2022 Audi S3 Review: Glowing Up

  • Handsome, timeless styling
  • 2.0L engine is punchy and playful
  • Excellent driving dynamics
  • High level of standard equipment in a well-design cabin
  • Rear seat space is snug
  • Trunk capacity is only average

SUVs and crossovers may have eaten a decent chunk of the sedan market, but there's still a place for more sporting fare like the 2022 Audi S3. Positively diminutive – in American terms, at least – but, with north of 300 horses on tap, not short on power, the new S3 Sedan is the descendent of a four-door that arguably created its category. It's one that, now, has a generous array of rivals, all promising something similar: genuine fun, but without a huge outlay.

The A3 is Audi's most affordable car in the US, at under $35k (before $1,045 destination). The S3 slots in at a still-attainable $45,800, while the upcoming 2022 RS 3 will be more expensive to go with its uptick in performance from an extra cylinder.

Like the A3, the S3 relies on Audi's 2.0L TFSI I4 gas engine, here tuned for 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission is standard – no manual option, sadly – as is quattro all-wheel drive. $1,100 adds the S sport package, with red brake calipers and, more importantly, sport suspension with damper control. While it may not be the air suspension Audi's more lavish S-badged cars offer, it does give the S3 extra wiggle-room to suit to the road.

One of the more welcome aspects of S-car ownership is the array of paint options you'll find waiting for you. Audi offers all the usual sober hues – including this handsome and surreptitious Daytona Gray pearl ($595) – but also has more eye-splitting finishes if you're feeling bolder. They suit the S3's more youthful spirit.

From a distance, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the S3 for its bigger siblings. The S4, S6, and even the S8 have so many shared design cues, and the size differences are so small in some dimensions, that it can take a second glance to differentiate. That bodes well for the S3, where the oversized grille, muscular fenders, and big-but-not-bolshy fascias front and rear lend gravitas without feeling excessive.

It may only turn heads among those who know what they're looking at already, but it means a fairly timeless aesthetic which I think will age particularly gracefully. The $1,950 Black Optic package swaps the standard 18-inch wheels for 19-inch bi-color versions, throws on a black roof, black exhaust tips, and black mirror housings, and switches out the regular trim for high-gloss versions.

Audi's turbocharged four-cylinder engine may be a familiar thing by now, but that doesn't make it any less special. In S3 form, it honestly feels just about perfect. There's no real turbo lag to speak of in Dynamic mode, just a fast and silky flood of power that has you doing 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

The adaptive dampers play their part in Comfort mode, dialing back some of the more uncompromising elements of the S3 and curtailing its more puppy-esque inclinations. Either way, the quattro all-wheel drive means it's tough to upset the compact sedan unless you actively set out to. There's grip galore, but without leaving the whole affair feeling too grounded to be fun.

The same goes for the dual-clutch automatic, good enough that any bitterness at the absence of a manual will quickly be quashed. Left to its own devices it's hungry to downshift in S mode. Or, you can click through the smooth-selecting ratios yourself with the paddles (sadly plastic rather than metal), where the DCT proves to be rapid regardless of the direction it's headed.

Like the A3, the 2022 S3 inherits many of the spoils of Audi's bigger sedan cabins. The weird little toggle-like transmission selector isn't my favorite, but I can't fault the meaty-rimmed wheel, well-bolstered sports seats (with leather and front heating as standard), and tri-zone climate control. The old A3/S3 felt somewhat spartan, with lots of uninterrupted surfaces punctuated with weird circular vents; this feels much more like a regular Audi.

A panoramic sunroof, park assist, and LED ambient lighting are all standard, too, as are front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warnings and avoidance, and lane departure warnings. Out of the gate, the S3 has a 10.25-inch driver display and a 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen, running Audi's easy-to-use software and supporting wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Technology Package ($2,250) adds navigation, a larger and more graphically-flexible 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display, and Bang & Olufsen audio.

$1,250 throws in the Fine Nappa leather package, with diamond-stitched seats. The $2,800 Premium Plus trim adds adaptive cruise, active lane assistance, side-assist with rear cross traffic assist, power-folding side mirrors, driver seat memory, SiriusXM, and a wireless phone charger.

The result is unexpectedly high-end accommodations, though does send the S3 spiraling to $55,890 all-in, in the case of my review car. A base-spec S4 sedan starts at $51,900, for what it's worth. You might want to consider that if rear seat space is a pressing issue: Audi made the back of the S3 a little larger this time around, but it's still snug in there for full-sized adults. The 8.3 cu-ft trunk can be thankfully be expanded by dropping the split rear bench down.

On winter rubber and lightly snowy roads, I expected some of the S3's edges to be showing. In fact, it proved to be the perfect foil: equally at home doing sure-footed chore duty while still getting – safely – playful when the opportunity arose. With a 23 mpg city rating, 32 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined, it's not half bad with a reasonable right foot. I came within a point or two of that combined figure in my own, mixed driving.

2022 Audi S3 Sedan Verdict

When word broke that the S3 was growing up a little, I'll confess I worried that Audi might jettison some of its punchy charm in the process. The end result, though, manages to deliver the best of both worlds. The 2022 S3 Sedan still drives like a miniature hooligan, but it wraps you up in a package that feels a lot more like a mature Audi in the process.

Staying humble when it comes to the options is probably wise, though even fully loaded it's hard to argue that the S3 isn't delivering a lot for your money. The standard equipment is generous; throw in some options packages, and it feels positively luxurious. Only an inevitable shortage of space in the second row and the trunk dampen the mood, though it's not like Audi lacks larger sports sedans for those who regular transport four adults and their luggage.

There, indeed, is the S3's biggest achievement: it feels special enough for taking out on joyrides, but usable enough that it holds up as an everyday car too. With driving dynamics that even the most enthusiastic of compact crossovers would envy, it's a good reminder that variety really is the spice of life.