Should Enthusiasts Grill Audi over New S3’s Badge Loss?

There’s no doubt that there is major change afoot in the automotive sector. A change to emphasize efficiency and shift to electric mobility has left many enthusiasts hardly recognizing the quickly shifting landscape. This change sets an already contentious tone amongst fans, charging the air ahead of any other changes that may arise. Take for instance Audi’s apparent new shift in badging for its latest models and specifically that of the S3.

Audi revealed the first production images of the new S3 earlier this week, and by most accounts it’s a significantly improved car. From the RS 3’s rear torque vectoring rear differential to a factory Akrapovìc exhaust, the addition of new performance hardware is notable. What seems to have set off a discussion and critique though is the change in badging design and strategy. We caught the discussion over on Instagram in a post by two prominent accounts in the Audi community – @auditography and @vintageaudi.

So What Are the Changes?

Let’s outline the changes first. For the most part, Audi S-car badging hasn’t fundamentally changed since the B5 era. Though the size shrunk over time, the basic font and Audi Sport rhombus appearance had largely remained the same. In Audi’s latest new model launches (Q8 e-tron, SQ8 e-tron, Q8, SQ8, now A3 and S3) the font shifts to the modern Audi Type Font and loses its italic slant. The rhombus remains, though a bit cleaner in design. Its use also changes, which is at the heart of the discussion.

What’s egregious? It seems to be three things mainly and we’ll highlight them here.

1.) S… Just S

Firstly, the badging where used seems to have become more homogenized. While an “S3” or “S8” badge can be found at the rear of the car, most other placements on the car are simply the letter S overlapped by the rhombus. It’s definitely a cleaner look, but it also suggests a savings for Audi by only needing to source one upper leather seat cover for instance – a cover that might be applied to any other S-variant model using the same seat. For example, whereas one seat cover may have said “S4” in the past, the same seat cover might be used in the S5, SQ5, and any S-line derivative. So, while cleaner perhaps, it also comes off as a cost-cutting measure.

2.) Red Rhombus for (Seemingly) Everybody

Another change is the addition of a full-sized Audi Sport red rhombus on the flank of every S line derivative. In the past, S line models got the same appearance as the higher-performance S-cars, but the only badging was typically small, perhaps on the side panels and said “S line”. Here again, the look may be cleaner, but this seems to be a miss because the context of adding sport badges to a lesser car seems lost on whoever made this decision. Seemingly from the first BMW M3, adding M badges to your non M-car was seen as the mark of a poseur. That viewpoint has followed suit as other manufacturers like Audi have introduced and built out their alphanumeric motorsport/performance product ranges.

3.) No Grille Badge for New S3, SQ8 and SQ8 e-tron

With three new S-cars having launched since the badging design change, enthusiasts have noticed a pattern. The Audi singleframe grilles have gotten wilder for the S-cars, and they’re now missing the S badging entirely. So while the red rhombus gets bigger on an A3 S line, the S badging seemingly gets watered down on the S3.

There’s a German Tradition of De-Badging. Is that What’s Going on Here?

From the earliest days of alphanumeric performance badging, de-badging was a tradition of subtlety largely introduced by the German market. Whereas other markets like America liked to wear their performance on their sleeves, the Germans embracing this practice sought a more undercover approach. Many pulled badges from their car entirely, and factories even offered (and in some cases still offer) an option for deleting the badge entirely from the car.

This doesn’t feel like a de-badging situation though. Yes, there are likely designers who prefer the simpler look of a grille with no badge, but in a world where those grilles are getting decidedly less simple or many more cars are getting a big red rhombus, that doesn’t seem consistent. Here again, this feels like a cost cutting move. In the past, grille badges are not a simple “S”, but rather a need for a unique part across all models.

Does this Speak to a Bigger Dissatisfaction with Brand Direction?

One of the things we noticed about the Instagram thread above is the air of dissatisfaction in general. On one hand, this may be simply attributable to the general frustration with the shift from ICE to EV that is a factor across the entire market. On the other, it might be an indicator of a dissatisfaction with decisions being made by brand stewards. Whatever the case, dismissing these viewpoints outright seems like the wrong move and something Audi should address.

Opinion: Where Does this Go from Here?

Where this goes moving forward remains to be seen. Audi’s got a new head of design, one who will no doubt lead the brand in his own direction.

Thus far, no new RS models have been introduced utilizing the new badging, so it remains to be seen just how affected Audi’s RS models are by the new badging lexicon.

No doubt, most any enthusiast invested in the brand has an opinion on the subject, and I’m no different. From my perspective, exterior S-line badging should be visually different from the red rhombus on S or RS models. Putting it on everything waters down the impression of Audi Sport.

Bringing back the alphanumeric badging on S and RS models should also be done on both the front and rear of the car. There’s a strong heritage or performance and motorsport here, and it shouldn’t be watered down. A generic S on seats probably makes sense. There’s heritage with this, how Audi offered generic Audi Sport steering wheels since the earliest quattro days. An S badged sport seat in an A3 S line with sport seat option is consistent with that.

Evolving the rhombus may be another option here. Though sacred, it’s not like it hasn’t changed over time, from the early tri-color, to the red paired with two white/silver stripes, the red with white Audi rings overtop, and the modern simple red design. It’s been the latter for such a long time that some forget that it too has changed and progressed over time.

The RS 6 GT and Audi’s “40 Jahre Audi Sport GmbH” campaign opened up another consideration around the Audi Sport rhombus. Nowadays, the tilting square is always red with few exceptions. Audi placed flags in the rhombus atop TT Cup race cars during the early Mk3 TT era, and the RS 6 GT / 40 Jahre campaigns reintroduced the heritage tri-color stripes of the past. Using different colors or color combinations within the rhombus might make sense. A heritage package for instance could use the tri-color, or a fully black rhombus with just black embossed framing for black optics plus or paired with paint colors where red simply doesn’t pair. Should S line or EVs get a different color rhombus entirely?

So What do You Think?

If you’ve gotten this far in this story, then no doubt the subject of badging or Audi’s branding and design direction on a more macro level is important to you. Maybe you love it and think nothing should change. Maybe you hate it… or maybe you’re just curious about seeing a few changes. Whatever the case, we’re betting you have your own opinions on the subject. So let us know your thoughts by posting to our associated social media conversation thread links that we’ll link below.