2022 Audi A3/S3 sport sedans turn a smart double play

A sunny day, a mountain road, a Milwaukee Brewers playoff game radio broadcast, and a sport sedan make a great way to spend an afternoon. This road leads from Denver through the foothills of the Rockies to Lyons, Colorado, and it’s the ideal setting for the redesigned 2022 Audi A3 and its sportier S3 companion. 

The new A3 is hitting dealerships in the U.S. this fall as a subcompact sedan, though other markets also get Sportback hatchbacks. Both the A3 and S3 boast more power for 2022, slightly larger dimensions, tweaked looks, more interior technology, and additional safety features. With its 2022 update, the A3 soldiers on as a stylish, fun-to-drive sport sedan that provides a great entry point for the brand.

The day starts in an A3, and already my beloved Brewers are a couple runs down while their dormant offense struggles at the plate. Front-wheel drive comes standard, but this car has all-wheel drive, and its top Prestige trim gives it a full spate of standard features. Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that spins up 201 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, increases of 12 hp and 37 lb-ft versus the outgoing model.

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

Starting at a mile high and moving up a couple thousand more feet into the mountains, the A3’s turbo-4 struggles in the thin Colorado air, even with the aid of a new 48-volt mild-hybrid starter generator that adds up to 17 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque during takeoff. The engine’s power arrives quickly, but it just doesn’t have the grunt to confidently pass the rolling Toyota roadblocks that inevitably slow traffic. I stick with Dynamic mode to help the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission keep the engine in its power band, but that only makes the power delivery acceptable. That’s a shame because at sea level this little engine can launch the A3 from 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds, according to Audi.

With power at a disadvantage, I have to rely on the car’s handling and the Brewers bats to provide the fun. One out of two isn’t bad. The MQB platform the A3 shares with vehicles as varied as the Audi TT and Volkswagen Atlas changes little, only adapting for revised all-wheel drive, steering, and damper systems. Still, the A3 remains light and tossable. Weighing in at just 3,329 lb, the A3 feels tied down to the road and its quick (14.9:1 ratio) electric-assist power steering has the weight and sharp responses that provide excellent control. In the few gaps I can find between slow Lexus RX 350s and slower camper vans, it’s a blast to dive into and shoot out of corners as I climb into the Rockies. However, with all-season rubber and brakes made for the street, I realize the car’s limits and never go too hard.

Soon enough one of those rolling speed bumps bottles up progress and I look to the interior for my entertainment because the Brewers still aren’t helping. The A3 may be the brand’s entry-level vehicle, but its cabin still buzzes with technology. A 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster comes standard, but this model has the 12.3-inch version that Audi calls its Virtual Cockpit. It’s configurable and offers three layout themes, Dynamic, Sport, and Classic, all of which are easy to read and provide great information, including a map, turn-by-turn directions, and audio and trip computer information.

2022 Audi A3

2022 Audi A3

The standard 10.1-inch center screen is effectively half of the MMI Touch interface from more-expensive Audis, which have another screen that mostly handles the climate functions. It’s angled toward the driver for easy reach, provides haptic feedback to confirm commands, has hand-writing recognition to input destinations, and works with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi offers one of the better infotainment systems and the brand is always pushing its interior technology forward.

The A3 competes with the BMW 2-Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and CLA-Class as entry-level luxury cars that reach toward the mainstream with front-wheel-drive layouts and affordable pricing. All three brands have to cut costs in cabin materials to hit the mid-$30,000s starting prices, but Audi seems to do it best. The harder plastics are hard to find, and Audi outfits the A3’s cabin with sturdy soft-touch foams, standard leather upholstery, and aluminum, carbon-fiber, or wood trim.

The Brewers get shut out by the Atlanta Braves for a second consecutive game as I arrive in Lyons, and the Sunday drivers aren’t helping my mood either. Still, it’s been a fun couple of hours behind the wheel of the A3 and the afternoon is looking up as the car for my return trip to Denver will be the S3.

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

S3 to the rescue

The S3 makes everything good about the A3 better. The stylish sport sedan features a much more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-4 generating 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, up from 292 hp and 280 lb-ft in the outgoing car.

Mountain air isn’t as much of a challenge for the S3’s turbo-4. In Dynamic mode, it snorts between gears and lets out a few muffed pops and crackles on overrun. It also gets the car moving much easier and has far more passing pep. From a stop, it can launch the S3 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, according to Audi, and it works well with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to deliver power when needed.

Traffic opens up coming down the mountain, and that gives me a chance to test the S3’s handling. It sits 0.6 inch lower on a sport-tuned suspension, rides on 18-inch summer tires, and has a slightly quicker 14.3:1 steering ratio. This car also uses the optional ($1,100) adaptive dampers that Audi teams with red brake calipers.

The tied-down feeling and quick steering from the A3 is only amplified here. The adaptive dampers fight the car’s slight body lean without turning a comfortable ride harsh. It’s genuinely fun to bomb down the mountain in the S3. With the opportunity to go harder into tight corners, the S3 reveals its limits. When pushed hard, the car understeers, which is a result of a heavy front weight bias caused by the engine’s location in front of the front axle. The S3 is a joy to drive all day at 7/10ths, but it lacks the balance to rotate through fast corners to work as a track machine. Audi will have the RS 3 with a rear torque splitter for that duty.

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

2022 Audi S3

Larger 14.1-inch front rotors give the S3 good stopping power on this downhill run, but once again, they aren’t robust enough to handle a racetrack.

The S3 looks the part, though, with its wider, blacked-out front grille, new fascia design with larger air intakes, aero kit with a chunky trunk lid spoiler, and quad exhaust tips. The A3 is only slightly more subtle, with the same wide grille, the same sharpened character lines, and 17-inch instead of 18-inch tires.

The 2022 Audi A3 starts at $34,945 with front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive adds $2,000. The friskier S3 starts at $45,945. Both come standard with power-adjustable and heated front seats, leather upholstery, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, and an expanded set of safety features that consists of automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high beams. Buyers can also pay up for more luxury, technology, and safety. On the safety front, Audi offers adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, automatic parking, and an exit warning system. Additional luxury and technology amenities include diamond-stitched nappa leather, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, LED matrix headlights, navigation, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

No matter how you outfit your 2022 Audi A3 or S3, you’ll get a small sedan that excels as an everyday driver with a splash of performance. It’s a smart update of a smart little sport sedan that’ll be a hit every time you drive it. As for the Brewers: there’s always next year.

Audi provided airfare and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this first hand report.

Source: Motor Authority

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