Driven: The 2022 Audi S3 And A3 Are Your Fast And Sensible Baby Executive Sedans

Reviews

While many sedans are facing an existential crisis these days, there’s one sub-segment that’s been quietly thriving with new entries. Until recently, your only choice for a small executive sedan in the USA were Audi’s elegant A3 and Mercedes’ swoopier CLA. Now, aside from those two, BMW offers its FWD-based 2-Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes added a second model to its range, the A-Class Sedan.

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Despite the newcomers, Audi didn’t feel the need to reinvent the A3 with the new generation, but it did want to re-enter the playing field with a lot more pizazz. Whereas Europeans get a lot more options under the hood, Americans will have to make do with the mild-mannered 201-hp A3 in both FWD and AWD Quattro guises and the peppered-up 306-hp S3 performance model.

2022 Audi A3 40 TFSI Quattro

› 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
› 201hp and 221 lb-ft of torque
› 0-60mph in 6.6 sec (FWD) or 6.3 sec (Quattro)
› 7-speed ‘S tronic’ dual-clutch transmission
› EPA 29 city / 38 highway / 32 mpg combined (FWD)
› MSRP from $33,900 to $43,200


2022 Audi S3 Sedan

› 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
› 306hp and 295 lb-ft of torque
› 0-60mph (0-96 km/h) in 4.5 seconds
› 7-speed ‘S tronic’ dual-clutch transmission
› EPA 23 city / 32 highway / 27 mpg combined
› MSRP from $44,900 to $51,500

We recently had the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of both the regular A3 and its high-performance S3 sibling around Denver, Colorado, to see what the fuss is all about and share our first thoughts on Audi’s newest and most affordable sedans.

Design: Evolutionary With A Cause

Audi experimented with a hatchback bodystyle when the first A3 came to the States back in 2006, but since its replacement in 2015, it has stuck with a sedan body in our neck of the woods and that applies to the all-new 2022MY A3.

The last time the four-ring brand showed us a new A3, they had to bring in a designer to explain what the eyes couldn’t discern. That’s not the case here. Yes, it looks familiar from some angles, especially the rear, and yes, it’s an evolutionary spin, but this time around, Audi’s designers actually put some effort into it. The old A3 was already a handsome, if slightly vanilla flavored, sedan, with the new model building upon its qualities and sprinkling it with more character. And it works. There are bolder design details like the bulging fenders on all four corners, more prominent lines and a bigger honeycomb front grille, alongside more aggressive angular LED headlights and prominent bumper vents.

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Another reason why it gains points in the looks department is that it’s much better proportioned than the outgoing model, thanks to a 1.4 in. (356mm) increase in overall length at 176.9 in. (4,493mm), while also being slightly taller (0.5 in. / 127mm) and wider (0.8 in. / 203mm). So overall, while still unmistakably an A3, it’s arguably the best-looking A3 sedan so far.

We’ve always liked the measured aggressiveness of Audi’s S models and the latest S3 doesn’t disappoint, discerning itself from its humbler brethren through a series of perceptible but not over the top touches. Beyond the lowered stance thanks to a 0.6 in (15 mm) lower ride height, the S3 gets a slotted leading edge of the hood that’s reminiscent of the 1984 Audi Sport Quattro together with a different grille element, bigger 18- or 19-inch wheels that nicely fill up those puckered wheel arches, and the signature ‘S’ quad pipes. There’s also a rear diffuser, a very discreet boot lip spoiler and, depending on the package you choose, black or silver details.

Interior: Rebel Without A Cause

If you are among those who have been complaining about Audi’s somewhat stale design language over the years, boy do we have news for you, as the most dramatic difference over the old A3 takes place inside. Plucking an idea or two from sister company Lamborghini’s styling department, Audi went with a clean sheet design for the dashboard that has more corners than a soccer match. It looks cool and refreshing even if we’re not entirely sold on the stretches of glossy empty spaces and the not so cohesive design elements.

Also Read: Would You Take The 2022 Audi A3 Sedan Over Its Rivals From Mercedes And BMW?

As with many brands these days, Audi has succumbed to the controversial trend of minimizing physical controls, and we have to say, we’re not happy about it. Specifically, it did away with the rotary control for the new MMI infotainment system while replacing the climate control’s rotary dials for buttons. Furthermore, out goes the traditional lever for the standard across the range dual-clutch transmission, in comes a tiny push-pull gear selector, which does take some time getting used to. Sitting on the top right corner of the minimalist lower center console is a round, sensory audio controller.

