Like countless other Volkswagen Group products, a 2.0-liter turbo-four motivates this sedan. But to deliver performance worthy of an Audi S model, this engine has been thoroughly massaged to crank out a robust 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, figures that are basically in lockstep with the S3’s closest rival, the Mercedes-AMG CLA35. If you’re counting, the S3 has 105 more hp and 74 additional lb-ft of twist than a regular A3. Managing all that fury is a standard, seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission that shifts with immediacy, yet it’s never clunky or rough. This is one of the best twin-clutch gearboxes I’ve ever experienced.
Unleash the S3’s full fury and it can reach 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, the engine hitting like a roundhouse kick to the face past about 3,500 rpm. Ensuring this Audi never loses its footing is standard Quattro all-wheel drive. Given the S3’s performance, you might expect it to be thirsty, but it’s not. This car stickers at 23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. In mixed use, I’m getting about 26.1 mpg, which is damn impressive for an all-wheel-drive luxury car with more than 300 hp.
Despite its rowdy character, the S3’s engine is incredibly smooth, feeling like it churns away in a crate of packing peanuts because zero vibration or harshness is felt in the cabin. Despite its refinement, this four-cylinder can put on quite a show. A component called a “soundaktor” (German for “sound actuator”) pumps up the powertrain’s vocals, emitting a surprising amount of snarl in the S3’s more dynamic drive setting. Refreshingly, no synthetic vroom-vroom is piped through the sound system.
Keeping speed in check are generous 14.1-inch front rotors and vented rear discs. Modulating these brakes is dead simple as the pedal is just about perfectly tuned, neither too soft nor overly grabby.
Like larger Audis, the S3’s steering is decently weighted and free of kickback, which gives this car a planted and premium feel. At low speeds, the steering also gets super light for easy-breezy maneuverability and parking. Despite its substantial and stylish five-spoke, two-color wheels (included in the $1,950 Black Optic Package) wrapped in low-profile 235/35 19-inch Continental VikingContact winter tires, the S3 has a dreamy ride. The way this car handles bumps and roadway imperfections, it feels like it’s about two size classes larger than it is thanks to the $1,100 S Sport Package, which includes adjustable dampers. You can fine-tune their firmness by switching between driving modes, but even at their starchiest the S3 is completely livable, never crashing over bumps or broadcasting roadway grit.
The S3’s heated, eight-way power-adjustable front seats keep you locked in place while exercising the chassis, though they’re not so aggressively bolstered as to be annoying. I particularly like the slide-out lower cushions because they make these chairs even more hospitable for taller folks. What the long of leg will not appreciate, however, is this Audi’s backseat. It’s short on headroom and if you’re around 6 feet tall your knees will probably kiss the front backrests. Easing the sting is my tester’s buttery-soft Nappa leather. Embellished with a diamond stitch pattern, these rich-feeling cow hides come in the $1,250 options group that also includes textured Carbon Atlas accents.
The rest of the S3’s interior gives me some serious 1980s vibes, but not in a bad way. The dashboard is blocky and startlingly angular, with the driver’s air vents perched up high, kind of like ears on the instrument cluster. Yes, there are some shiny, hard plastics on the door panels and center console, but there’s still plenty of soft stuff and loads of tech.
A 10.3-inch digital gauge display is standard, though this car features the available 12.3-inch panel. That upgrade is bundled in the $2,250 tech package that also gets you traffic sign recognition and a rockin’ Bang & Olufsen sound system. As for infotainment tech, a 10.1-inch touchscreen is standard and nicely angled toward the driver so it’s easy to reach. Audi’s snappy and extremely intuitive MIB 3 infotainment system lives here. Thanks to its unflappable responsiveness, simple menu structure and wireless support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, this is one of my favorite multimedia arrays available today.
Unexpectedly, the S3 lacks a traditional volume knob, but I’m not mad about it. Instead, the car has a small, touch-sensitive pad on the center console, which lets you skip tracks, mute the audio system and, by using circular finger motions, raise or lower the volume. In conjunction with a separate dial on the steering wheel, this touch control is so responsive and precise I haven’t once missed a physical knob.
Helping protect you in this crazy, unpredictable world, the S3 comes with a decent amount of standard safety equipment. Frontal collision warning with a precrash system that raises the windows and tightens the seatbelts before impact is included at no extra charge, as are automatic high beams and lane-departure warning. Of course, features like blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control are all available if you pay extra. A quick word about that last item: Audi’s implementation of adaptive cruise in the S3 is better than most. The system is smooth and makes the car track practically like a monorail, though there are two unusual aspects to it. First, the control stalk for this system is hard to see and it’s quite unintuitive. Resuming or cancelling a set speed is achieved by either pushing the stalk forward or pulling it back, and I can never remember which is which. And second, when the adaptive cruise is set and you adjust the speed, it increases and decreases by increments of 2.5 mph, which is incredibly unusual. When using nonadaptive cruise control, however, 1-mph increments are available.
What’s also a bit unexpected is this car’s pricing. Skip every add-on and you can nab a 2022 Audi S3 for about $46,000, an excellent figure. With a smattering of options, this example is about 10 grand pricier than that, checking out for $55,890. In addition to all the options listed previously, that not-unreasonable sum includes $2,800 for the Premium Plus Package, $1,045 in destination fees and $595 for lovely Daytona Gray pearl-effect paint. More exuberant colors including two vibrant blues as well as red and yellow are offered, too.
Despite its petite proportions, the S3 is the real deal. It gives you all the refinement of larger Audis plus kickass performance in a smaller, more affordable package.