Warning: This article includes evocative and methodical descriptions of freshly-fried donuts and where to find them. If you or a loved one are on a diet, consult with a trusted source before reading. Call someone before eating. Reader discretion is advised.
One of mankind’s greatest inventions is the donut. Round, sweet, indulgent, comforting: a donut is the most forgiving of desserts. Its very construction—a ring with a hole in the middle—speaks to how much it needs you, how it’s incomplete, how it won’t find its calling until ripped to pieces and happily warmed by the insides of our tummy.
Why are we talking about donuts? First of all, why not? Second of all, we needed something to do while doing a test drive of the 2015 Audi S3. This car is significant because it’s the performance version of Audi’s big release of the year: the new A3 sedan. Aimed toward younger consumers, the A3 is a small sedan that relies on sophisticated integrations of technology to distinguish itself. Although we and many other publications reviewed the A3 when it came out, not as many people have reviewed the S3, which brings us to today.
Although there are people who love to talk about cars all day, we recognize that most people appreciate a good story. It’s in this spirit, therefore, that we decided to do what we do best: create a mission to fulfill while driving the S3. Its mid-December right now, so any outdoors venues are out. But where there is cold there is also comfort food, unless you’re trapped with a bunch of friends with nothing to eat. That is called cannibalism.
Mission: Find the Best Donuts in Raleigh
Simple mission, right? Pull up Google Maps, search donuts and you’re good. We could have chosen Yelp or Urban Spoon, but they’re not paying us as much as Google (just kidding, none of these search engines, nor the doughnuteries we visit are paying us). It’s just one author’s quest to find the best donuts in Raleigh while spending a few hours in the Audi S3. We figure that a real world test like this will better allow us to experience the S3 while also giving us incentive to exercise, i.e., we’re fatter now.
Fortunately for us, the S3 is a fantastic enabler for finding donuts on a cold day. The exterior is so dark that Audi calls it “Mythos black,” as if we descended into a Grecian mythological story about Hades and Zeus, rowing across a black lake at night to bring back a pitcher of icy liquid to make the deepest chasm look washed out in comparison.
Our S3 has the Prestige package, i.e. top-of-the-line, which includes full LED lights that offer a brightness much sharper than the halogen or xenon bulbs that most cars use. Audi is famous for having elegant headlights that look more like delicate markings from a calligrapher’s pen than industrial spotlights that keep you from running into deer at night. Suffice to say that it feels pretty cool to catch your hood’s reflection in a mirror and see what your S3’s eyes look like.
Donut Shop Number One: Baker’s Dozen Donuts – Cary
Located off Buck Jones Road, Baker’s Dozen gave us our first chance to interact with the S3’s user interface. As we mentioned in our review of the A3, one of the coolest things about this model is its pop-up display screen. While most automakers have display screens permanently fixed to their center consoles, Audi had the quirky idea to give the screen a bit of movement. A dashboard button brings the screen out or puts it back, and it’s a clever bit of showmanship that seems designed to entertain.
We enter the address for our first donut shop using the touchpad near the gear shifter. We can write characters with a finger to spell out the address, or even use voice commands. As the computer does its thing and sends us up Highway 1 toward Walnut Street, we note how simply Audi designed the dashboard of the S3.
Most companies make the center console a vertical block so packed with buttons and knobs—climate control, radio, CDs, driving options—that it resembles a TV remote. Also like a TV remote, 50 percent of the buttons we use regularly, 40 percent we use rarely, five percent we’ve never used and five percent we don’t even know what they do. Audi is doing away with that. By consolidating a lot of those functions in the multimedia screen, the 50 percent of buttons we never use get swept away.
The result is two clean lines of horizontal, not vertical, controls. The result feels natural because just like you’re reading this line of text from left-to-right, your eye can read the S3’s two lines of buttons in a similar way. The fit and finish of the surfaces is top-notch with materials and textures that delight your fingertips and remind you why Audi is often cited for its precision in interior cabin construction. Every high-end automaker produces a good interior but Audi’s feels somehow like it’s accomplishing more without trying nearly as hard.
And oh yes, we had a donut, too. Baker’s Dozen is a charming shop that instantly smells like happiness and yeast as soon as you step inside. A bright, cheerful interior with rows upon rows of gorgeous donuts is pretty much impossible to dislike and as we ordered a single plain, glazed donut—we wanted to create a neutral baseline for comparison purposes—we knew we had come to the right place. The donut was light and airy with a puffy interior that flaked scrumptiously with every bite, a solid entry donut that didn’t overwhelm.