All too often, we found ourselves having to take our attention off the road to fiddle around with the controls, be that for the climate or the infotainment system, something that did not happen with the previous A3 and its well-thought layout and switchgear. Change can be good, but in this case, it isn’t.

Coming back to what’s new for 2022, Audi has replaced the traditional instruments with a standard 10.25-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ or an optional 12.3-inch version and a crisp 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen slightly angled towards the driver and integrated into the dash instead of a pop-up unit perched on top. Beyond missing the practical rotary dial on the center console, during our short stint with the A3 and S3, we didn’t experience any issues with the new third-generation MMI that’s said to offer 10 times higher computing power than before and also comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

As with most modern premium cars, there are basically three tiers of plastics used inside, with the top of the dash housing the plushest and softest to the touch materials, increasing in hardness and decreasing in visual pleasantry as you move down and away from the dash.

While it’s refreshing to see a new and modern design, the old A3’s interior was arguably the best in class with a simple yet cozy layout, expensive-feeling and ergonomic switchgear, and high-quality materials throughout. The 2022 A3 is certainly more impressive to look at, even at the expense of a less unified design, and it’s certainly well built – no complaints there. However, for the most part, and with some exceptions such as the sliders for the air vents, it feels cheaper around the corners, be that because of the hard plastics, the quality of some switches, or the plain emptiness in some areas around the dash.

The same of course applies to the S3 which adds bespoke, higher-end trimmings and parts such as aluminum pedals, a darker roof liner, and unique, Lambo-style digital instrument cluster readings. It also gets supportive sports seats up front that are not only some of the best looking in the business but also proved extremely comfortable after a continuous two-hour drive up mountain back roads.

Whichever model you choose, the driving position is spot on, with both the seat and the steering wheel offering plenty of adjustments to get you nicely situated inside.

As for passenger space, the larger footprint provides minor improvements for rear passengers who shouldn’t complain about legroom, with this author’s 6.1 ft frame fitting at the back after adjusting the front seat to my height without my knees bumping into the seat-back. But we shouldn’t forget that this remains a compact car, so it’s not meant to carry three adults at the back unless you miss flying economy class on a low-cost carrier. The new A3 might be a smidgen taller than before, but the sloped roofline and Audi’s decision to offer a standard panoramic sunroof that eats into the already limited rear headroom means that anyone over 6.0ft will surely be brushing hairs with the headliner.

There’s decent legroom for rear passengers, but headroom at the back is limited

Something else we should mention is that in the S3, due to the incorporated front headrests and the darker headliner, rear passengers will experience a more claustrophobic feeling than in the regular A3.

According to the U.S. spec-sheet (not comparable to the way it’s calculated in Europe), cargo space stands at 8.3 cubic feet for the all-wheel-drive A3 Quattro and S3, and 10.9 cubic feet for the front-wheel-drive A3. Its shape, partly due to the way the wheel arches encroach inside the trunk, will limit its usefulness for bulkier objects unless you fold down the seats. It’s also a bit challenging to fit smaller items throughout the cabin, though on a positive note, we did find the storage in front of the gear selector useful and practical for phones, especially if you opt for the wireless charging pad in addition to a pair of USB-C outlets.

Powertrains: Audi’s Tried And Tested 2.0 TFSI With 201-hp Or 306-hp

Notice anything missing on the standard Audi A3’s engine cover?

Audi chose to keep its lineup simple offering the latest version of its incredibly familiar EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four in two different flavors, down from three in the previous 2020MY (there was no 2021 A3), both paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission.

Getting into the specifics, the base A3 40 TFSI comes with a revised 2.0-liter unit featuring a 48-volt mild-hybrid tech (MHEV) that provides a small boost during drive-off and can switch off the engine during coasting to save fuel. More importantly, it offers a super smooth restart at the traffic lights, arguably one of the finest integrations of start-stop we’ve experienced recently.

In this application, the 2.0 TFSI pumps out 201 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque in both the standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel-drive Quattro models, which is more than last year’s 186-hp and 221 lb-ft 2.0L FWD A3, but a lot less than the 228-hp and 258 lb-ft in the A3 2.0L Quattro. Audi says the FWD A3 40 TFSI hits the 60 mph (96 km/h) mark in 6.6 seconds, matching last year’s FWD A3, while the A3 40 TFSI Quattro does the same in 6.3 seconds, which is a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than the previous 2020MY A3 Quattro.

The front-wheel-drive A3 can travel an EPA-rated 29 miles on a gallon of gasoline in the city, 38 on the highway, and 32 combined, outdoing the Quattro model’s 28/36/32 mpg ratings. During a zippy 85+ mile drive down a mountain road combined with some inner-city and highway miles in fairly dense traffic we achieved 28.3 mpg, which is pretty darn good given the circumstances.

