Blinding snow and sub-freezing temperatures are common occurrences in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado, even in October. But as we took the scenic route from the Mile High City, up and over roads at 9,500 feet, to the small town of Lyons, the 2022 Audi A3 took everything in stride.
We expect this all-weather ability from an Audi. But what made the experience stand out was how natural the A3 felt just being a car. It's almost entirely free of histrionics, serving up a comfortable cabin, a quiet ride, a refined driving experience, and in-demand tech without succumbing to content bloat. It's a fine distillation of the German luxury sedan experience with few of its traditional drawbacks, including an exorbitant price tag.
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|Quick Stats||2022 Audi A3 Quattro Premium Plus|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 w/ISG|
|Output:||201 Horsepower / 221 Pound-Feet|
|Base Price:||$33,900 + $1,045 Destination|
Gallery: 2022 Audi A3: First Drive
Hard Angles, Soft Edges
Don't feel bad for confusing the redesigned 2022 A3 with the 2020 model. While this is the first entry in a new generation, Audi opted for restraint in an exterior redesign that sits on the latest version of the MQB architecture. It somehow looks both more and less like a jellybean, with a wider, more attractive hood. Where last year's bonnet was only as wide as the A-pillars, the 2022 car has more of a clamshell-like design that eats into the fenders.
Combined with a subtle front overhang and a more noticeable hood bulge, wider headlights, and angular lower intakes that flank a more prominent grille, the 2022 A3's face is immediately more attractive, premium, and noticeable. Out back, wider taillights that bleed around into the rear fenders and a revised lower bumper with hidden exhausts give the A3 a more substantial appearance – last generation's cute booty is dead and gone. Between the front and the back, though, the A3 is broadly similar, with balanced proportions and admirable restraint when it comes to character lines.
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Sit down in the A3's cabin and you'll start to wonder if Audi's interior designers even work in the same city, let alone the building floor, as its exterior designers. Where the second-generation A3 drew inspiration from the TT, complete with circular climate vents and a minimalist aesthetic that was all dash and not much else, the 2022 A3 goes in a totally different direction, starting with its foundation.
The thick strip of silver-painted plastic manages to set a premium tone for the overall design, a theme the new 10.1-inch touchscreen and horizontal climate vents only reinforce. Most striking is the depth of this dash – the way the plastic element juts out into the cabin and the vents sit deep behind it is unusually aggressive for one of Audi's more mainstream products.
Equally eye catching is the available 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (a 10.3-inch unit is standard on all but the top-end model), flanked as it is by two more large horizontally slatted vents. Even the center console gets in on the fun, with its own silver-painted surround.
While we enjoy the A3's new interior design immensely, the abundance of plastic is disappointing. The dominant element, that silvery bit, feels cheap and flimsy to the touch. Agate Gray wood is a $550 option on our Premium Plus tester, and while it doesn't completely supplant the plastic, we'd consider it a worthwhile upgrade.
As per usual for a German automaker, the drive experience in the A3 is excellent.
There are also a few odd moves, like a strip of cross-stitching that runs from the instrument panel to the passenger's side door but stops short of either – it's styling for styling's sake, which has never been an Audi thing. We're also not crazy about the Porsche-style gear selector. It has a substantial, almost mechanical action but looks even stubbier and easier to miss here than in a 911.
As per usual for a German automaker, the drive experience in the A3 is excellent. The wide-opening front doors and low seating position allow drivers and passengers alike to plop into the front chairs. There's adequate second-row headroom and legroom, but it's little surprise that the Q3 makes a better people mover. The front chairs, though, are ace, with excellent support despite the minimal amount of bolstering. The four-spoke steering wheel is large for such a small car, but we adjusted quickly and you will too. Sightlines, meanwhile, are excellent in every direction.
Go Mild, Get Wild
While we spent most of our time with the A3 on mountain roads, our journey started out on Denver's urban streets and suburban highways, where this redesigned subcompact felt right at home. Audi paired its familiar turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that's as good in operation as it is invisible.
Providing more torque in low-speed operations, the A3 feels snappier under partial throttle, with the electric motor chipping in 12 horsepower and 37 pound-feet at low speeds. But the real party tricks happen when coming to a stop, where the gas engine shuts down entirely.
