Review: Pricey Audi S3 is a real small luxury car

2022 Audi S3. If you’re tired of boring vehicles and are willing to sacrifice a bit of practicality, this might be the car for you.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Driving a small car after spending so much time in big SUVs is a bit like losing weight. Everything seems simpler. Like loose old clothes that no longer fit, the lanes and parking spaces all seem too spacious. Each unit of power produced by the engine is more energetic because it displaces less weight. He feels good.

Unfortunately, small vehicles like the all-new Audi S3 are quickly becoming a rare breed. More than 80% of new vehicles purchased in Canada last year were SUVs or pickup trucks.

In an alternate universe, the all-new Audi A3 and its sporty S3 counterpart would be the entry point into Audi’s lineup. They cost $38,900 and $47,900 respectively. In our universe, most people will probably opt for the $38,650 Q3 SUV, or even the larger $42,250 Q5 SUV, and with good reason. If you often need space for a baby seat, stroller or adult passengers, you can stop reading now; you’re better off with an SUV.

If, however, you’ve had enough of boring vehicles and are willing to sacrifice some practicality, go for it.

Although it may not look like it, the S3 sedan is Audi’s top-of-the-line version of the enthusiast-favorite Volkswagen Golf R hatchback. They share the VW Group’s MQB Evo architecture, all-wheel drive and a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

In the Audi, that’s good for 306 horsepower and 294 lb-ft of torque, which is a little less than the Golf, but an improvement over the old S3. On paper, the new Audi is pretty much on par with the former champion of small luxury cars, the Mercedes-AMG A35.

First, let’s eliminate the obvious. I’m just under six feet tall and sitting in the back, my knees are pushed into the front seat and my head is brushing the roof. The 2022 S3 is slightly larger than the outgoing model, but you don’t feel any extra space inside, except maybe some extra headroom. Subcompact rivals, however, are also cramped.

Legroom is tight on the 2022 Audi S3 for Matt Bubbers, who is just under six feet tall.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The S3 earns points for its new interior. It’s angular, modern and looks like a proper small luxury car. The configurable digital instrument cluster isn’t new, but it’s excellent, as is the central touchscreen. The latter is clear and easy to use, which makes the regrettable absence of a physical control dial less problematic. A small, round volume-control touchpad is an odd choice, but if you find it obnoxious, there’s a traditional volume knob on the steering wheel.

You start the car with an unusual rocker switch mounted between the seats. In normal cruise mode, the car’s performance is fairly unremarkable. The engine and gearbox are slow to react. But the S3 shows glimmers of potential. The way the car rushes forward once the gearbox selects an appropriate gear clearly shows that there is plenty of torque available. The steering lacks feel, which is unfortunately normal these days, but it’s quick and nicely weighted.

In Dynamic mode, the car becomes truly entertaining. He feels light on his tires. The throttle is crisp and the automatic gearbox holds gears well, so when you put your foot down you’re instantly pushed back against the seat by a surge of torque, which peaks at just 2,000rpm. The engine gets louder with a nice deep bark. Yes, the engine noise is fake, augmented by the speakers, but it’s well done. Without being outrageous, the S3 is good, healthy and responsible fun.

Best of all, the ride is comfortable for a sporty little car. This is due to the optional (expensive) adaptive dampers fitted to the model we drove. Audi has nailed the tuning, offering a wide range of settings between Comfort and Dynamic mode.

Audi’s smallest performance car has long been my favorite in the brand’s lineup. The company’s larger, faster S and RS models often feel slightly tame and uninspiring – albeit more usable – compared to the more extreme machines from Mercedes-AMG and BMW M. But the all-new 2022 S3 is an exception. . It’s pricey for what you get, much like its luxury brand peers. Nonetheless, Audi has delivered a car that’s both comfortable and fun to drive, provided you take the pricey adaptive dampers. The 2022 S3 may have just dethroned the old Mercedes A-Class as my favorite small luxury sedan.

With the market shifting almost completely to SUVs and trucks, the days of niche cars like these seem numbered. Enjoy it while you can.

Technical specifications

Audi S3 2022

  • Base Price/Tested: $47,900/$60,250 (estimated)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo
  • Gearbox/Drive: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • Fuel consumption (litres/100 kilometers): 10 city, 7.2 highway
  • Alternatives: Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan or hatchback, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé, Mazda3 Sport GT AWD, Volkswagen Golf R

Regards

It looks dull in corporate rental grey, but a brighter metallic tint brings out the car’s crisp lines. Fender flares and creased bodywork give it a more aggressive look than the sleek Mercedes.

Interior

The driver’s seat and dashboard of the 2022 Audi S3.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black or gray. More options would have been welcome. The new dashboard and infotainment system are as good as in small cars.

Performance

The gear lever of the Audi S3 2022.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

For thrills behind the wheel, BMW’s 2 Series Coupe can’t be outdone, but it only has two doors, which will be a deal breaker for many drivers. The Mercedes A-Class has the advantage of being available in both sedan and sedan versions. The S3 can go from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in 4.8 seconds.

Technology

On paper, the new Audi is about on par with the former champion of small luxury cars, the Mercedes-AMG A35, writes Matt Bubbers.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Unfortunately, many of the options you’ll want aren’t available on the base Komfort version. You’ll need to get the $50,400 Progressiv trim to get adaptive dampers, which come bundled in a $1,600 package. The advanced navigation package costs $2,250 and a driver assistance package costs an additional $1,300.

Cargo

The rear seats of the 2022 Audi S3.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Bulky trunk lid struts reduce the already limited rear trunk space.

The verdict

Probably the best all-around small luxury sedan, if you can stomach the price.

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