DriveLife was invited to Auckland to the official New Zealand launch of the 2021 Audi A3 and Audi S3 Sportback. The weather across the country had not played ball, pretty crap in Wellington when I left, and not great in Auckland when we arrived. All I had hoped was that the day would improve for when we got to drive the new A3 and S3

Audi New Zealand began the event with a bit of an update on how Audi as a global brand is doing. This began with the mantra for Audi, Vorsprung durch Technik, which translates to, Advancement through Technology. This is something that has been the core of Audi’s development over the last 30 plus years. From the days of the group B rally titan, the Audi quattro, through to their latest electric vehicle, the e-tron GT, Audi is consistently trying to improve through innovation

The last six months have been the most successful in history for Audi. They have broken new records by delivering 891,681 vehicles in that time. This is up 39% from the year before, which is not bad considering the effects of COVID-19. 

EVs as we all know are the new flavour of 2021, with the Q4 e-tron and e-tron GT becoming available in New Zealand. Even though Audi has clear plans for the road ahead there are some hurdles to cross too. Parts supply being the biggest issue, as the world still grapples with the effects of COVID-19. A part that was never even brought up in conversation, semiconductors are the core of a lot of major manufacturer supply issues. A problem that will take time to resolve and recover from. 

The biggest news was the road map from Audi around the transition from ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) to BEV (Battery Electric Vehicles) by 2033. Their plans will be heavily seen by 2025, as no new models from Audi will have pure ICE from that year. 

In addition to this, Audi has an exciting development for the Paris Dakar rally, which is currently a secret electric race car, which will focus on electric power, endurance and off-road. This also expands to their involvement with Le Mans And the Daytona race series that will both have fully electric Audi race cars next year. 

Audi has been happy with the level and range of products hitting our shores this year: including the Q2, SQ2, Q5 Sportback, SQ5 TDi, e-tron GT on top of the A3 and S3 we had experienced at the launch.

Interestingly this year’s top-selling vehicles for Audi has been the Q3 followed by the Q5 and Q7, showing the SUVs are leading the way in customer focus at 70% of all sales. It’s also kind of cool to know that New Zealand has the highest number of RS sales in the world at 24%, and 20% in the S models.

The Audi global update ended with the news about the upcoming Q4 e-tron which will be coming to New Zealand, but not until next year. 

Audi A3 and S3 Sportback 

On to the main event which was the latest models from Audi available in New Zealand, the fourth generation of the A3. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the A3, which has been a much-loved car over the years by Kiwis. Over the lifespan of the A3, it’s seen a higher percentage of female owners at 54%, many of who have been looking for style, luxury and reliability. This swings back to a higher percentage of male owners for the S3, who have been looking more for performance. 

The latest A3 update will be a big one compared to previous generation updates. This new model brings a lot of innovations from Audi’s larger models, which will allow the A3 to offer a very high standard equipment package. 2015 was the biggest year for the A3, selling over 500 vehicles in New Zealand. Since then, the A3 has been on the decline as SUV demand grows. 2020 saw less than 100 sold. The S3 is a great entry-level into the S and RS range Audi offers. Coining the phrase “makes perfection look effortless” as a grown-up hot hatch. Will this update be enough to take on the demand for SUVs?

The new shape of the A3 has gone from what could be called a mini Avant to a mini Sportback, the design is clearly focused on a sporty more sculpted shape. It’s a bit longer than the last model by 33mm and 31mm wider. Overall, the evolution is clear and the new look is sharp. 

There are 2 variants of the A3; the 35 TFSI Advanced which starts at $57,900 and the 40 TFSI Quattro S-Line starting at $69,990. The 40 TFSi is not available in New Zealand until next month, which left us testing the 35 TFSI on the day. There is only one variant available for the S3, the S3 Quattro which starts at $89,500. Both the A3 and the S3 come highly spec’d with a new interior and full digital environments with Audi cockpit. 

The A3 comes in a range of 12 colours, with some blues, yellows and reds, not just the standard white, silver and black. There are also 14 different wheel options to choose from, some are limited to A3 and S3, but there is a range of 6 Audi Sport wheels. 

The 35 TSFI comes with a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, which creates 110kW of power and 150 Nm of torque. The 40 TSFI Quattro comes with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, which creates 140kW of power and 188Nm of torque. The S3 shares the same 2.0-litre, but it is set up to produce 228kW of power and 310Nm of torque, this also helps to rocket the S3 to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

The standard features on the A3 are impressive for a base-level model. These include 48v MHEV technology, 17” alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, roof rails, alarm and immobiliser, metallic paint, keyless entry and start, adaptive cruise assist, MMI Navigation Plus, virtual cockpit, Audi Connect, smartphone interface, wireless phone charger, dual-zone climate control, ambient LED interior lighting, park assist, high beam assist, lane change assist and a rearview camera.

The S3 adds the following features: 19” alloy wheels, red brake calipers, S sports suspension with damper control, aluminium roof rails, privacy glass, virtual cockpit plus (larger), electronic front seats with driver memory, sports front seats, nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats, lumbar support, ambient LED interior lighting +, black headlining and dark aluminium inlays. 

The day that was couldn’t have been worse for a launch event; the weather was rubbish and it rained for most of the day. But that’s OK, because one of the cars we were about to test had Quattro AWD, which is a great system for tackling any conditions. Sadly the A3 which we drove first didn’t. But we found out later that this was a good decision, as the weather got worse as the day went on. 

Behind the wheel of the A3, it was very representative of Audi’s previous offering. The small engine had a lot of torque or pull, which is impressive from 1.5-litres. It didn’t feel like a small engine and on the first leg of the drive, the A3 handled the road like a champ. I did notice however that the ride was a bit firmer than I was expecting for an entry-level model. Whether this was stiff suspension or low profile tyres I was not sure. There was also a decent level of road noise in the cabin, again linked to the same problem as the ride. It was not uncomfy, but it was unexpected. I also noticed that the engine could barely be heard, this became more apparent when using the paddles to change gear, as I tried to listen to the engine revs. In the wet the car handled well, with only one wheel spin event when I tried to take off from a set of lights with too much gusto. From my brief experience behind the wheel, I found the A3 to be a good bit of kit for the asking price. 

After lunch, it was time to head back and this time it was in the S3, a very different beast. 

The weather was really dumping down now, but I was confident that the S3 with Quattro would have no problems dealing with it. As an Audi owner, I have had many years of experience with Quattro vehicles, which enable you to deal with a lot of nasty conditions with ease. With a foot to the floor we launched away down the road with a roar and a couple of pops from the exhaust; the difference was clear, this S3 was a sports car by comparison to the A3. The ride was also noticeably smoother, thanks to the Audi Sport suspension and active dampers. There was a decent level of soundproofing in the cabin too, possibly too much for my liking as it shields you from some of the engine noise. The S3 felt much more planted on the road, the wheel also had a lot more feedback than the A3, leaving you feeling more in control. On the journey back, the rain came down so heavily that I could only see one of two cars ahead. But the S3 never missed a beat, just took it in its stride, as an S or RS model should. 

It was great to spend a brief bit of time behind the wheel of the new A3 and the S3, two very different cars. We look forward to being able to test both of these cars in more detail when they make their way to Wellington for a full-length feature review.

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