Enhancements to performance and practicality have not hurt the value equation.
Things we like
- Amazing engine/transmission/final drive combination
- Sharp price
- Practically almost uncompromised
Not so much
- Occasionally lazy transmission
- Some scratchy cabin plastic
- HUD is extra
Like a spontaneous holiday romance, I’ve spent the six months since I drove the new 2022 Audi S3 in the UK wondering if it really was as good as I remember. Was its turbo 2.0-litre quite as muscular as I recall, or perhaps I was just swept up in the beautiful Cotswolds scenery?
Its Quattro drivetrain, MQB Evo platform and sweet chassis seemed like a beautiful pairing but maybe my judgment was clouded by the nostalgia of a return to the UK.
And I’m pretty certain the fourth-generation S3 struck a good balance of practicality and performance, but there’s a chance I could have been too busy enjoying the road trip with a friend. But the car in question has just arrived in Australia for a reunion on home turf, and it’s time to find out if I’d had the beer goggles on – so to speak.
On first inspection, I still feel the styling has become a little busy compared with the restrained and understated third-gen version but It certainly looks purposeful and aggressive. Its lightly flared arches impart a pleasant stance while its massive grille looks capable of ingesting small dogs and I’m left wondering why Audi seems immune to the criticism BMW is copping for its similar grille-enlargement program. Proportionally though, the S3 looks like an S3 should; taking all the right parts of the new A3 and adding a little Audi Sport dust.
Under the bonnet, there’s another evolution of the prolific EA888 turbo four-cylinder petrol, which produces 228kW and 400Nm from 2.0 litres. Unlike the previous S3, which was de-tuned compared with the version sold in the UK and Europe, the new version has the same full-fat power output.
It’s enough to do the zero-to-100km/h dash in a claimed 4.8 seconds. But this latest iteration is so much more than brute strength and has a broad ability that’s very easy to live with
At low engine speeds and minimal throttle, the four-pot is tractable and well-mannered with good torque characteristics. Keep your toe pointed though, and there’s a satisfying linear build to the full might between 5450 and 6500rpm. In this state of tune, the EA888 has all of the advantages of turbo torque, little of the lag and the desire to rev like a natural atmo donk.
The icing on this excellent engine is a convincing augmented engine note that somehow makes it sound like it has an extra cylinder.
It’s bolted to Audi’s S Tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and no amount of begging will make the German car-maker swap it for a manual. Nor should you. Aside from the occasional reluctance to kick down, the revised unit is a great pairing. Taking control with the paddles, it’s impressively obliging and has the smoothness of a torque-converter with the instant shifts of a DCT.
Body control is excellent, understeer bleeds in beyond a surprising grip limit, and the fast redistribution of torque has an almost four-wheel-steer feel
As before, the versatile power and torque delivery is made easier to access thanks to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Apart from a complete lack of torque-steer, the abundant traction really only manifests itself when really pushing the limits with a clever distribution of power to the most deserving wheels, but the combination of power, flexible final drive and supple chassis and the S3 is incredibly confident on back roads.
Body control is excellent, understeer bleeds in beyond a surprising grip limit, and the fast redistribution of torque has an almost four-wheel-steer feel. There’s no variable steering rate but a new progressive rack ratio is perfectly engineered for twisty roads, while new dampers are adaptive. They replace the previous magnetic ride system for a broader spread of ride comfort and dynamic spectrum depending on the style of driving.
When the fun is done, the S3 returns to its likeably placid nature with a manner that belies its high-performance personality.
Unlike close rivals, the S3 doesn’t have multi-piston front brake calipers, opting instead for single-piston sliding versions but they are painted red and our blast along some of Tasmania’s finest roads didn’t once produce the dreaded fade or lengthening pedal.
As a machine for getting somewhere in a hurry, the S3 will deliver you to the chosen destination fast regardless of the way ahead and, had the typically unpredictable Tassie weather thrown some climatic challenges into the mix, I’m confident the little hatch has the performance capacity to accommodate.
Obviously, I’m deliriously excited to try the new RS3 but in all honesty, the bandwidth of the S3 would satisfy all but the most track-hungry hatch fan.
Speaking of which, the S3 is available in identical spec but with a sedan boot in place of the Sportback’s hatch. It adds $2500 to the price along with a boot that grows to an impressive 420 litres from 380L.
With more muscle than ever but the chassis to handle it, the S3 has never been more deserving of its boot badge
Included in the S3’s price are plenty of deal-enriching features including 19-inch alloys, LED matrix headlights and metallic paint for the exterior, while Nappa leather sports seats with electric adjustment and heaters (front), digital displays for the instrument cluster and central 10.1-inch touchscreen, and the Bang and Olufsen stereo are cabin highlights.
Generally speaking, the interior is ergonomically well-executed and spacious although a few scratchy plastics sneaking in are surprisingly un-Audi. If you’re difficult to please, Audi will take a few more dollars and add a selection of option packs necessary to provide a panoramic sunroof, head-up display or some carbon-fibre embellishments, for example.
With more muscle than ever but the chassis to handle it, the S3 has never been more deserving of its boot badge. But better than that, its equipment level and performance have been perfectly dialled to give it breathing space from the A3 range as well as RS3 halo model.
This hugely likeable fourth-gen version no longer has to exist in the shadow of the flagship version and has the credentials to stand proud.
It seems my memory of this car serves me well and the 2022 S3 is as well-rounded as the model I first got my hands on half a year ago.
There is one additional compelling feature for the model you’ll find in Australian showrooms. UK customers are offered a range of S3 variants including a fairly basic entry version whereas Audi Australia has just one relatively kit-rich car.
Dressing up the most-affordable Brit-spec S3 to look like the Australian version requires the addition of the so-called Vorsprung Pack and increases the price to the equivalent of $83,500. Virtually the same spec S3 will cost Australian customers $70,700 before on-road costs.
This, says Audi, is a product of both Australia’s extremely competitive premium market, as well as local demand for generously equipped cars.
Either way, the 2022 Audi S3 is not just more grown-up and never more deserving of the coveted Audi Sport badge, but it’s also a bit of a bargain.