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2022 Audi S3 Test Drive Review
The pint-sized Audi S3 sport sedan packs a serious punch.
The all-new 2022 Audi S3 sedan finds a balance between the comparably restrained A3 and over-the-top RS 3, delivering an optimal blend of performance, comfort, luxury, and technology. Despite its entry-level positioning, it exceeds expectations and makes for a smart purchase for spirited drivers, so long as they keep an eye on options.
Look and Feel
The new Audi A3 is the smallest vehicle the German carmaker imports to the U.S. It’s fun and, with a starting price of around $36,000, a relatively affordable little sedan that serves as the gateway to the rest of the portfolio. But let’s say you want a bit more excitement. For $47,000 or so, you can step up to the Audi S3 which has 52 percent more power and sharper handling. For driving enthusiasts, that decision is a no-brainer. There’s also the even-higher performance Audi RS 3, but that sends the base price past $60,000.
For the sake of this review, we’re covering the middle ground occupied by the 2022 Audi S3, as it represents the Goldilocks zone between mild and extra spicy. For the most part, the S3 looks very similar to the A3 it’s based on. Both blend graceful curves in the bodywork with faceted design flourishes, giving these sedans the customary understated aggression Audi is known for. Flared fenders bulge from the sides to give a wider and more hunkered-down stance, further accentuating the S3’s sporty attitude. Around the back, the styling is more traditional, but it’s still accentuated with quad exhaust pipes.
The new S3’s subtle exuberance is echoed inside by an angular and faceted motif across the dash that looks like a silver blade. Materials quality is appropriate for an entry-level luxury sedan, though we would like to see a more attractive dash topper. Modern technology features are artfully woven into the cabin, with a sharp digital instrument panel and infotainment touchscreen angled toward the driver. This smaller screen, accompanied by the right amount of physical buttons, is a more traditional take on tech than the tablet-like screens tacked to the dashes of some other cars.
On the whole, the Audi S3 is more provocative than the typical sedan, but not so flashy that it makes you self-conscious while driving it. Even better, it has the performance chops to back up its sporty style.
The 2022 Audi S3 is built for fun, sporting a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only available transmission, and it sends power to all four corners through Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Our top-trim test vehicle further benefits from the optional S Sport package that adds a sport suspension with adaptive dampers and red-painted brake calipers.
On the serpentine roads above Malibu, California, the pint-sized S3 packs a serious punch. There’s more than enough power to get yourself in trouble, but that seems unlikely since it’s so easy to drive with an incredible amount of grip. Once moving, power delivery is smooth and linear. The well-spaced transmission gear ratios also do a great job of keeping that power on tap when you need it. Handling is the real star of the show, though, as the S3 instills an incredible amount of confidence in the curves.
The standard summer performance tires barely make a noise when pushed hard and the standard AWD allows you to get on the power earlier when coming out of turns. Tapping the Drive Mode button a few times engages Dynamic mode, which sharpens throttle response, keeps you in lower gears longer, adds some steering effort, and opens up the sport exhaust. With the optional adaptive dampers, the ride also stiffens up to reduce body roll. Regardless of which mode you’re in, the S3 does a great job of smoothing over imperfections in the road and isn’t affected by mid-corner bumps.
However, in the default Comfort mode the S3 is more docile, making it a great car for the everyday grind. When accelerating off the line, there is a slight delay in power that makes it feel slower than its factory-quoted 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds suggests. It’s a byproduct of the dual-clutch transmission, and in our experience, it’s something that you get used to and won’t even notice after some time.
The ride quality is excellent for a small sedan that can also attack the curves. Overall comfort is further helped by plenty of sound insulation that silences road and wind noise. You can still hear the engine though, and that’s a good thing since it sounds quite good. In Dynamic mode you can even hear some subtle pops and growls from the exhaust, encouraging you to drive even harder. With this kind of range between comfort and performance, it’s almost as though you’re getting two cars for the price of one with the S3.
Form and Function
Aside from the aforementioned bold slash of silver cutting through the dash, the S3’s interior follows Audi’s pattern of modern yet understated styling. Material quality is up to the standard set by other cars in the class, though the dash topper seems somewhat downmarket for a car costing (in the case of our tester) almost $60,000.