Unlike the A3, the S3 proudly displays Audi’s four-ring logo over its engine cover

Moving on to the 2022 Audi S3, the 2.0-liter turbo’d four-banger has gained 18 hp and 18.5 lb-ft of torque over the previous generation for a total of 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft respectively. It has also put on 77 pounds (35 kg), tipping the scales at 3,538 lb (1,605 kg). Audi claims the S3 scoots to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.5 seconds, a barely detectable improvement of 0.1 seconds over the last generation, but still faster than either the 301 hp M235i xDrive Gran Coupe (4.7 seconds) and 302 hp Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 (4.8 seconds). Power is fed to all four wheels through the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. As with the European model this time around, there’s no manual gearbox option for three-pedal enthusiasts. Shucks.

Obviously, the S3’s fuel economy ratings trail the regular A3’s but are in line with other competing models at an EPA estimated 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined, improved by 1/3/2 mpg respectively over the last generation. In a spirited two-hour drive up the mountain to around 9,500 feet elevation, with a few highway and city miles thrown into the mix, we saw a combined 20.3 mpg, which isn’t indicative of real-world fuel economy. Something to keep in mind is that the figure we achieved with the A3 was going down mountain roads with some traffic, while with the S3, up without much traffic at a faster pace.

Driving The 2022 Audi A3: A Baby Executive

We’ll start our driving experience with the A3 40 TFSI Quattro, which was the only A3 available at the presentation. We drove the standard model, but there were examples fitted with the optional sports suspension that is included with the Black Optic Sport Package and which could yield different findings in handling, so keep that in mind if you see other reviews.

Even so, as long as you’re not looking for the kingpin of engaging dynamics, you won’t have much to complain about with the A3. The MQB Evo chassis here is slightly geared more towards comfort than absolute handling. On the motorway, it feels very stable and tranquil with the smooth and quiet operating 2.0-liter turbo also offering decent oomph for an overtake should you request it. It won’t set your pants on fire, but under most conditions, it provides ample power.

The ride, at least with the 18-inch wheels, is composed while the optional Quattro all-wheel-drive provides some extra assurance. On a twisty road, it’s the car that will dictate your pace, not the other way around as the softer suspension setup leads to increased body roll and dips in corners if you push too hard. In this case, you’d either want to check out the sports suspension or go straight for the S3.

Audi’s standard Visual Cockpit is an impressive piece of tech

As for the ever-present S tronic gearbox that now has seven gears in the A3, it shifts with finesse, but it’s starting to show its age as it isn’t quite as smooth or snappy as the automatics found in the latest BMW and Mercedes models. There are also paddle shifters behind the wheel if you want to feel racy, but under most circumstances, leaving the transmission’s brains do the thinking for you works better. Moreover, as with other auto boxes these days, you might want to flick the ‘Sport’ mode on the tiny transmission selector if you dislike delays in gear changes. The electromechanical steering isn’t as communicative as we’d want, but it’s fairly well-weighted and direct.

Finally, the brakes are strong and progressive but some drivers might find the feeling a bit off due to how it pairs to the mild-hybrid system that recuperates energy when slowing down.

Driving The 2022 Audi S3: The Gentleman’s High-Performance GT

Jumping into the new S3, you immediately notice there’s something different going on here. The suspension, the steering, the brakes, and of course, the (occasional) engine growl, all tingle your senses.

While ‘RS’ models, including the upcoming RS3, go bananas with hardcore performance and strong visual cues, ‘S’ models have always felt like they best encompass Audi’s finest qualities in an all-around package. And the S3 is no exception here. It’s the type of car you can deviate from the highway and take a spirited drive on a back road on your way to a business meeting without breaking a sweat or a wrinkle on your shirt. It’s just pure, effortless performance.

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America’s entry to Audi’s world boasts a bolder design, a heavily revised interior, and 48v mild-hybrid power.

The four-banger is as powerful as ever offering a continuous burst of power from 2,000 rpm to the limiter without suffering from any lag. You also get the occasional pop and bang from the exhaust pipes, which is a nice touch, and one we’d frankly wish was more frequently present. What we said about the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in the A3 evidently applies here too. It gets the job done without a hick or a fuss, but it’s not the absolutely smoothest or fastest auto box out there right now.

