Audi A3, S3 2022: fast and imperfect | Expert advice

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The verdict: Redesigned for 2022, the Audi A3 and S3 sedans offer balanced handling and a myriad of standard features, but hesitant transmissions and uneven quality let them down.

Against the competition: With consumers overwhelmingly preferring SUVs these days, any small luxury sedan starting at around $ 35,000 had better be hell of a car to justify its existence. The A3 and S3 have their moments, but the downsides we’ve experienced behind the wheel and elsewhere keep both cars below the mark.

With front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the A3 goes from $ 30,000 to around $ 50,000. The S3 offers much more performance and standard all-wheel drive; it will cost you another $ 11,000 or so at each end of the trim line. Around the Cars.com headquarters in Chicago, we drove an A3 with AWD and optional Audi sport suspension; we also drove the A3 and S3 back to back in an october driving event in southeast michigan. See our initial take after this trip, stack the new A3 and S3 side by side, or Compare them with their previous generation 2020 counterparts (both cars skipped the 2021 model year).

Related: 2022 Audi A3, S3 Quick Spin: Transmission Works

Audi has also redesigned the RS 3, which offers even more performance, but it had not yet debuted at the time of this writing.

Lost in transmission

Whether it is the low initial growl the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé or the modest overall power of the Mercedes-Benz A220, the base powertrains of many entry-level sedans have been disappointing. The same goes for Audi: Right out of the box, the A3’s turbo four-cylinder (201 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque) delivers quick throttle response and a robust, usable punch from the start. But once you reach the cruise speed, this punch is difficult to access.

The culprit appears to be the A3’s transmission, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which upshifts early and often. However, when trying to speed up when you’re already on the move, you need a cigarette break before forcing. According to my timer, the A3 still needed a full two seconds to downshift down a gear and move forward during a standard 50mph kickdown maneuver – despite a lot of engine reassembly which suggested Something came. That’s a third more than most cars I’ve tested and twice as many as the most responsive examples.

The drivetrain kickdown at lower speeds also seemed to be delayed in the A3, although I didn’t time it. It wasn’t just me either; several Cars.com editors criticized the A3’s drivetrain. The sedan’s Dynamic setting – which is the sportiest of several selectable drive modes – maintains lower gears longer than the default mode, reducing the need to downshift as often. But when the transmission finally Is it that upshifting, requesting a lower gear can take that long.

The S3 (306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque) improves the downshift delay to a more average delay. The car is expected to be fast, especially as the revs increase. Power becomes explosive beyond around 5,000 rpm – enough to give the car a sharp, happy character with a new turbo lag. It’s quite different from the low-end city versatility of the A3. A little more displacement might even out some of the heavy approach: like the A3, the S3’s turbo four-cylinder displaces 2.0 liters, although the A3’s engine has a higher compression ratio thanks to Audi’s novel cycle B.

The S3 recommends super fuel, while the A3 runs smoothly – with better EPA gas mileage.

Driving and handling

Both Audi we tested had their more aggressive suspension and wheel options: 18-inch wheels and optional sport suspension on the A3, and 19 and S sport suspension with adaptive dampers on the S3. Ride quality in the A3 is firm but liveable, with a few hard impacts at highway speeds but good overall body control. The S3 drives even more firmly, especially at highway speeds, where frost heaves and other bumps can be disruptive, even in the comfort-oriented suspension tuning; at lower speeds it’s more similar to the sport suspension of the A3 – on the practical side of the business.

It’s worth noting that small luxury sedans aren’t exactly a comfortable driving group, so Audi isn’t an outlier here. The standard setup on either car (17-inch wheels on the A3, 18 with passive shocks on the S3) has the potential to sweeten things up, but we didn’t test an A3 or a S3 so equipped.

In both cars, Audi’s all-wheel drive wins its place in terms of dynamics, not just all-weather traction. It sends enough power backwards when accelerating mid-turn to avoid understeer, creating a neutral and rewarding balance. Handling was good in both cars (the tires were Pirelli PZero all season on the A3, Bridgestone Potenza were high performance on the S3), with minimal body roll when cornering. Management feedback is good across the board, with the S3’s faster gear providing a welcome dose of extra sharpness.

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