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2022 Audi A3 Test Drive Review

Audi's entry-level sedan gains style and substance in a crafty makeover.

8.8 /10
Overall Score

The 2022 Audi A3 is a premium compact sedan entering a new generation of production. The four-door is available in three trim levels, including the higher-performance S3 variant, with a starting price at $33,900 and going to $51,500. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard on the A3, while Quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) is available on the A3 and standard on the S3. Audi has added upscale features, both standard and available, to give its entry-level compact sedan more of a premium presence.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

The 2022 Audi A3 represents the beginning of the premium compact sedan's fourth generation of global production since 1996 (United States sales began in 2003). Audi has sold over four million examples of the A3 worldwide since then, appearing in various configurations, from sedan to coupe to convertible to hatchback to wagon. Here in the U.S. the A3 has been respectable but not dominant in the marketplace.

For 2022, the A3 arrives as a four-door sedan only. It wears the current Audi look of chiseled muscularity. The prominent diamond grille is flanked in the lower fascia by a pair of oversized air intakes in the lower fascia. Above them is a pair of piercing LED headlights, topped by linear LED daytime running lights/turn signals. The body side has a bend above the rocker panel, which gives the impression of a toned midriff. Around the back, things are neatly tucked in and flat, with a tasteful Audi four-ring logo. Overall, it's a classy, elegant design with near-flawless execution.

Inside, Audi's tradition of design excellence continues with a modern, minimalist look. Designers neatly integrated a 10.1-inch touchscreen into the center stack without letting it look like a growth or afterthought. The center console is clean and uncluttered, with just the basics. Most of the controls are flat haptics, which cleans things up. A minimalist gear selector lives in the center console, complementing the rest of the dash.

Audi does a great job of selecting high-quality materials and then putting them into close contact with each other without awkward transitions or conflicts. The contrast stitching on the seats lends a human quality to the interior, while the solid metals of the trim and controls emphasize durability. This A3 has an interior designed to stand the test of time.

Performance

8/ 10

The turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine in the new A3 is a familiar, proven choice for the class. It's tuned to produce 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque and is assisted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Audi says that will send the A3 from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds (FWD) or 6.3 seconds (AWD) using regular gas. The S3 variant uses a 306 hp/295 lb-ft of torque version of the 2.0-liter inline-four, with revised turbocharger pressure and other enhancements engineered to boost performance to a claimed 4.5 seconds for the 0-60 mph run using premium fuel.

The A3 comes with a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). A DCT has two clutches but no clutch pedal. To the driver, the operation is just like a regular automatic transmission, with a throttle pedal on the right and a brake pedal on the left. Inside the transmission, though, things are a bit different. Some engineers describe the DCT as two transmissions in one case because the internal clutch shifts from one transmission shaft to the other to change gears, unlike a conventional transmission which shifts linearly up and down one shaft.

That means the DCT can shift more quickly from gear to gear. Faster shifting means less downtime between gears when the engine spins without propelling the car. Less downtime means greater efficiency and smoother shifts. Unlike the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) used in many highly fuel-efficient vehicles, the DCT doesn't sacrifice performance for efficiency. Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles help the driver get the most out of the transmission and engine. The DCT in the A3 is a great asset and contributes to the car's performance character.

The A3 rides on a platform from Audi's parent company, Volkswagen Group, the same one underlying the Volkswagen GTI, Audi TT, and some other sharp-handling compacts. McPherson struts support the front end, while a four-link independent rear suspension keeps the rear from dragging.

A3 sedans come with 17x8-inch wheels (18-inch available), while S3 models use 18x8-inch wheels (19-inch available). Braking happens with four-wheel discs and a diagonal dual-circuit system with electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and electronic brake variator, distributing uniform force to all four brakes at once. All of this attention to detail underneath the A3 delivers a smooth, controlled ride with just the right amount of road feel. Add in electromechanical steering with speed-dependent power assistance, and you've got a crisp handling sedan that's a pleasure to drive in all situations.

We're big fans of AWD in general, especially for owners in winter climates—and not just for SUVs. A compact sedan like the A3 will see improvements in dry handling during the good weather, and with the right tires, it can handle whatever winter hands it when equipped with AWD. With 6.3 inches of ground clearance, the A3 is not a candidate for off-roading but will handle plowed roads with ease.

Our test vehicle was an A3 Premium Plus with AWD, and we took it over our regular test drives during a week of crazy weather. Rain, snow, and sleet proved no problem for the A3, which delivered confident handling, good acceleration, and sharp cornering. We sometimes felt small and vulnerable amid full-size pickups and SUVs in our midwestern town. Still, the A3's ability to squirt quickly through gaps in traffic and to swoosh through curves made up for any momentary discomfort.

