For those who enjoy driving but are compelled by the need to combine performance with a modicum of practicality, sports sedans have long been the perfect choice. Despite the seismic shift towards SUVs in recent years, it’s great to see that some automakers—primarily from Germany—are keeping the faith. The latest example is the new 2022 Audi A3, along with its S3 sporting cousin.
The A3 is Audi’s smallest four-door sedan, although this latest version has grown slightly. It’s 1.2 inches longer, 0.8 inch wider, and half an inch taller than its predecessor. Lest you think that it’s a tiny car, the new A3 is the same width and barely an inch shorter than an E90-generation BMW 3-series. Interior volume is also similar, but trunk space is about 10 percent less.
The new model is wrapped in sheetmetal that doesn’t depart much from the outgoing model. The profile is sleek, and the front face is dominated by a large grille. But it’s a subdued look with minimal sculpting, and it is perhaps the least eye-catching of any vehicle in Audi’s lineup. The S3 version is similarly low key, with a coarser grille texture, larger and wider wheels, and a subtle rear spoiler. Improvements in mirror design, underbody cladding, and other details have reduced the drag coefficients by about 10 percent across the board.
Inside, however, the 2022 model goes in a new direction with an angular motif that’s carried through the dash, the vents, the armrests, and even the door handles. Not only does it look fresh and attractive, but the new design integrates the 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen instead of having it sprout from the dash like a mini drive-in movie screen.
The driving position is excellent, with the steering wheel’s upper half nicely framing the optional 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit Plus reconfigurable instrument cluster. (The standard screen is a couple inches smaller and offers fewer configuration options.) Headroom and legroom are fine, despite the standard panoramic sunroof. Even the back seat is pretty good, with adequate headroom, legroom, and foot room for someone who’s five feet, 11 inches tall. The rear seatbacks fold in 40/20/40 increments, maximizing the utility of the 11-cubic-foot trunk.
Heated power front seats are standard, as is leather upholstery with contrasting stitching, which is now available in gray, brown, or beige. During a two-hour drive, these seats were very comfortable and provided decent lateral support, with slightly larger side bolsters in the S3.
The powertrains will be familiar to previous A3 and S3 owners, but there are some important improvements. All use versions of the VW Group’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine. Unlike in the previous A3, the front-drive car no longer gets a less powerful engine than the Quattro.
The new A3 engine uses a modified Miller cycle that improves part-throttle fuel economy and is coupled to a 48-volt hybrid system to provide further efficiency. Output is 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, which is roughly in between the previous A3’s two engines. Coupled again to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the new A3’s EPA combined fuel economy improves by two mpg to 32 mpg with front-wheel drive and by a massive 6 mpg to 31 mpg for the Quattro. It’s nice to see that, despite the push towards EVs, Audi hasn’t given up on internal-combustion-engine development.
While Audi claims that the front-drive A3 maintains the same 6.6-second 60-mph time as before, the loss of nearly 20 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque doesn’t help the all-wheel-drive A3 Quattro, which needs a claimed 6.3 seconds to hit 60—but we predict they’ll be quicker once we get our hands on one to test. If the 24 percent improvement in fuel economy doesn’t console you about this deficit, the solution is to step up to the more powerful S3.
The S3’s engine sees power increase from 288 to 306 horsepower and torque boosted from 280 to 295 pound-feet. At the same time, EPA combined fuel economy improves by 2 mpg to 27, and the factory-stated 60-mph sprint time drops by a tenth to 4.5 seconds. In our last test of an S3, it was a couple of tenths quicker than the factory claim, so we might expect a slightly better figure in our testing.
The suspension is largely similar to the previous generation with struts in front and a multilink setup in the rear. The biggest change is that the optional, adjustable suspension offered on the S3 switches from magnetorheological technology to more conventional hydraulic dampers. A version of this system with different calibration is also optional on the A3 for the first time.
We drove the A3 and S3 through Colorado’s mountain roads, and both take to hard driving with enthusiasm. The A3 Quattro was reasonably strong, offering its 201 ponies willingly and revving strongly to its 6250-rpm redline. The standard paddle shifters work beautifully, and while we’re not fans of the lame-looking stubby gear selector, it does serve nicely to toggle between the transmission’s standard drive, sport, and manual positions.
The chassis has good body control and nice cornering balance, despite undoubtedly having a front-based weight distribution. Only when pushing really hard in tight corners did front grip seem to fade earlier than the rear. The brakes are strong and inspire confidence, though the steering, while accurate, is not infused with great feel. Switching from Comfort to Dynamic mode adds a bit of weight to the steering but not necessarily more feel.
The S3 feels immediately tauter than the A3. The ride is firmer, the brake pedal harder, and the engine much stronger. When using full throttle to pass cars on two-lane roads, the S3 feels like it uses all of its 306 horsepower as it shifts crisply a little above its 6500-rpm redline. The engine sound satisfying at full throttle as well, without any artificial soundtrack being pumped in through the sound system.
The S3’s steering in Comfort mode is heavier than in the A3’s Dynamic mode, and it also has a strong sense of self-centering, which feels a bit artificial. In Dynamic mode, the effort increases substantially, to the point where it overpowers any steering feel. The suspension, on the other hand, works very nicely in Dynamic mode, giving the car a taut feel that encourages exploiting the S3’s greater grip.
The dual-clutch seven-speed transmission works well in both cars. Exploring low-rpm operation in the upper gears, the S3 displays substantial turbo lag. That’s easily overcome by driving in one of the Sport modes or hitting the kickdown switch, after which the combination of a big downshift and the engine coming onto boost delivers an exciting rush of acceleration.
Driven more calmly, the A3 and the S3 are reasonably refined. While their four-cylinder engines are smooth and quiet, they don’t quite purr with the silkiness of six- and eight-cylinder powerplants. The ride is also good, though the occasional harsh bump does come crashing through the suspension. Even in Comfort mode, these cars remind that they are machines with a sporting orientation.
A3 and S3 Pricing
Both cars are on sale now, with prices starting at $34,945 for the A3 ($2000 more for the A3 Quattro) and $45,945 for the S3. As usual, all models offer Audi’s Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige packages. Our well-equipped test cars stickered at $44,400 for the A3 Quattro and $57,440 for the S3.
For those who like the driving enjoyment in small packages, these new Audis are great choices. They offer a combination of performance, comfort, and efficiency that simply can’t be matched by larger vehicles.
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