I love a quick Audi, so I was pretty excited to be testing the new 2021 S3 Sportback. We had a family trip planned from Wellington to Napier, which would be an ideal opportunity to give the S3 a workout.

Read on to find out how it went. 

What We Like and Dislike About The 2021 Audi S3 Sportback

What we likeWhat we don’t like
Performance
Quality interior
Looks
Ride and handling
Great stereo
Not as exciting as I hoped
Over-eager lane assist
Dark in the back
Heads-up display optional

What’s In The 2021 Audi S3 Sportback Range?

In New Zealand you get the S3 Sportback and that’s your only S3 option, priced at $89,500. It features a 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making a healthy 228kW of power and 400Nm of torque. There’s a 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, and being a sporty Audi, it has quattro all-wheel drive.

2021 Audi S3 Sportback Standard Equipment Highlights

  • ESC with torque-vectoring
  • Front driver & passenger airbags with side airbags in the front seats, side guard head airbag
  • ISOFIX child seat anchorages front & rear
  • Anti theft alarm with interior surveillance and vehicle immobiliser
  • Audi Drive Select
  • Audi Pre-Sense Front
  • Audi Park Assist with parallel parking assist
  • Adaptive cruise assist with emergency assist
  • High beam assist
  • Lane Change Assist
  • Rear view camera
  • 19″ alloy wheels in 5 double spoke S-design
  • S Sports Suspension with Damper Control
  • Aluminium look, heated, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors with memory
  • LED headlights and LED dynamic taillights 
  • Electric tail gate with convenience opening o l l 
  • Electric front seats, memory function for driver’s seat
  • Nappa leather interior trim
  • Heated sports front seats
  • Automatic climate control – two zone
  • Auto-dimming Interior Mirror
  • MMI Navigation Plus with Audi Virtual Cockpit
  • Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus 12.3″ screen
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Split-folding 40:20:40 rear seat

Colours available are 

  • Navarra Blue Metallic
  • Mythos Black Metallic
  • Tango Red Metallic
  • Python Yellow Metallic
  • Glacier White Metallic
  • Daytona Grey Pearlescent
  • Turbo Blue
  • Ibis White

2021 Audi S3 Sportback Optional Equipment 

Our review car had the following optional equipment

  • Matrix LED Headlights and LED dynamic tail lights – $2000
  • Alloy wheels,5-double-spoke edge style, Anthracite Black, diamond-turned,8J x 19, 235/35 R19 tires, Audi Sport GmbH – $ 2,500
  • Black optics styling package + black roof rails – $1500
  • Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System with 3D sound – $2250
  • Carbon inlays in Carbon Atlas – $750

The full price of our review car including options is $98,500.

For a full list of specs and options available for the 2021 Audi S3 Sportback, jump on over to the Audi New Zealand website

How Does The 2021 Audi S3 Sportback Compare To Its Competition?

There’s not a great deal around in the faster hot-hatch bracket, but the competition here is tough!

Make/ ModelEnginePower kW/Nm0-100kmFuel L/100kmBoot SpacePrice
Mercedes-AMG A352.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo225/4004.77.4405$92,718
Audi S3 Sportback2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo228/4004.87.4325$89,500
BMW M135i2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo225/4504.87.5380$88,900
Renault Megane RS Trophy1.8-litre 4-cylinder turbo221/4205.87.5434$68,990
Hyundai i30N Hatchback2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo205/3926.18.5381$65,990
Honda Civic Type-R2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo228/4005.88.8420$62,990
Ford Focus ST2.3-litre, 4-cylinder turbo234/4205.78.6273$59,990
Subaru WRX STI2.5-litre4-cylinder turbo 221/4074.910.9460$59,990

First Impressions Of The 2021 Audi S3 Sportback

I reckon Audi have nailed it with the looks on this current generation S3, particularly in a bright colour like the Turbo Blue of our review car. The front bumper looks sporty and aggressive with its honeycomb pattern, somehow managing to pull off a huge grille without it dominating the car’s face. Maybe the fairly minimal all-in-one front light units help to tone it down. And is that vent under the bonnet a subtle nod to the Sport Quattro’s three bonnet vents?

