Let’s get the inevitable comparison out of the way. The 2022 Audi S3 is very much related to the ‘Mk8’ 2022 Volkswagen Golf R that I drove only weeks apart. They share the updated MQB platform, EA888 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine, and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
I would bet that suspensions are either identical or similar – and their all-wheel drive systems. Whatever. The cars feel different and appeal to different buyers, so let’s talk Audi. With a dash of VW thrown in.
Audi introduced this all-new 2022 S3 as part of its most compact sedan family, to include the less-powerful A3 and fairly-insane RS3. One can assume, then, that the 2022 Audi S3 is the Goldilocks option if you want a small Audi. Not too wild, not too slow or boring – instead, just right.
My S3 Prestige test car showed up in a completely fine shade of gray that will inevitably lease well and resell even better three years from now. Audi does offer some fantastic shades – I’d go for Python Yellow, though two blues and red are also on offer – paired to black or gray interiors.
And interiors are where we must talk about the Mk8 Golf R, because the Golf is a generally lovely hot hatch that is done a massive disservice by its “we made everything a touch-sensitive piece of plastic” interior. Audi retained buttons and knobs, aside from one odd audio controller that reminds me of a fourth-generation iPod clickwheel. It’s okay, but harder to find while driving than a knob.
I like Audi’s latest MMI infotainment setup, and it’s just as easy to handle in the S3 as in other Audis I’ve driven. Wireless Apple CarPlay is included, as is wireless Android Auto, and either system sends your music through a very good Bang & Olufsen sound system. You’ll keep tabs on driver information with a fully-digital Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster and heads-up display.
Driving the 2022 Audi S3 is all a very classically German experience. The car is buttoned-down, capable, and comfortable, yet offers very little drama (enthusiasts call this “personality”) unless really pushed. And even then, it’s not… that wild. It’s plenty fast – that turbo four brings 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque – and the dual-clutch automatic is snappy.
The ride quality is fantastic, with adjustable dampers that go from city-comfy to the perfect level of taut for back roads. Seats are supportive, great for long highway drives but bolstered appropriately to hold you in place through that one off-ramp you love.
Where Audi again differs from the 2022 Golf R is in all-wheel drive setup. The Golf R includes a torque-vectoring rear differential that can send all of the rear axle’s power to the left or right wheel – the S3 does not. Keyboard warriors will tell you this makes the Audi the worse car. In reality, it’ll understeer when you do dumb things exiting a corner and stand on the throttle before you should, and otherwise you’ll never notice the difference. Quattro is still Quattro, and it performs just fine.
“Just fine” is exactly how I felt about this little Audi when I handed the keys back, and it’s how I feel about it now. It doesn’t get my pulse racing, but I like the wacky stuff and this isn’t that. Nor is it supposed to be. I couldn’t find anything to actively dislike about the S3. It’s a stylish, well-equipped sedan that is a great size – truly, not every car has to have the backseat of a Town Car – and is just as much in its element as a commuter car as it is when you chuck it in to a tight corner.
MSRP of my loaded 2022 Audi S3 Prestige came to $57,440. It’s easy to say “well, that’s way more expensive than a Golf R,” even if you prefer the superior interior of the Audi. Outside of internet enthusiasts with way too much time on their hands (sorry, I just came for… all of us) I’m not sure how many buyers are actually cross-shopping the two, though. And you can get a quite-nice S3 Premium Plus for a hair over $50k, which strikes me as a much better balance of features and price.