EPA-rated fuel economy for the 2022 Audi A3 is 29 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combined (FWD)/28 mpg city/36 mpg highway/31 mpg combined (AWD). The 2022 Audi S3 is a little less generous, settling for 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Fortunately, the minimalism of the A3's cockpit design hasn't left the sedan bereft of comfort or convenience features. Generous cup holders in the center console and bottle holders in the door pockets take care of front cabin hydration, while second-row passengers get similar accommodation. A convenient cubby at the bottom of the center stack has two USB ports and is an excellent place to stash a smartphone while driving, and everywhere a storage slot can be, there is one. Drivers will find homes for key cards, garage door openers, and other necessary detritus. A convenient box for more stuff lurks beneath the hinged center armrest.

The second row—always a vulnerability in a compact car—is tight, as expected. But for occasional use by adults or young passengers, the second row is comfortable enough with some negotiation with front-seat occupants for legroom. Headroom is not a problem, even for six-footers.

The A3's trunk can hold up to 10.9 cubic feet of cargo. The S3's rating is a little lower at 8.3 cubic feet of cargo space. The box is well-shaped with no obstructions, and the lid opens widely, easing loading and unloading. A weekend's worth of clothing and accessories for a couple will be no problem; a week's worth of groceries for a family of four will fit with careful packing.

Tech Level

9/ 10

Audi has a well-deserved reputation as a technology leader, and the A3 shows off some of the brand's strengths.

One of the coolest features Audi has developed over the past few years is the digital instrument panel Audi calls the Virtual Cockpit. It's standard on A3 Prestige models and available on the Premium Plus trim level. This 12.3-inch TFT display replaces the analog gauges and LCD driver information displays of old, and it is a wonder to behold.

Owners can configure the Virtual Cockpit to display crisp, realistic-looking gauges sets on a black background. Or they can choose to have a Google Earth feed of their current surroundings and navigation prompts on the screen. Or a screen of clear, minimal information to reduce distraction. Three looks are available, coordinating with drive modes: Dynamic, Sport, and Classic. The Virtual Cockpit has lost none of its power to amaze, despite most of its competitors' rapid adoption of similar technology.

Audi's infotainment system, the MMI, operates through the 10.1-inch touchscreen at the top of the center stack. It uses the latest flagship version of the technology, not a watered-down version like some entry-level competitors. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard equipment, and wireless charging is available. Bang & Olufson sound is standard on the A3 Prestige, available on Premium Plus, including 680 watts of amplification, 15 speakers, and 16 channels. A head-up display is also available on Premium Plus and Prestige models.

Safety

9/ 10

The 2022 Audi A3 has not yet been rated for safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2020 A3 received five-star ratings, and we expect the new model to do well, too. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2022 A3 its top rating of "Good" in all crashworthiness tests and "Acceptable" in ease of use for LATCH connectors.

As expected in a modern luxury sedan, the A3 comes with a host of standard and available safety and driver-assistance features. Standard Pre Sense Basic prepares the A3 for impact, while pre sense front combines a camera and radar input to feed warnings to help the driver avoid potential hazards. High-beam assist and lane-departure warning are also standard on every A3.

Available features include side assist blind-spot monitoring, Pre Sense Rear, Parking System Plus acoustic parking sensors in both front and back, Park Assist automatic steering for perpendicular or parallel spaces, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control with lane-centering.

Additional standard safety features include electronic child locks, lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) in rear seats, rear side airbags, and a top speed electronically limited to 130 mph.

Cost-Effectiveness

9/ 10

The 2022 Audi A3 starts at $33,900 for the base Premium trim level. The A3 Premium Plus starts at $37,200 and the top Prestige starts at $41,200. Adding Quattro AWD (which we recommend) is $2,000 for any trim level. The S3 gets standard AWD and starts at $44,900 for the Premium trim level, $47,700 fo the Premium Plus, and $51,500 for the Prestige.

The A3 Premium includes 17-inch alloy wheels, eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, and lane departure warning. The Premium Plus adds adaptive cruise control, memory for driver's seat, wireless device charging, advanced key, and Active Lane Assist. The Prestige tops that off with matrix-design LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound, the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel, a head-up display, and navigation.

Buyers can add an $850 Black Optic package to any trim level, updating exterior trim to black and swapping in a sport suspension that lowers the ride height by 15 millimeters. Premium Plus buyers can add the $2,250 Technology package to get navigation, the digital instrument panel, traffic-sign recognition, the B&O sound system, and a six-month trial subscription to Audi's connected services.

Premium and Premium Plus members can add navigation as a function-on-demand for a monthly/annual subscription fee, getting a software download for nav rather than a hard-wired system like the Technology package or Prestige model's nav. This system is so new Audi hasn't yet released pricing for it, but it is a notable approach to the upgrade.

Premium compact sedans are still out there, even though SUVs have overshadowed them in the marketplace. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class (starting at $33,950) is a tough competitor, though the hot rod Mercedes-AMG A 35 variant won't come to the U.S. for 2022. The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe (starting at $35,700) is really a fastback, not a sedan, but it is a competitor to the A3. The Lexus IS (starting at $38,625), Acura ILX (starting at $26,500), and Cadillac CT4 (starting at $33,995) are also worth considering.

The 2022 Audi A3 will attract entry-level luxury buyers to its cozy confines and may impress them enough to remain in the Audi family as their needs change and grow.

Updated by Jason Fogelson

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