After a rocky start, the Audi S3 really found its feet in the last generation.
Not only was it fast in all weather, it was sharp to look at from the outside and, thanks to one of the best small car cabin designs in the business, the inside was a lovely place to spend time too.
Revealed in 2020 but only introduced to Australia earlier in 2022, the new S3 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It’s still crisp and compact to look at, and it still packs turbocharged petrol power and quattro all-wheel drive traction.
What has changed, then? There’s more technology inside, thanks to the same suite of screens rolling out across the wider Audi range, and the promise of a sportier drive from an updated 2.0-litre engine and quattro all-wheel drive system.
How does that play out in the real world?
The S3 Sportback (or hatchback) is the cheaper of the two models in the range, with a sticker price of $70,700 before on-road costs. The S3 Sedan is $2500 more expensive, with a $73,200 sticker price. Both models were hit with an $800 price rise earlier in the year.
Rivals are thick on the ground. The BMW M135i xDrive Pure wears a $67,900 sticker, with a more generously-equipped model sitting above it at $72,900 before on-roads, while the Mercedes-AMG A35 kicks off at $77,869 before on-roads.
Over at Volkswagen, the new Golf R packs more performance than the S3 for a similar price. It’s currently $65,990 before on-road costs, and has a more powerful version of the same 2.0-litre engine mated with a more advanced all-wheel drive system.
2022 Audi S3 pricing:
- Audi S3 Sportback: $70,700
- Audi S3 Sedan: $73,200
All prices exclude on-road costs.
Like the wider A3 range, the new S3 looks and feels more modern than its predecessor.
Gone are the curves and pared-back, simple looks of the last model, replaced with an angular cockpit home to a pair of excellent screens.
We’ve criticised the materials in lower-end Audi A3 models for feeling a bit cheap, but the S3 justifies its higher price with Nappa leather seat trim and red quilted stitching, and what feels more like metal trim in front of the passenger on the dashboard.
The door tops are still finished in harder plastic, however, and the plastic paddles behind the steering wheel feel a bit cheap after experiencing the cold, metal units in the Mercedes-AMG A35.
It’s an attractive cabin, but it still gets the fundamentals right. The driving position is excellent, even if you’re tall, and the seats offer the right balance of support for long trips and bolstering when you’re in a hurry. They’re also heated, an essential touch for Melbourne’s icy winter.
The driver is faced with a high-resolution digital instrument cluster that’s slightly larger than that of the regular A3 range, capable of showing Google Maps, a trip computer, information about your media, or a classic speedometer and rev counter. The S3 gets unique graphics relative to the rest of the range.
The central touchscreen is excellent, with the same slick graphics and lightning responses you get in the bigger, more expensive A6 and Q7. Wireless Apple CarPlay connects quickly and doesn’t drop out, and the inbuilt navigation offers live traffic and excellent satellite maps.
There’s something very satisfying about the little haptic click you get after pressing an icon, too.
Sitting below the touchscreen is a simple climate control pod with buttons (good), but none of the satisfying knurled dials that made the last A3 feel like a quality item (bad). I also miss the days of Audi screens retracting into the dashboard.
There are plenty of storage spaces around. Along with the slot at the base of the dashboard where the wireless charger sits, there are two cupholders (with no sliding cover), a compact under-arm space, and doors with plenty of space for drink bottles.
The space around the stubby little gear selector has been wasted, though. It’s a huge expanse of gloss black plastic, and could be better utilised for storing keys or coins.
The fact you can’t use the shifter to flick through the gears is also a loss. Although there are paddles, there was always something fun about living out your DTM fantasies by snapping through sequential shifts.
Rear seat space is decent, given the A3’s compact dimensions. Legroom is tight behind me at six-seven, but a regular-height adult will be able to squeeze behind a regular-height adult if needed, and kids will be comfortable back there.
The chunky sports seats in the S3 do eat into forward visibility, but Audi would argue it offers better cars at a similar price if you want to haul a family around. There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tethers.
The S3 Sportback has 325 litres of boot space with all five seats in place, down some 60L on the front-drive A3 Sportback due to the all-wheel drive hardware under the boot floor.
It’s still a usable space, but you’ll need to fold the rear seats flat to slot in a set of golf clubs. It doesn’t move the game forward relative to its predecessor.
Given this is a compact Volkswagen Group performance car, the Audi S3 is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.
Australia now gets the same power outputs as Europe, meaning our S3 pumps out 228kW and 400Nm. It’s sent to the road through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi says the all-wheel drive system is faster to react than before, shuffling power rearwards more quickly than that of its predecessor.
The new S3 Sportback and S3 Sedan will dash from 0 to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, and quote a top speed of 250km/h.
