Other vehicles may skew more aggressive or have more features, but none of them combine all those elements into a cohesive package as the 2022 Audi S3.
It rules in the very space in the automotive market that it invented and solidified, the Q-ship sports sedan.
The term Q-ship originated in World War I, when the British Royal Navy would disguise its heavily armed warships as simple merchant ships to trick unsuspecting German submarines into attacking. Once the first torpedo was fired, the British Q-ship would unleash unholy hell upon its opponent. That's the concept behind the S3 — an unassuming sedan that can crush the competition with a stab of the throttle.
This is evident on the exterior. The base A3 has got a bit more chiselled with its own recent model change and the S3 does little to let on.
Like a seasoned U-Boat captain, only the most experienced will note the small S3 badging around, slightly revised front bumper, the minimal spoiler on trunk, and the S3-specific wheels. It's an attractive car, but doesn't scream about its athletic prowess, making it perfect for the most conservative of executive parking lots or the introverted performance car owner.
The interior is more driver-focused than that of the updated A3. Occupants are welcomed with the S logo, stitched leather, premium materials and accents, all part of futuristic interior inherited from the A3; not just in design, but in operation as well.
Physical controls are at a minimum. Interaction is through touch, swiping, and voice controls as afforded through the Audi MMI infotainment system with its 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The cabin is spacious, refined, and practical. However, the meat and potatoes of the S3 is its ability to unleash brain-warping performance at a drop of the accelerator. Put the S3 in DYNAMIC and it rips off that business exterior for running shorts and sneakers.
The turbocharged 2-litre engine wakes up and fires the car forward with 306bhp and 295lb/ft to its fast-shifting, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system ensures all that power makes it to the road regardless of conditions. That grip translates well into the corners as the chassis has been developed to match the velocities attainable by the S3.
The sharp steering and Quattro sees understeer disappear from all but the most aggressive turn-in speeds. Drivers can sit in the comfortable and supportive powered seats, choose their driving line and accelerate, sometimes even before the corner apex. The suspension has a great dual nature, being comfortable enough for daily use, but taut for great handling.
Driving the S3 fast is by no means an inert experience. It feels light on its feet, rocketing from corner to corner, or delivering bank vault solidity during high-speed cruising. Due to current emissions regulations the exhaust crackles have been muted, but is still there when shifting is switched to manual mode. With the paddle shifters the car's unreal turbo response is punctuated by a power band that pulls all the way to redline; otherwise, in sport mode it shifts early. The freight train forward momentum is tempered by trustworthy brakes.
If this all sounds familiar that's because the S3 has been based on Audi's extensive motorsport knowledge — it is the company that brought all-wheel drive as well as many other innovations to rallying. The formula is there, 2-litres of displacement, turbocharged, all-wheel drive, a firm but compliant suspension to allow the S3 to cover a wide variety of terrain at mind-boggling pace. Add in the expectations associated with a premium German sedan and you have a Q-ship, an unassuming executive saloon that can launch control itself down the road when tested at the traffic light.
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