2022 Audi S3 Review: A Premium Pocket Rocket

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Audi

Sometimes it seems like the Audi S3 is the forgotten child in Audi’s performance lineup. It’s a bit of an odd offering: hatchback performance in a premium-priced compact sports sedan. I’m here to tell you that the 2022 Audi S3 is not to be overlooked. While it’s not perfect, there’s some serious performance here.

Full disclosure: Audi first offered to lend me an A3 for a week. But I asked, “What’s the fastest you have?” So they delivered me an S3 with a full tank of gas, threw me the keys and told me to have fun for a week.

What is that?

Audi S3 1999

Audi S3 1999
Image: Audi

The Audi S3 is the smallest and cheapest way to get into Audi’s S performance lineup. It is the little brother of the S family. While the S3 has been around since 1999 in Europe and other countries, in sedan and hatchback form, Audi has only brought the A3 and S3 sedans in the United States for the 2015 model year. (The A3 hatch has been on sale here since 2006.) The current model is the fourth generation of the S3 but the second available in the United States. This being a VW Group product, it shares its platform with what appears to be dozens of other vehicles, most of which are not sold in the US

Competition in this segment is rare. Luxury automakers are eliminating entry-level offerings, and sedans in general, to focus on more expensive, more cost-effective utility vehicles. So the S3 operates in a small circle, competing with the recently updated BMW 2 Series and Mercedes CLA 35/45 AMG. You could even throw in the 2023 Acura Integraeven if it’s out of power compared to the rest of this crowd. The closest competitor to the S3 might be its own variant, the rowdy five-cylinder RS3. Anything approaching the performance of the S3 is cheaper but much less premium.

Specifications that matter

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Image: Audi

The S3 uses a slightly detuned version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the VW Golf R. Whereas the Golf R makes 315 horsepower, the S3 develops 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. With its Quattro all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed automatic transmission, that’s enough power to take this 3,538-pound sedan to 60 mph in a manufacturer-estimated time of 4.5 seconds. While some power-hungry crackpots may complain that it’s not enough punch, you’re still faster than most cars on the road in this thing. What’s even more impressive is that it’s quite efficient despite the performance: EPA fuel economy numbers for the S3 sit at 23 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 27 mpg combined. Not bad.

I meant it when I said the S3 is the cheapest way into a fast Audi: Pricing starts at $44,900. But it is rapidly increasing if you want premium or cool features. The S3 I drove had options like a $2,800 Premium Plus package with adaptive cruise control, wireless phone charging, and driver seat memory; a $2,250 Tech package that brought Audi’s excellent virtual cockpit, traffic sign recognition and a Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system; a $1,950 Black Optics package with larger 19-inch wheels, summer tires and blacked-out trim from the roof to the grille to the quad exhaust tips; a Fine Nappa leather package that covered the seats with diamond-stitched leathers and added carbon fiber inlays on the dashboard.

Finally, there’s a $1,100 S Sport package with red-painted brake calipers and sport suspension with damping control. Including the $1,045 destination charge, this S3 rang in at $55,890 – plenty of parts for a performance compact sedan.

what is good

Excuse my iced tea in the cup holder.

Excuse my iced tea in the cup holder.
Photo: Lawrence Hodge

The interior looks fantastic. The angular design with beveled edges on various surfaces may not suit everyone, but I think it’s great here. It looks even better when you compare it to previous generations of the A3/S3, where the minimalist interior basically screamed “I’m the cheapest Audi you can buy!” As with everything in Audi’s current lineup, materials and finishes are all high quality.

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Lawrence Hodge

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is awesome. The layout of the digital speedo and tachometer changes depending on the riding mode; one setup shows you a full Google Earth map on the 10.25-inch dash screen, making it easy to follow navigation without having to turn to the center screen. The display options are fantastic.

For a compact sedan, the interior space surprised me. Headroom and legroom were fantastic. Even at 6 feet tall, there was room for someone to sit behind my driver’s seat with no problem.

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Lawrence Hodge

Styling works too. Previous S3s were pretty quiet, so much so that you wouldn’t like it as a performance model until you saw the little red badge or the quad exhausts.

This one seems synonymous with performance. Admittedly, most of this has to do with the Black Optics package, which gives the S3 a dose of intensity. But even without this package, it’s an aggressive looking car.

how it rolls

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Lawrence Hodge

I call this thing a pocket rocket for a reason. There’s something about a small sedan that can hit 60 mph in under five seconds. Chassis tuning makes it tossable in the nicest way. Throw it into a corner and the Quattro system uses all 295 lb-ft of torque to get it out. It understeers a bit, and it doesn’t have the torque-vectoring rear differential you get in the Golf R. But that’s not a big deal.

There is also a bit of turbo lag. Well, more than a little – it’s noticeable every time you hit the gas. When stationary, there is a noticeable delay before the car begins to move. But once that turbo spins, it delivers a surge of torque. Need to make a pass? Step on that accelerator pedal and the power delivery is almost instantaneous. The seven-speed dual-clutch triggers snappy gear changes, and with larger brakes than the standard A3 (14.1-inch front and 12.2-inch rear rotors), that gear drops quickly when you need it. .

what is weak

For a car that has quad exhaust tips, it definitely has a muted exhaust note – there’s hardly any exhaust noise in the cabin. You can hear some engine noises, but most of it seems to be man-made.

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Lawrence Hodge

The shifter toggle takes some getting used to. Its operation is strange and I often found myself driving with the transmission in Sport mode unintentionally.

While the interior design works from a styling standpoint, these angles create a few inconveniences. For example, the wireless charger is angled away from the driver, towards the front of the car. While this looks like a comfortable place for the phone to rest, it usually ends up slipping, especially during hard driving.

Image for article titled The 2022 Audi S3 is a premium pocket rocket

Photo: Lawrence Hodge

Another drawback: the central 10.1-inch touchscreen, the main interface of the MMI infotainment system, is tilted forward. This means that if you have the sunroof open, sunlight hits the screen directly, rendering it virtually useless.

Speaking of MMI… It still sucks. The visuals are nice, and it fits perfectly when it’s running normally. But the infotainment software is still too slow and buggy for my liking. Moving from one menu to another is a matter of waiting; whole seconds pass between the moment you select a function on the screen and the moment the system executes it. The system also seems to have trouble switching from the native navigation app to any other screen. It’s as if the extremely detailed resolution of the built-in Google Earth navigation is too great for the system to support.

The MMI is so slow that I try to avoid using it as much as possible in any new Audi I drive. Thank goodness for Apple CarPlay.

Plus, another gripe: don’t plan on getting comfortable when you put the adaptive suspension into its dynamic setting. It’s harsh and bouncy – so much so that I usually drove the S3 with every other aspect of the car in dynamic mode except suspension. It’s not a brutal Ford Focus RS, but it’s enough to make you say “it’s not fun anymore” after being in the car for 10 minutes.

Verdict

The S3 is part of a group of vehicles that are rare today: the compact performance sedans. Audi could easily have done just performance-oriented crossovers and called it a day.

But they didn’t. They offered buyers a premium small sedan with an impressive ride and performance that will shock some people. While not without flaws, overall the S3 is a great little sports sedan, the kind of vehicle we could use more of.

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