lot more aggressive than before. Larger headlamps, grille and additions to the fascia make it look so much more striking. The above A3 is the base 35 TFSI model which has a 1.5 litre turbo engine with a 48V mild hybrid system. I have got to say, this was the surprise package. I was surprised at how good the A3 was around corners without Quattro and now that the roads had gotten even wetter. I even made it hard for the S3 behind me to keep up! There’s a great sense of fun going around corners and the engine has plenty of grunt for all the tough stuff. It just needs to drop a couple of gears sometimes. But seeing as 78% of A3 buyers live in cities and suburbs, the 1.5 litre turbo engine will be more than they’ll ever need really.

Even on the gravel roads, the A3 soaked up the bumps without a fuss and kept the cabin quiet. No shouting needed! The materials itself are good quality and the new infotainment system certainly improves the premium feeling of the car. Speaking of which, the new system has 10x the computing capacity of the previous model. Crazy stuff!

Audi's new A3 and S3 models
Beautiful in blue!

Returning to Auckland traffic, the A3 perfectly integrated back into city life. It really is an excellent all rounder as this drive proved. 25 years might have passed between the first A3 and this model but there’s no doubt that this is still a car at the top of its game. Same goes for the S3.

Thanks for the opportunity to attend the launch of the new Audi A3 & S3. And thanks for your hospitality, Audi New Zealand!

Words and photos by Matthew D’Souza.

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