Fuel use is a claimed 7.4 litres per 100km, but we saw 8.0L/100km in a week of mixed highway and city driving. The Audi S3 features a 55-litre fuel tank in both body styles, with strictly premium unleaded fuel required.
Prod the red-rimmed start button on the transmission tunnel and the S3 fires to life with more of a bark than its predecessor.
Even in Comfort it has a nice background burble, and in Sport it has a synthesised sound that draws inspiration from the five-cylinder RS3.
The Volkswagen Group continues to get better at making its 2.0L turbocharged engines feel more alive, which has paid off in the S3.
Very little of what characterised the last S3 has changed here. It’s still a refined little car around the city, with plenty of low-down punch from the turbocharged engine and immense traction from the quattro all-wheel drive system in pretty horrible weather.
Ride quality is better than you’d expect of a small car on 19-inch wheels with slim, sporty sidewalls. In Comfort mode it does a good job filtering out rough city roads, although expansion joints and sharp speed bumps can undermine the serenity.
Up the speed and the S3 is a grown-up cruiser. There’s a hint of wind and road noise at highway speeds, especially on coarse-chip country highways, but compared to the shouty Mercedes-AMG A35 and BMW M135i it’s very quiet.
Audi’s driver assist functions are smooth and smart, especially the lane-centring system which feels just the right level of hands-on.
Despite its diminutive proportions, you’d happily spend a long time behind the wheel – although the fact you can only adjust the adaptive cruise in 10km/h increments is just silly in such a pricey car.
Of course, the S3 is about more than comfortable cruising. Unlike the related Golf R, the S3 doesn’t have a torque-vectoring rear differential. Instead, it features a Haldex all-wheel drive system and brake-based torque vectoring.
Audi says it’s a smarter system than before, however, by acting faster when torque needs to be shuffled to the rear axle. In practice, the car feels roundly similar to its predecessor.
The nose is keen to turn in, and you’re able to get on the power confident in the knowledge there’s always going to be traction from the quattro all-wheel drive system. It never feels particularly adjustable relative to the Golf R, but provided you’re realistic with how fast you turn into a corner, the S3 will cling on faithfully.
The engine and transmission come to life in Sport mode. You get more noise piped into the cabin, and the dual-clutch transmission snaps through shifts faster and harder than in Comfort.
The paddles respond quickly to inputs, although they don’t feel all that flash in your hands, and throttle response is sharp when you’re in the meat of the engine’s torque.
It’s a very capable way to cover the ground quickly, and there’s fun to be had
- 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- Qi wireless phone charging
- 15-speaker, 680W Bang & Olufsen sound system
- DAB+ digital radio
- Adaptive suspension
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Matrix LED headlights
- Keyless entry and start
- Dual-zone climate control
- Nappa leather upholstery
- Power front seats with four-way power lumbar
- Heated front seats
- Colour-adjustable ambient lighting
- Hands-free power boot lid (Sedan)
- Automatic headlights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Stainless steel pedals
- 19-inch alloy wheels
The $3990 Premium Plus package adds:
- Panoramic sunroof
- Head-up display
- Surround-view camera
- Power driver’s seat with memory
- Heated, power-folding exterior mirrors with memory
Standalone options include:
- Privacy glass
- Panoramic sunroof
- Hands-free power tailgate (Sportback)
A black exterior styling package is also available for $1500.
Only front-wheel drive versions of the Audi A3 have a safety rating from ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
They earned a five-star rating based on category scores of 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 81 per cent for child occupant protection, 68 per cent for vulnerable road users, and 73 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Lane-keep assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Safe exit warning
- Front, front-side and curtain airbags
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
In addition to the above safety equipment, there’s dual frontal side chest and side curtain airbags as standard, as well as a front-centre airbag in line with the latest ANCAP and Euro NCAP criteria.
Audi moved to a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty earlier in 2022, matching Mercedes-Benz and putting it ahead of BMW with its three-year warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, and Audi is offering a five-year servicing plan priced at $2580.
Audi hasn’t revolutionised the S3, but it didn’t need to.
With the right blend of comfort, luxury, and performance, it’s the consummate all-rounder.
Although the Golf R has moved to occupy a similar space in the Volkswagen Group world, the S3 still sets itself apart with a more luxurious interior and polished look that appeal to a slightly different crowd.
Where some of its rivals feel like cut-priced versions of their bigger, more expensive range mates, the S3 feels like a full-blown Audi – just a smaller one.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. Like a lot of the Volkswagen Group’s latest cars there are hints of cost-cutting around the cabin, and the tight boot and rear seat haven’t really improved relative to what was on offer before.
That wouldn’t be enough to deter me, though. The S3 is one of those cars I didn’t want to give back.
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