As we passed the 50 lb. sacks of doughnut mix and tossed our paper bag into the trash we mentally queued our next destination.
Donut Shop Number Two: Daylight Donuts – Raleigh
All the way up I-440 into North Raleigh, the benefit of going to Daylight is that it gave us a longer portion of driving to test the S3. How this car feels to you depends entirely on what setting you have it in. A dashboard button toggles between four modes: auto, comfort, individual and dynamic. These four modes will adjust the throttle, gear shifts and suspension tightness based on what mood you’re in.
In auto and comfort modes—which is what most people will probably use—the S3 is lively and responsive while keeping the RPMs low and conserving fuel. Individual mode is a custom setup that we didn’t have time to create. Thankfully, the S3 has a six-speed transmission as opposed to the increasingly common eight-speed gearboxes which shift gears constantly trying to keep fuel use at a minimum. Six speeds means more fun.
Dynamic mode, however, is where the S3 really comes out to play. The potent slap of its four-cylinder engine, which sounds good enough in comfort mode, suddenly fattens out in the low-end and starts throwing out insults to other cars once you pass 4,000 RPM. Put plainly, dynamic mode makes the S3 sounds like a mechanized urban dragon, and gets a whole lot more aggressive whenever you touch the gas pedal. It’s a hoot.
In addition, our S3 has Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive. And yes, quattro is always lowercase. This is the system that won Audi so many rally championships that it was banned as an unfair advantage. All-wheel drive keeps your tires gripping the road and staying on its feet in situations where other cars would wind up in a ditch. It makes novice drivers feel awesome and is a boon for maintaining control in dicey situations. It’s the best all-wheel drive system we’ve ever driven and makes up for its extra weight in fun and safety benefits.
Unfortunately, we wish we could say that we were equally as impressed with Daylight Donuts. Judging donuts is an inherently relative—and kind of comical—business; one man’s “War and Peace” might be another man’s “Tuesdays with Morrie.” However, even going with a plain, glazed donut, we found Daylight’s entry too heavy and dense for our preference, seeming more like bread than confectionary. If you’re hungry and feel like a donut with some substance to it, Daylight would be a good choice for you.
As it is, we sipped some hot coffee and sugared our way through a few bites before heading toward destination number three.
Donut Shop Number Three: Sola Café – Raleigh
Sola is a place we already know well for their excellent coffee, sandwiches, baked goods, venue, atmosphere and relationships with local musicians. In many ways Sola reminds us of Audi: they consistently achieve high marks in every aspect that can be measured. Leaving them for last was intentional because we wanted to give Baker’s Dozen and Daylight Donuts a fair shake first.
As we cruise up Lead Mine Road, we note how Audi and Sola excel at creating a premium experience by methodically refining the basics until they’re darn near perfect. Sola begins as a coffee shop, so they invest heavily in making each cup taste fantastic. Audi begins as a vehicle, so handling is prioritized to the degree that the steering is highly communicative.
One of the things we really like about the S3 is how fantastic different surfaces felt to the touch. The surface around the start button and display screen controls is smooth with a matte finish, nothing polished to cause fingerprints. Up around the gear shifter, however, the surfaces changes to include long rows of very thin vertical lines, a subtle shift so that you can tell without looking which controls lie near your hand.
By the time you get to the dashboard or doors, the surfaces have much more texture to emphasize the hardiness of these surfaces. You might put a book on the dashboard or stick out your elbow to push the door open; the surfaces reflect their function. Doors are also meant to house speakers, in this case a 705-watt Bang & Olufsen system, so the door is molded to let your arm rest and audio sound. It’s an integration of service and presentation that centers on a simple theme: get the basics right.
For Audi, the basics are the experience. The S3 is like a Cartier watch or Hermes necktie: simplicity executed well will never go out of style. You get the horsepower and torque bump from the A3 along with a suite of high-end touches that will continue to satisfy year after year.
As for Sola’s donuts, they were heaven. We had never had them before, but a friend had recommended them. Sola makes mini-donuts instead of the traditional full-size donut, so we opted for a small plate of half a dozen—it’s much less intimidating than that sounds. Of the choice available, powdered sugar minis were the closest we could get to plain and glazed. Freshly fried, they were hot, crispy, delightfully sweet and divinely-sized to pop into your mouth.
The 2015 Audi S3 was everything we hoped it would be. Refined, compact, tactile, forward-looking, well-framed, and surprisingly aggressive when called upon, it was an absolute pleasure to drive. We highly recommend.