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2022 Audi A3 and S3 first drive review: A strong case for sticking with sedans

Audi's entry-level four-doors are compelling, even as the market keeps shifting to crossovers.

Audi's color palette is usually pretty conservative, but there are some fun colors available on the A3 and S3, like Atoll Blue.

Audi

Trying to convince the buying public to shift back to sedans from crossovers is like trying to convince the tide not to come in. But there are still many consumers who want to keep their vehicles sleeker and lower to the ground, and for people who want to dip their toes into the luxury car experience, the 2022 Audi A3 and S3 offer some great reasons to stick with sedans.

What's new for both models

The 2022 Audi A3 and its peppier S3 sibling are just a bit larger than their predecessors. These new sedans are about 1.5 inches longer, 0.8 inches wider and 0.5 inches taller than before, and while Audi will tell you that makes the cars look more aggressive, most buyers probably won't notice the extended dimensions. Most of these changes don't translate to expanded interior volume, either; rear legroom only grows by 0.1 inches, although there's a bit more headroom available for all occupants.

Aesthetic changes are a bit more obvious. The A3 and S3 offer more evolution than revolution outside, where two strong lines still dominate the silhouette, while revised headlights and taillights bring the cars more in line with other recent Audi debuts, most notably the stepsibling Q3 crossover. The grille is a little larger, while the front bumper carries some interesting lines around the air vents.

The A3's new interior looks and feels far more premium than the cabin it replaces.

Audi

The interior is where the most dramatic changes take place. Anything remotely round has been thrown out the window in favor of angles, angles and more angles. It's a far more stylized cabin than what you'd find on other entry-lux offerings like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class or BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, and I like it. All the important bits are tilted toward the driver, and every surface is treated to prevent glare from becoming an obstacle, something I definitely notice and appreciate during a sunny daytime drive in the mountains around Denver.

Usability is up in a big way, too. The cup holders are no longer tucked under the dashboard, so taller bottles won't have a problem. That former cup holder space is now devoted to tchotchke storage, or wireless charging depending on the spec. The door pockets offer commendable capaciousness, but the cubby under the center armrest is a little small. There's a new dongle in place of a traditional shift lever, as well, and it's pretty easy to use.

Standard tech has been buffed in a big way, too. All A3 and S3 variants carry a standard 10.1-inch touchscreen on the dashboard running Audi's latest MIB 3 infotainment software, which I enjoy in every car it graces. It's responsive, with a sensible layout that makes it easy to bounce between music, maps or whatever else I need. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as well, but the cabin offers four USB-C ports when battery levels demand it. A 10.3-inch digital cluster is standard, but all the cars I'm driving come with the optional 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit, yet another Audi staple that is well laid out and great for conveying important information. A head-up display is available, too.

Despite its entry-level status, Audi puts a decent amount of safety systems in every 2022 A3 and S3. All cars come with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams and lane-departure warning, but options packages can expand that to include blind spot monitoring, rear automatic braking, parallel and perpendicular parking assist and adaptive cruise control.

2022 Audi A3: Sedate with a side of sporty

Fans of electrification will be happy to learn that all 2022 A3s are now technically electrified. A 48-volt mild hybrid system uses a belt alternator starter to enable extended stop-start usage, in addition to engine-off coasting at speed. The MHEV parts can also add a small output boost of 12 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque when starting off, but otherwise it's so imperceptible, most people won't know it's working. Credit where it's due: This stop-start system is smooth as hell.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 producing 201 hp and 221 lb-ft on its own, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that routes through either the front or all four wheels. It's a sufficiently peppy powertrain for a car of this size, offering plenty of torque through the rev range and just enough power to keep things interesting if I slap it into Dynamic mode.

In daily operation, the 2022 A3 is chill. The standard static dampers do a commendable job absorbing bad bits of road, but it's not overtly soft, with what I'd call a medium amount of body lean around corners. The steering is pretty light, but it gains a bit of weight when swapping to Dynamic mode. I'd recommend using the Individual mode to keep the steering heavy while letting everything else marinate in the standard Comfort mode. Standard all-season tires offer plenty of grip for a bit of spirited driving here and there without creating too much noise -- but then again, the cabin isn't very noisy in general, which is nice to see on a small, affordable model.

Overall, I'd say this is the trim for those who want a small luxury car that is capable of loosening its collar a bit from time to time. If you're not going out and taking advantage of the fuller-fat S3's peppier nature, the A3 will more than scratch your itch.

2022 Audi S3: Ready to rumble

While there's still an RS3 model above the S3 in Audi's hierarchy, that doesn't mean the S3 scrimps on character. In fact, there's plenty of it, and at a price that's not offensive for a small sedan.

Most of the 2022 S3's character is reserved for how it drives, but it does a decent job of standing apart on aesthetics alone. The front bumper is a bit more aggressive, the body sits a smidge closer to terra firma and the rear bumper highlights Audi's usual quad-tailpipe setup. The interior gets some supportive diamond-quilted sports seats in the right spec, as well as some special trim bits, but otherwise, the A3 and S3 aren't too estranged in the looks department.

But then there's the drive. The S3 also uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, but output here is a meaty 306 hp and 295 lb-ft, respective improvements of 18 and 15 over the outgoing S3. It's a hoot, too; it'll get up and sprint with little provocation, and it sounds pretty sweet in the process. The seven-speed dual-clutch is present here, and it does a great job swapping cogs with near imperceptibility.

The Denver area's manifold mountain roads are a great place to put the S3 through its paces.

Audi

A sport suspension is standard, but the optional adaptive dampers are where it's at. Replacing the last generation's magnetorheological setup, this new suspension offers varying degrees of stiffness by altering how oil flows inside the dampers. The result is a surprisingly soft ride in normal use, but when the mode switch flips to Dynamic, body roll disappears and the stiffness ramps up. The result is handling that's leaps and bounds above the A3. It also trounces its primary competitor, the Mercedes-AMG A35, which borders on uncomfortable most of the time. The S3 will let you throw its weight around and link curvy-road corners at will.

The S3's brakes are equally as impressive as the powertrain. With 14.1-inch front rotors, there is an immediate bite as soon as I breathe on the left pedal, which makes for a bit of a herky-jerky stopping experience in the city until I get used to how the brake pedal feels. But man, if you need to scrub speed in a hurry, these brakes will get the job done, and then some.

Down to brass tacks

The 2022 Audi A3 and S3 are currently on their way to dealerships around the country. Pricing for a front-drive A3 starts at $34,945 for the base Premium trim, rising to $38,245 for the midrange Premium Plus and capping at $42,245 for the range-topping Prestige. Throw another $2,000 into the mix on any trim and front-wheel drive will become all-wheel drive. The AWD-only S3 is a bit more dear, starting at $45,945 and topping out at $52,545 with all the bells and whistles.

Both cars are great examples of what you can get for sticking with sedans. They are excellent entry-level luxury cars that don't scrimp on quality or style while offering a good idea of what to expect from larger, more expensive vehicles under the same umbrella. Of the current slate of competitors, the Audis would be the ones I'd choose to put in my driveway.