Powering my way up some delectably tight switchbacks in the Colorado Rockies, to 9’449 ft (2880m), in the all-new 2022 Audi S3, I find that not only does the S3 have impressive acceleration and handling but has astonishingly good brakes. Confidence builds in the S3, corner after corner. How did Audi find this amazing road with almost no traffic? The chassis is composed, predictable, exhibits just a hint of understeer. Powering out of corners is drama-free with the Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
We’re up in the Colorado Rockies courtesy of Audi somewhere west of Boulder to test the all-new 2022 Audi S3. The S3 has grown in every dimension over the last generation and yet isn’t too big or too small. As the air gets thinner and thinner I start to notice snow on the ground. If you know Colorado in the snow, you know that means there is sand on the road. So I start slowing down and enjoying what the S3 is like when you are not stretching its legs.
The new cabin has typical Audi smart styling. Everything is within easy reach and the displays angled towards to driver. S3 design touches are everywhere. The S3 gets its own special steering wheel, well-bolstered eight-way adjustable heated front seats, and even its own specific digital instrument cluster. You can get an optional 12.3” Audi virtual cockpit instrument cluster if you spec the top of the line Prestige edition. There is an S3 Specific instrument cluster view called S Performance Mode and it will show you how much boost you are running.
Though based on the A3, the S3 has much more aggressive looks. This is achieved by more athletic-looking front and rear bumper clips that are not just cosmetic but also help with airflow. The bottom passenger side of the bumper helps with air induction to the motor and the bottom driver’s being sealed. The front hood is aluminum and Audi even made the underbody smooth with panels to improve the coefficient of drag which rings in at 0.29. The S3 is lowered 1.5” over the A3, has standard Silver mirror caps, different lower door sills, quad exhausts, as well as S3 specific badging and a rear spoiler. Rear seats do fold down in a 40/20/40 pattern to make a rather practical sedan.
Powering the S3 is a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder that produces an astonishing 306 horsepower, 295 lb-ft of torque. The output is an improvement of 18 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque over the last generation S3 and is good for a best-in-class power rating. Power is routed through a seven speed-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic with standard paddle shifters that rips off lighting quick shifts. 0-60 comes in 4.5 and has a top speed of 155 mph.
Quattro all-wheel drive is standard and is routed through a BorgWarner/Haldex style system capable of routing 85% to rear when needed or 100% to the front when in uber-efficiency mode. For example, traveling at a constant speed down a freeway, the S3 will route all power to the front as that’s the most efficient setting.
Stopping this increased performance is the job of larger 357mm (14.1) front disc brakes. All four brake discs are internally ventilated and provided fade-free spirited mountain driving. The best settings for sport driving in the S3 are to put the “drive select” mode into dynamic, hit the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) button once to set it into Sport traction control, or again to totally turn it off if your preference. Then make sure to pull down on the transmission lever to put in Sport or Manual shift mode using the paddles. To get launch mode – left foot hard on the brake, right foot hard on the gas, and the rev’s hold at 4000. Then quickly lift off the brake and bam you’re off. 0-60 comes in 4.5 seconds and top speed is 155mph. Most of the time I just left it in dynamic drive select, Sport Traction, and Sport Shifting.
Audi has fitted S3 with a digital instrument cluster and the 10.1” MMI touch screen with Audi’s new MIB 3 System. The new MIB 3 has a chipset that is 10 times faster than the last generation. Responses to my inputs were quick and snappy. The clarity of the maps on navigation was impressive and the display worked great even in direct sunlight. . The MMI is capable of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, or you can use Audi’s System. Satellite radio trial subscription is included.
Audi has fitted a nice phone charger in what they call “the phone box” just forward of the gear shift selector. Though I did find it tricky to get the phone to charge unless positioned just so. Thankfully the display on the center dash does let you know when you have correctly positioned the phone to charge. The car will also remind you that you’ve left your phone in the car if you jump out without it. On the top Prestige S3 Model, Head-up display is included as well as Traffic Sign Recognition, and Speed Limit Display. The Head-up display shows your current speed, the speed limit you are in, and the next navigation instruction.
You can set active cruise to follow traffic in front of you. The car can assist you in parking by handling the steering during parking but unlike other manufactures, you have to control the gas and brake. Blindspot detection works great by blinking yellow on your side mirrors. Further tech features include automatic headlights, wipers and Homelink.
The first thing I note on entering the car is that super small bizarre silver little tab gear lever in a rather sparse center console. It looks like a giant power window switch from an 80’s Chevy. Oddly, I found that the more I drove the S3, the more I liked that little shifter tab. Granted, I only hit it if I wanted to go from Drive to Sport Shifting or from Manual Shifting back to Drive/Auto, but it functions perfectly. It is was actually very reminiscent of the one found in the new Porsche 911.
Disappointingly, in manual shift mode, if you hit the redline, the Audi S3 will shift itself. Say if you start out in Manual 1st gear, floor it, the S3 will hit the redline and shift into 2nd gear. Then when you hit redline shift into 3rd gear and so on. So while in Manual shift mode the car shifted all the way into 4th during my drive without any input to the paddle shifter. So the take-home message is that it won’t hold the car at top of the rev range no matter what you do. This will probably only be an issue who are trying to get 10/10ths out of the S3 at a track.
Weight balance does make the S3 nose heavy and at the limit, I found a fair amount of understeer in very tight low-speed corners. I was surprised with the turbo lag when I would floor it quickly, though this is not an uncommon characteristic of high horsepower small-displacement turbo motors. Progressive steering is very intuitive and the steering gets more and more direct the faster you go. At slower speeds, the same input yields more turn in. It was very intuitive and very helpful from going from high-speed straits to tight corners in the mountains.
The S3 never put its foot wrong during brisk driving in the mountains, even when I was surprised once to find a lot of sand in a corner, and as expected the S3 is a stable high-speed cruiser. The only real surprise on the performance side was the dual-clutch transmission automatic shifting while in Manual shift mode.
The exhaust on the S3 sounds better inside the car than it does outside. Inside the cabin, I noticed nice pops and burbles inside but outside the car, I noted the exhaust note rather reserved. I was disappointed there was no heated steering wheel or heated rear seats but according to the Audi Reps I talked with, the take rate on these was just too low to offer this in the “entry-level” A3/S3. Audi does offer these on models further up their range.
The all-new 3rd Generation Audi S3 delivers impressive performance in a nice tidy package. The S3 is the leader in the compact luxury sport segment in power and performance. Audi has managed to modestly grow the S3 in power, performance, size and manages to keep the base MSRP under $50k for the Premium and Premium Plus versions. The base MSRP for the Prestige Model is just over at $52,545.
The model I tested was a 2002 S3 in Navarra Blue Metallic, Prestige Model, with Nappa Leather, S sport package with adaptive dampers and red calipers, and the Black Optic Package with 19” 235/35/19 Bridgestone Potenza S005 summer tires. EPA mileage is rated at 23 city/ 32 hwy and an as-tested $57,440 including destination.
Base MSRP Premium S3 $45,945,
Base MSRP Premium Plus $48,745
Base MSRP Prestige Model $52,545