Our car had the optional Black Appearance Package which replaced the aluminium detail pieces in the bumper, side skirts, roof rails and mirrors with gloss black and I think it looks much better that way. This costs $1,800 extra and I’ll leave it up to you to judge the value. The side view is pretty minimal and clean, finished off with a little boot spoiler. The standard 19” wheels are good-looking but whoever specced this car definitely made the right choice when they ticked the box for the ($2,400) optional diamond-turned black and silver 19s. More aggressive-looking and they finish the car off well.

Move to the rear and again it’s pretty minimal with the lighting and small S3 badge, but the two pairs of fat, chromed exhaust tips give it away that the hatchback that just passed you has some serious poke. And on this Audi at least, the tips are real and functional.

If you want to show-off at night, show your friends the animated light display when you unlock the S3. The (optional) matrix LED headlights do this as well as the tail lights. The indicators are sequential too.

What’s The Interior Like In The  2021 Audi S3 Sportback?

It’s interesting what can trigger a visceral response, and in the S3, the moment I sat inside, the smell did it for me. New Audis with leather seats all have the same wonderful leathery smell, and it immediately grounded me in the car, bringing back the familiarity of the environment. And it is familiar if you’ve been in any of the Audi family recently, a little too familiar in some, as John argues here.

In the S3, this familiarity is by no means a bad thing. Audi interiors are excellent – modern, angular, streamlined. Great fit and finish, and quality materials. The central touch screen is integrated into the dash, surrounded by piano black trim, with aluminium edging to highlight and lift the feel. I particularly liked the way Audi has given the driver a symmetrical pod with high vents on each side of the Virtual Cockpit Plus main driver’s display.

I’m a big fan of the Virtual Cockpit display – it can be set up in various ways, from minimal speed and revs, to full-colour, full-screen maps, and various other stages in between. Definition and clarity are excellent in all conditions. One thing I would have expected in a sporty Audi is a heads-up display, but in the S3 it’s a $2,300 optional extra.

The wheel is wrapped in perforated leather and is comfortable to hold, with simple and easy-to-use buttons and thumb wheels for stereo controls and to change display settings. Cruise control is adjusted with a third stalk on the left of the wheel, which is standard Audi fare. Personally I prefer buttons on the wheel for this but once you learn the settings it’s fine.

There are physical buttons for the aircon and heated seats, and the centre console is kept neat and minimal with just Audi’s small shift-by-wire shifter and the electric parking brake controls. The only thing I didn’t like much was that the drive mode button is as far away from the driver as it can be on the dash, making it a bit of a stretch to reach. Presumably it was designed for a left-hand drive car, but it’s something they really should have moved for RHD markets.

There’s ambient lighting all around the cabin, which can be set to whatever colour suits your mood (or in my case whatever colour my daughter likes best that day). There are two USB-C ports for phone charging in the centre console, and two more for the rear seats. 

Android Auto and Wireless Apple CarPlay are included, though personally I prefer to use Audi’s own interface. The sound quality is excellent. I can’t speak for the standard system – our review car had the ($2,250) optional 705-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.

The front seats are Nappa leather and look fantastic, with diamond-patterned contrasting stitching and a moulded S3 logo at the top. The side bolsters are good enough to hold you in place during sporty driving without being so big that you notice them when getting in and out. The seats feel firm, but they proved to be very comfortable with no fatigue after a 4-hour plus drive.

Moving to the back, the legroom is good for a small hatchback, though I wouldn’t want to sit in the centre seat for too long. With the dark grey head lining and no sunroof, it can feel dark in the back, but on our weekend trip to Napier, my daughter didn’t have any complaints.

The rear seats split 40/20/40 for flexibility in carrying your various purchases. The boot is a little smaller than the competition at 325 litres, but expands to 1,145 litres with the seats folded. It was plenty for our weekend suitcase and everything else we needed for the trip.

What’s The 2021 Audi S3 Sportback Like To Drive?

For my first few days in the S3, I didn’t have the opportunity to open it up, mostly commuting in traffic and doing school runs. I left the drive mode in Comfort, which improves the ride on the adaptive dampers and also makes the engine note quieter. The ride is firm, as you would expect from a hot hatch, but not uncomfortably so, even in Dynamic mode. In Comfort or Auto mode, the S3 is a little sluggish to set off, generally favouring a higher gear, presumably for emissions and efficiency. On the occasional on-ramp when I put my foot down, the car revealed its power, getting up to the speed limit quickly, but with no drama. To be honest at this point I was starting to feel a little disappointed with the S3. It’s certainly a luxurious and quick hatch, but wasn’t feeling all that hot.

