Entry Point Into German Luxury


The United States didn’t have much of a subcompact luxury market before 2000. But within a few years both the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 landed as the least expensive cars in their respective lineups. They were meant to get younger buyers into the brand early, so they would continue to buy more expensive versions later.

North America has seen three generations of A3 and S3 since then, with the S3 being a sportier version of the same five-seat subcompact sedan. They’ve almost always been offered with four-cylinder engines and for 2022 both received an update.

The sedans got an exterior redesign for 2022 to sharpen some of the angles and the wheel arches, which Audi calls “quattro blisters,” are now more pronounced. The latest Matrix LED headlights are available and most of the company’s drive assistance features have found their way down to the 2022 A3 including standard lane departure warning, available Audi cruise assist with lane guidance, and side assist with rear cross-traffic assist and Park assist.

Both the A3 and S3 sedans come standard with Audi’s MMI 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display with big icons for navigation, media and main controls, and easy wireless connections to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless charging is available, but a 10.25 all-digital instrument cluster is standard. Audi’s 12.3-inch virtual cockpit digital instrument cluster is part of the Technology Package ($2,250) that also comes with MMI Navigation Plus, premium audio, traffic sign recognition and Audi connect.

1 of 8

Besides the tech, the A3 and S3’s cabins differ slightly. The A3 comes with standard heated, leather-wrapped, and powered seats, a panoramic sunroof and three zone climate control. There are two new color options including brown with gray stitching, beige with gray stitching.

The S3 adds new Nappa-leather-wrapped power-adjustable sport seats. It also offers different interior trim materials like carbon and brushed metals.

Both cars have a great, low seating position with tons of adjustments for strangely-sized bodies. The S3, with its diamond stitching, feels much more upscale. One annoying quirk with both cars is that it takes almost a full second from when the driver presses the start button until the car starts.

The Audi MMI infotainment works perfectly with wireless Apple CarPlay and switches quickly between screens. Extra icons on the side of the screen allow an owner to switch back and forth between the smartphone and the native system.

1 of 9

There are no knobs for volume, tuning or climate control. Instead the Audis features a circular slider on the center console for volume and integrated buttons for tuning. There is a volume control on the steering wheel, which is the easiest option to get used to. The climate also uses buttons and rocker switches, which are better than doing it through the touchscreen but not as good as physical dials.

The trim on the doors and dashboard, including the unfinished wood, look great and most of the touchpoints are soft. Both the front and back are fine for an average-sized adult, but if a few of them were football players, it would be tight.

Though Audi is known for its all-wheel drive, the A3 is one of the few that can be bought with a front-wheel drive layout. However, it’s the A3 40 TFSI quattro that gets a 24 percent increase in fuel mileage, landing at 38 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and 31 mpg combined. That combined number bests its current competitors, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe by 6 mpg and 4 mpg respectively.

The base A3 also gets a 2-mpg bump to 32 mpg combined.

Those efficiencies come from the new 48-volt mild hybrid system that can store energy and allow the car to coast with the engine off in many situations. That combined with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sends power to the front or all four wheels. The mild-hybrid system makes for one of the smoothest stop/start systems in the business.

1 of 11

The S3 uses the same engine but no mild-hybrid system to deliver 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Those are increases of 18 horsepower and 15 pound-feet, and the sprint to 60 miles per hour takes just 4.5 seconds. It also comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission but only all-wheel drive.

The S3 sits lower than the A3 by a half inch in regular guise, but lowering springs can be specified on the A3. Only the S3 is offered an adaptive suspension that can be adjusted with the drive modes. Normal, Comfort and Sport control the throttle sensitivity, softness of the suspension, steering effort and the transmission when in automatic mode.

Both the A3 and S3 do a better job than most automakers of making the Comfort setting feel very comfortable and the Sport setting feel sporty. Some automakers seem to have very little change between the drive modes. That Sport setting, especially in the S3 with the available 19-inch wheels, is a little stiff for daily driving, except for the enthusiast. Those wheels come with the Black Optic Package ($1,950) that also adds summer tires, black exhaust tips, black mirror housings, a black roof and other dark accents.

The Comfort setting is perfect for the dirt roads of mid-Michigan and with all-wheel drive the A3 was stable even at higher speeds on gravel. It will easily control potholes on normal midwestern roads. The steering is faster in those more aggressive modes, and an Individual drive mode allows buyers to set whatever parameters they want.

1 of 7

Power from the 2.0-liter and mild-hybrid system in the A3 was never lacking, and the real-world combined fuel mileage of 32 miles per gallon was more than that manufacturer’s estimated 31 mpg. There’s a bit of lag from the turbocharger when leaving from a stop, but once going the A3 keeps near its max power range.

The S3, on the other hand, is hilariously aggressive. There’s very little turbo lag and speeds get above triple digits quickly. The upgraded brakes and the S3 are appreciated as the stoppers in the A3 weren’t very predictable or progressive. The turbo four doesn’t sound great at full tilt, but for the average driver, both the speed and comfort are plenty.

The 2022 Audi A3 starts at $35,895 in front-drive guise and the S3 comes in at $46,895 with all-wheel drive as standard. The A3 competes with the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe ($35,700) and Mercedes-Benz CLA ($38,800) while the S3 competes with the high-performance versions of those, which come in at $45,500 and $48,950, respectively. Both the BMW and Mercedes are also all-wheel drive.

Overall, the BMW is a little sportier, the Mercedes-Benz is a little more luxurious and the Audis are in the middle. The BMW and Mercedes can be had in rear-wheel drive while the least expensive Audi has a front-drive layout. If a buyer is looking for a less expensive model, the BMW and Mercedes are more fun. Buyers that step up to high performance will have a good time in the Audi S3.


Source link