The S3 gets different digital instrument graphics and body-hugging front sport seats

Our press car was equipped with the available S Sport package with adaptive dampers (and red brake calipers), which we’d highly recommend ticking off in the options box when you order your S3. They allow you to choose from a softer setup for a comfy ride all the way up to an extreme setting with a firm and focused tune for when you’re in the mood. The press drive model also came with the optional 19-inch wheels wrapped in grippy 235/35R run-flat tires. The new S3 gets a Progressive Steering system, which increases the speed the more you turn the wheel while loosening up during parking.

Audi’s centralized Drive Select function allows you to adjust the dampers (when optioned with the Sport Package), throttle response, steering weight, transmission mapping, and exhaust sound through three pre-configured modes called Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. You can also cook up your own arrangement under the Individual mode.

The Drive Select system includes three pre-configured and a custom mode

What all this translates to on the road is a classy, safe, and effortless (you’ll hear that word being tossed around a lot about the S3) high-performance compact that inspires confidence at any speed. It’s less flamboyant and raw than some of the other proposals in the segment like the Civic Type R, but make no mistake, the S3 is one seriously fast and capable performance compact. The steering, while mostly numb and somewhat unnaturally weighted and artificial-feeling in Dynamic mode, is point and turn. It’s that simple and at speeds that will surely get you in trouble with the law on any kind of road. And when the time comes to slow down, the powerful and progressive brakes will add to your confidence.

At the end of the day, the S3 will make you look like a better driver than you really are – just as long as the electronic nannies are turned on to keep the car in check.

Pricing: A3 Starts From $33,900, S3 From $44,900

Essentially, you have two models to choose from, the 2022 A3 in FWD or Quattro all-wheel-drive form, and the performance S3. The FWD A3’s pricing has increased by $600 over the previous 2020MY at $33,900, but you do get a 17hp boost among other things, while the A3 Quattro is $600 cheaper at $35,900, but remember, it lost 27 horses. As for the S3, Audi hiked its price by $1,900 to $44,900. All prices exclude a $1,045 destination fee.

Whichever model you choose, there are three available trim levels called Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige, and all can be opted with a Black Optic Sport Package that adds darkened details on the outside, including the roof and exterior trimmings.

Beyond the usual comfort features, base A3s get 17-inch wheels, the 10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit, and 10.1-in. MMI touchscreen infotainment system and an assortment of safety systems as standard. The S3 bumps this up with 18-inch wheels, front sport seats, LED lights inside and out, and more. Unfortunately, you have to go for the $47,700 S3 Premium Plus to add the $1,100 S Sport Package with the damper control.

You can see the equipment features and detailed pricing in the included slides above.

Our Verdict On The 2022 Audi A3

Starting with the A3, Audi has built a small premium sedan with more styling flair than ever before without resorting to overly dramatic design choices. It has a peppy engine that will cover your basic needs and it’s a joy to cruise on the highway. Our major niggles concern Audi’s turn to touch inputs and buttons, with no MMI rotary dial or other rotary knobs that make your life easier when on the move, some lower-quality materials and switchgear compared to the older model (albeit with the same excellent build quality), and limited headroom at the back and storage spaces inside.

It’s also softer and less composed on the road than what we would have liked, but we won’t necessarily count that against it as your typical entry-level premium buyer leans more towards a supple and quiet ride than engaging but firm driving dynamics. The A3 can be feature-packed, but you will need to spend significantly more than the advertised starting MSRP to get all those treats. Ultimately, your money is going towards parking a smart-looking European small sedan with a premium feel in your driveway that will get your neighbors’ attention at the expense of living space and equipment features compared to a similarly priced mainstream mid-size sedan. If that’s something you don’t care about, the A3 is an honest choice.

Our Verdict On The 2022 Audi S3

Moving on to the S3, while the same nuances we mentioned before with the A3 apply here too, you get more bang for the buck with the fine driving dynamics and performance thrills that one would expect from a true Audi. It’s ruthlessly fast and capable around the bends, all while remaining mild-mannered, even if it’s not exactly the most fun to drive. There are other performance compacts in the market that will put a wider smile on your face, but that usually comes at the expense of the S3’s extremely refined, all-around package.

Also Read: 2022 Audi RS 3 Sportback And Sedan Are The New Compact Performance Kings

In essence, you’re paying a 20-25 percent premium over the standard A3 for 50 percent more power and twice the thrills behind the wheel. For that reason alone, in our book, the S3 makes for a much smarter buy even if its pricing encroaches into A4 territory. Simply put, it’s a much more cohesive offering that gives you legit reasons to select it over larger models beyond the allure of the four-ring logo on the hood.


2022 AUDI A3

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2022 AUDI S3

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Photo Credits John Halas for CarScoops & Audi USA

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