The time came for our weekend roadie to Napier, and I was looking forward to stretching the S3’s legs a bit. As we started to climb Remutaka Hill Road there was a fair bit of traffic, so I left the drive mode in Auto. This made the S3 want to stay in 5th gear, and the drive was a bit flat. I changed to manual shifting using the paddles, but avoided Dynamic mode as I was trying to avoid my two passengers getting car sick. This was much better and I got the chance to pass a couple of trucks at the passing lanes.

Once over the Hill we engaged the smart cruise control. It’s great in traffic, coming to a complete stop when needed. This latest version of Audi’s smart cruise now slows down for corners, avoiding that momentary worry the driver can get when the car zooms around a tight bend at the set speed. It slowed a little more than I liked, given how good the grip is on this car, but it definitely felt safer.

I found the Lane Assist function to be a bit intrusive on the Audi, pushing back towards the centre of the lane a little early. Though I noticed the same with a Hyundai on this same route so it may be more down to the road markings on our highways than the cars themselves.

We’d set off quite late in the afternoon, so about an hour from Napier it was already completely dark. There’s no lighting on that part of the highway, which was an excellent opportunity to test the ($2,000) optional Matrix LED headlights with auto high beams. And man, are they good! When there’s no other traffic around, they light up the road for several hundred metres ahead of you, and provide way more light to the sides of the road than normal headlights would. Approach another car, or an oncoming car and that’s when the magic happens. The beam makes a dark patch around that vehicle. The best way I can describe it is like in old scifi movies (like the original Star Wars) where something is superimposed, you see a square around the object that moves across the screen with it. It’s weird, and amazing, and works brilliantly (pun intended).

Later that weekend I finally got a chance to take the S3 out for a bit of a run on my own. Switch the drive mode to Dynamic, and the car’s character changes. It goes from being a bit ordinary and sluggish, to being like an eager and growly puppy. It wants to go, and it wants to get there fast. The engine note gets louder and deeper, and even though half of the sound is from the internal speakers, it sounds great. It grumbles, it growls, it makes woofly noises on lifting-off the throttle, and when you shift gears it makes the noises that I can only describe as “DSG farts”. In short, it makes noises that make me grin.

The car leaps forward at the slightest prod of the throttle. Gear shifts are lightning-quick. The speed limit is reached in way too little time (0-100 in 4.8s). And the quattro grip is, as you’d expect, pretty spectacular. But, there’s a but. And that’s that it feels like other Audi S-cars. It’s fast, it’s stable, it’s comfortable, it’s hugely competent, you know that whatever road you point it at, it will eat it up, and if we didn’t have speed limits you’d cover ground spectacularly quickly. But somehow despite all of this, it’s not exciting. It’s fun, but has a blunt edge, a numbness. This is consistent with the other S-cars, and may be what you’re looking for. But for me it’s just not quite enough.

Audi’s quoted fuel consumption is 7.4 litres per 100km. We managed 8.1 average over 800km, which is pretty close.

2021 Audi S3 Sportback Specifications

Vehicle TypeSports 5-door Hatchback 
Starting Price$89,500
Price as Tested$98,500
Engine1984cc 16-valve TFSI inline-4 turbo
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
228/400
Transmission7 speed S Tronic
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,710
Length x Width x Height, mm4431 x 1793 x 1396
Cargo Capacity, litres325/1145
Fuel tank capacity, litres55
Fuel Economy,
L/100km
Advertised Spec – Combined – 7.4
Real-World Test – Combined – 8.1
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
N/A
Turning circle,
metres
10.9
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 WarrantyAudi Cover- Audi Warranty – 5 years / 150,000 kms
Audi Roadside Assist – 5 years / 150,000 kms
Audi Motoring Plan – 3 years / 150,000 kms
12 Year Anti-Corrosion Warranty
Safety informationANCAP Rating – not yet tested
Rightcar.govt.nz – # Stars – NPK577
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
8
Handling
8
Infotainment
8
Interior
8
Performance
8
Ride
7
Safety
9
Styling
9
Value
7
Driver Technology
8
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I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!
2021-audi-s3-sportback-car-reviewThe Audi S3 is a premium-quality hot hatch; comfortable and hugely competent, and whatever road you point it at, it will eat it up. But somehow despite all of that it’s a little numb. It’s excellent in many ways and is very much an Audi S-car, but for me it’s just not quite enough.

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