Growing up sucks.
OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but it’s certainly not as carefree as being a kid – back before serious responsibilities and difficult decisions became part of the daily routine. Fun is your first priority when you’re young, and then it’s relegated to something for your free time, of which there’s precious little to go around anymore.
Of course, it’s possible to achieve some semblance of balance in life, which is precisely why the 2022 Audi S3 exists. This little luxury sedan projects the same kind of seriousness as any other, but it’s also capable of cutting loose for rare but rewarding moments of gleeful motoring that will make you glad you’re grown up enough to get behind the wheel.
After a short delay reaching North American shores, the fourth generation of Audi’s smallest sedan is here, and it looks – well, it looks pretty much the same as it did before. Keen observers will be able to spot the differences, like the slightly more angular and aggressive character lines and exterior lighting, but the Volkswagen Group’s typically evolutionary design approach is on full display here.
To be fair, the S3 – as well as the A3 on which it’s based – didn’t really need much as far as an exterior overhaul. The cabin, however, is another story altogether, with a look and feel that’s thoroughly modernized. Simple stuff like the window switches carry over from before, but just about everything else is new – and better. Designers went a little overboard with the gloss-black plastic panels, but it’s a much more streamlined space, with a distilled simplicity to go with shapes that tie in nicely with what’s happening outside.
Given its slight stature, this S3 sedan offers impressive interior accommodations both front and back. No, it’s not quite as spacious as the so-called sportback version of this compact that’s sold elsewhere, but it’s roomier than it looks from the outside, with good use of space throughout.
Considering the number of small sedans, premium or otherwise, that don’t offer much rear head- or legroom (or both), the usability of the S3’s back seat is commendable. Not even the larger Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan offers as much rear-seat headroom as this – a true testament to the clever packaging employed here.
The front half of the cabin offers accommodations that are roomier still, although small-item storage isn’t exactly abundant. The door pockets are a decent size, but there’s only one truly usable cupholder on the centre console, with another hidden under the sliding armrest, while the console bin itself is a little narrow and shallow. Likewise, at 325 L, the trunk isn’t especially generous, with the all-wheel drive system’s components leaving a high load floor to contend with when packing it with stuff.
Those are the functionality fundamentals, but as far as fun goes, it starts under the hood. The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder carries over from the previous S3, with a punchy 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to play with. Better still, all that torque kicks in at just 2,000 rpm, which means it doesn’t take much pedal play to reach fever pitch.
With the powertrain in its most riotous setting, and the torque directed to all four wheels, the 2022 S3 will sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.8 seconds. More basically, it also means passing manoeuvres are hilariously abrupt, with a slap or two of the left-side steering wheel paddle sending the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission downward in a hurry, spiking the revs into the heartiest part of the powerband in the process.
Driving Feel: 10/10
Like a newly anointed step-parent, the optional adaptive suspension is firm yet forgiving in its two softest settings, while sport skews considerably towards a rigid ride. The same level of adjustment can be applied to the steering and drivetrain, as well as how much engine noise – enhanced or otherwise – is piped into the cabin.
It’s all part of the balance the S3 strikes, with a personality that’s equal parts subdued and sinister. With the drivetrain set to sport, throttle response goes from knife-sharp to hitting with the brute force of a meat cleaver, while transmission mapping is tweaked to hold gears longer between up- and downshifts.
With torque distributed to all four wheels, getting places in a hurry isn’t a problem for the S3, while brake-based torque vectoring ensures that’s the case even when the road starts to wind. The system is simple, with the inside brakes applied imperceptibly when cornering, allowing the car to turn more sharply. It’s entirely unnoticeable in action, and that’s the whole point.
When playtime is over, the S3 behaves an awful lot like the A3 on which it’s based. It’s luxuriously demure, with a casualness to the way it cruises around. It’s mostly quiet, with this tester’s low-profile winter tires sending some unwanted road noise into the cabin, but that’s about it.
The long-slung sport seats wrap up occupants just enough to keep movement to a minimum while simultaneously providing good commuting comfort and support. Both front seats are heated, too, although conspicuously absent is a heated steering wheel – even in this top Technik trim that starts at $56,600 before tax. Ditto front-seat ventilation, which competitor products offer in this price range.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
There’s also the matter of the premium-grade gas this pocket rocket runs on, which is an added expense that can’t be ignored. Granted, the same is true of its direct competitors; but the cost will undoubtedly add up over time – especially at today’s prices.