The front seats have a good amount of bolstering to provide adequate lateral support when cornering, yet they’re not so aggressive as to make you feel constrained or complicate entry or egress. There are plenty of adjustments to ensure you’ll find your preferred position, but the cushioning is on the firm side. That’s great for transmitting seat-of-the-pants performance information to the driver, but can cause some hard points on a road trip.
Small sedans in this class are understandably limited when it comes to space and practicality, but the S3 keeps sacrifices to convenience to a minimum. The front seats have plenty of space for taller passengers while the rear seats can accommodate an average-sized five-foot-ten adult with minimal fuss. Their heads may be brushing the headliner, and there’s not enough room to stretch their legs out, but that should only be an issue on longer trips.
The rear seats are 40/20/40 split-folding to give the S3 some flexibility between cargo and passengers, which is somewhat necessary since the trunk capacity maxes out at only 8.3 cubic feet. On paper, that comes up well short of the BMW 2 Series’ 10 cubic feet and the Mercedes-Benz CLA’s 11.6 cubic feet. In reality, the trunk should be sufficient for most shoppers. There’s also a handy drop-down hook to hand shopping bags from.
As far as personal item storage goes, the S3 is adequate, but not generous. The cupholders, center armrest bin and door pockets are all on the small side. There is also a lost opportunity for additional storage on either side of the gear selector, but we’re pleased with the rubberized tray that keeps phones well secured.
Audi has a reputation for smart technology and that’s the case with the S3. But the technology doesn’t get in the way of driving enjoyment or engagement. At a time when some carmakers are replacing many buttons with a large tablet-like screen, the S3 sticks with a smaller touchscreen and keeps an appropriate amount of physical switches. This helps to reduce distraction while driving since you won’t have to take your eyes off the road to control some of the more basic functions, such as audio or climate control.
The on-screen menus are intuitive and easy to use, but there is a minor delay in response. As good as Audi’s native infotainment system is, most drivers will likely prefer to use the standard Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity. A digital instrument cluster is standard, and an upgraded Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus version is available as part of an optional Technology package.
There are also a few forward-compatible features such as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2i) communication. In regions where Audi has paired with states or municipalites, certain information can be relayed to the driver. This includes a traffic signal countdown, warnings related to nearby emergency vehicles, and instant traffic updates. A head-up display is also available in the top Prestige trim level.
The base S3 comes standard with frontal collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, and rear parking sensors. Stepping up to the mid-grade Premium Plus trim adds blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. All of these systems work as advertised, with no false alarms or other annoyances.
As of this writing, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have published crash test results of the 2022 Audi S3 or the A3 on which it is based. The same holds true for the European NCAP safety tests, but we’d be surprised if results reveal any points of concern, based on Audi’s recent reputation for safety.
The 2022 Audi S3 has a starting price of $46,895 (including destination) for the base Premium trim. Feature highlights include summer tires, LED headlights, a digital instrument cluster, leather upholstery, sunroof, and heated front seats. Stepping up to the Premium Plus trim will cost $49,695 and adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and a wireless charging pad, among other features.
Our test vehicle in top Prestige trim starts at $53,495 and comes with a head-up display and upgraded Matrix LED headlights. With options, our S3 has a sticker of $57,440 and includes premium paint, blacked-out exterior trim, premium leather and the S Sport package. This is getting into an uncomfortable price territory since the high-performance RS 3 is only about $2,000 more than our S3’s as-tested price. For that reason, we recommend the mid-level Premium Plus trim with the S Sport package (which adds adaptive dampers), as it has the best balance of features to price.
The S3 is priced competitively against similarly equipped rivals like the BMW M240i xDrive or Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35. A two-door coupe, the BMW is more focused on performance while the four-door Benz takes a slightly more luxurious approach. In many ways, the S3 splits the difference and delivers a good blend of both. There are also several more affordable non-luxury cars that are worth considering. These include the BMW-built Toyota Supra, the somewhat related Volkswagen Golf R, and the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro for some V8 punch.
In terms of fuel economy, the S3 is estimated by the EPA to return 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 27 mpg in combined driving. It has a slight edge over rivals, with the BMW M240i expected to return 26 mpg in combined driving and the Mercedes AMG rated at 24 mpg combined.
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