The story of Audi’s A3 and why it's no longer a hatchback

Audi S3
Audi S3

• The A3 allowed Audi to capture a younger target audience.

•  Audi launched the S3 in 1999 and it set a new standard for German hot hatches.

• The 8L-series S3 was truly South Africa's first proper turbocharged superhatch.

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The A3 revolutionised Audi. During the brand's coming of age during the 1990s, A3 was a crucial part of allowing Audi to capture a younger target audience. 

Amongst the original A3 portfolio, there was a derivative which was especially notable: S3. The original A3 platform might have been twinned with VW's Golf4, but the S3 gave Audi a sense of differentiation. 

VW's most potent Golf4 GTI would eventually be the 132kW 'R' model, but it only went on sale in 2003. In 1999, when Audi launched the S3, it set a new standard for German hot hatches. It is worth remembering this was a time before AMG started making go-faster A-Class models and BMW's 1 Series did not exist. There was hardly anything to rival S3. 

With the first-generation S3, Audi offered the local market something unusually compelling. South Africans were unfamiliar with the idea of a quality turbocharged hot hatchback. Opel had managed to create a terrifically powerful 200ts Kadett some years before, but that hatchback was deeply flawed due to its lack of all-wheel drive. 

Audi S3,first gen audi s3

Image: Audi

All-wheel drive and ahead of its time

The 8L-series S3 was truly South Africa's first proper turbocharged superhatch, with broad availability. 

S3's three-door bodyshell limited the convenience factor regarding rear passengers entering and getting out of it, but that configuration also made it more torsionally rigid and responsive at speed. 

A turbocharged 1.8-litre engine would be adapted to deliver 165kW, which was monumentally powerful for a three-door hatchback from the very early 2000s. All-wheel drive harnessed the engine's potency and converted it to excellent traction, making it capable of 0-100kph in 6.6 seconds. 

The second-generation 8P-series A3 would debut its S3 derivative locally in 2007. Audi retained the three-door configuration, which continued to make it an unpractical car for families, but wonderfully responsive to drive.

Engine capacity increased from 1.8- to 2.0-litres and power corresponding grew from 165kW on the previous S3, to 188kW on the second-generation car. That was sufficient to allow for 0-100kph in only 5.5 seconds.

A notable feature of this second-generation S3 was inside, where there was the option of fitting deep bucket seats, similar to those found on the legendary B7 RS4. 

Audi S3

Audi S3 second-generation. Image: Audi

The final three-door

Audi's third-generation S3 could be seen as the apex of its hot hatch business. This was the last series that contained a three-door version of the S3, and in South Africa, it faced significant competition from VW's mechanically similar GolfR. 

Warm climate regulations slightly blunted the third-generation S3's potential. European customers had the option on a 221kW version of the 2.0-litre turbopetrol engine, whilst South African owners had to make do with 213kW. 

Audi S3

Audi S3 third-generation. Image: Audi

The third-generation S3 proved that Audi could possibly no longer sustain the uniqueness of a three-door hot hatch in many markets, especially South Africa. It was being overshadowed by the equally potent GolfR, which offered superior packaging as a family vehicle. 

This is ultimately the reason that with its new fourth-generation S3, revealed earlier this month; there are only sedan and Sportback variants. 

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