If the 2022 S3 has anything in its favour at the fuel pumps it’s a slightly less insatiable appetite for the expensive stuff, with a combined consumption rate of 8.8 L/100 km making it the only car like it to come in below 9.0. Better still, during an initial evaluation drive that spanned a highway-heavy 160 km or so that was more passive than playful, the combined rate rang in at just 8.1 L/100 km. Meanwhile, the full week of testing finished at 9.4 L/100 km across some 360 km – not bad considering the snow-filled fun that was had along the way.
For all the PG-13 fun the 2022 Audi S3 is capable of, it certainly carries an R-rated price tag. The cheapest way to get into one is to buy the base Komfort trim that starts at $50,600 before tax but including a non-negotiable $2,700 freight charge. That’s a little less than the comparable Mercedes-AMG A 35 sedan’s starting price, and quite a bit cheaper than the base BMW M235i four-door, while the Cadillac CT4-V starts below $50,000.
This Technik tester, meanwhile, was done up with a premium paint job ($890), as well as a host of other options like the Advanced Handling package and its adaptive suspension ($1,600), all of which saw the price swell to $63,000. In fairness, it’s easy to run the price of one of its fellow German competitors into similar territory, but that’s cold comfort for anyone shopping in this segment.
With that lofty price tag looming, the S3 counters with most – though not quite all – of what you might expect from a modern sport compact that starts above $50,000. Leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof; there’s also a 10.1-inch touchscreen, subscription-based satellite radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connectivity.
The Progressiv trim gets slightly better equipment for its $53,100 starting price, including power adjustability for the front passenger seat (only the driver’s seat is powered in the base trim), a handful of advanced safety upgrades, and some aluminum interior accents and ambient lighting. Then there’s the Technik trim that adds an upgraded stereo, built-in navigation, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, driver’s seat memory settings, and rear USB ports for its $56,600 starting price.
Notably absent from any of the three trims is a heated steering wheel, while ventilated front seats aren’t available – even optionally, as they are in the rival AMG A 35. Likewise, heated rear seats aren’t offered.
Advanced safety features are another way the S3 delivers some but not all of what’s reasonably expected these days, with only forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking coming standard, along with rear parking sensors and a government-mandated back-up camera. The Komfort trim can also pre-emptively close the windows and sunroof and tighten the front seatbelts in anticipation of a crash.
The Progressiv trim adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a self-parking system, lane departure warning, and an exit alert system that can warn of oncoming traffic from behind, while the top Technik trim adds automatic high-beam headlights. Those two trims can also be had with an optional adaptive cruise control system that works in stop-and-go traffic as part of the Advanced Driver Assistance package ($1,300).
User Friendliness: 9/10
In spite of the completely new direction taken inside, the S3 remains approachable and simple to use. The front half of the cabin looks and feels as driver-centric as a car like this should, with the centre stack angled a handful of degrees to the left for improved ease of use. The top trim’s built-in navigation can also be called up in a full-screen view on the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
Tactile controls still rule the day, with nothing touch-based beyond the infotainment display and a console-mounted volume controller. It still looks good, but the interior doesn’t feel overwhelming or unfamiliar in any way. It’s particularly welcome given the frustratingly touch-heavy direction sister brand Volkswagen took with the new Golf R and GTI. It’s only the push-pull gear selection knob that betrays the overall intuitiveness of the interior, but even that doesn’t take much time to (mostly) master.
The 2022 Audi S3 is a performance sedan with tremendous focus – a masterful machine that’s been refined to the point of being highly predictable, and yet it’s still brilliantly, explosively fun to drive. It’s also equally docile and easily tamed when desired, delivering a satisfying duality that makes it an ideal solution to the single-car garage dilemma.
It’s expensive, yes – particularly at the top of the lineup. It could also use a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats (and heated rear ones, too, for that matter). But among its peers it stands out as one of the best, with the right number of improvements in its fourth generation to go with a certain familiarity in form – and fun.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||306 hp @ 5,450–6,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||295 lb-ft @ 2,000–4,750 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.0 / 7.2 / 8.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||325 L|
|Model Tested||2022 Audi S3 Technik|
|Price as Tested||$63,160|
$6,460 – Advanced Handling Package, $1,600; Advanced Driver Assist Package, $1,300; Daytona Grey Pearlescent Paint, $890; Black Optic Package, $750; Matrix-Design LED Lighting, $600; Carbon Atlas Inlays, $500; Audi Connect Navigation & Infotainment Plus, $420; Red Brake Calipers, $400