The A3's best-in-class fuel economy ratings smash the next closest car.
Stop-start systems are old hat nowadays, but few match the imperceptible nature of the A3 – that 2.0-liter is quiet when refiring, but it also feels very prompt because the alternator-mounted electric motor is on hand to provide support when pulling away. Moreover, the mild-hybrid system allows the gas engine to shut down entirely, for blissfully silent coasting at highway speeds.
Give some credit to the shapely front end for that silence, as the redesigned body slashes the A3's coefficient of drag from 0.33 to 0.26. That slippery shape and the new mild-hybrid system are also the main reasons for the impressive fuel economy jump. The 2022 A3 is up six points across the board for the all-wheel-drive model, with the EPA estimating 28 miles per gallon city, 36 highway, and 30 combined while running on 87-octane fuel. These best-in-class ratings smash the next closest car, the Mercedes-Benz A220 4Matic, by three mpg in the city and combined and two points on the highway (the A-Class also requires premium fuel).
The A3's fuel economy is all the sweeter because it's so pleasant to drive. Audi quotes a 6.3-second sprint to 60, which is enough for first-time luxury shoppers. A BMW 228i Gran Coupe xDrive is a touch quicker at 6.0 seconds, but a third of a second is a worthwhile sacrifice if it means not driving around in a car that looks like a toe.
The A3’s 201 hp and 221 lb-ft is also more than enough for the real world, the turbocharged mill providing ample thrust and little lag under heavy throttle. Praise the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, too, which pops off shifts with all the excitement of a toddler with a sheet of bubble wrap but none of the drama or noise.
The MQB architecture is one of the best small car platforms in the business and it's at its best in the Audi.
While the big news on the suspension front comes from the sporty S3, the A3 retains last generation's McPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, which emphasize comfort over outright agility. To be sure, on the mountain roads that took us to Lyons, we'd have preferred to be in the S3 (or even an A220 or 228i Gran Coupe). The A3 is competent in the bends, but with the way the body rolls and moves and the constant need to course correct the numb steering, it's clear the car isn't very happy hustling about. About 15 minutes with the car set to Dynamic was all it took to show that cornering is not this car's forte.
So instead, we set everything to Comfort, relaxed our pace, and took in what snow squalls allowed us to see of the mountainous terrain. The A3 excels in this low-effort cruising, its suspension soaking up bumps and ample sound deadening erasing the effect of snow chain–scarred roads. Even aiming for bumps, we struggled to find something that could upset the A3. The MQB architecture is one of the best small car platforms in the business, underpinning everything from the A3 to the Motor1.com Star Awards finalist Volkswagen Taos and the large Skoda Kodiaq – it's at its best in the Audi.
A Value, For Those That Care
Prices for the 2022 A3 start at a modest $34,945 (including a $1,045 destination charge), but that's the front-drive model and really, who buys a front-drive Audi? Adding Quattro all-wheel drive pushes the price up to $36,945, which is only $245 more than the slower and less efficient Mercedes-Benz A220 4Matic. The 228i Gran Coupe with all-wheel drive comes in at $38,695 and, as we've said, it looks like a 2 Series Gran Coupe.
Our test unit was the definition of well equipped, carrying the Premium Plus trim with Quattro ($40,245 to start) and adding the $2,250 Technology package (12.3-inch digital cluster, Bang and Olufsen audio, navigation, and traffic sign recognition). This is arguably the sweet spot in the A3 lineup and where we'd suggest most consumers look.
The Premium Plus adds all the active safety gear Audi offers, upgrades you to LED headlights, and brings in both a 360-degree camera and a wireless charge pad. The $44,245 Prestige trim is nice, but aside from the Matrix LED headlights and possibly the head-up display, it doesn't feel worth the $1,750 cost of our Tech pack-equipped Premium Plus. In general, though, every A3 trim represents a pretty sweet value, considering its mix of pace, efficiency, comfort, and equipment.
It's easy to forget, but that combination of traits is what made the A3 work in the first place after both BMW and Mercedes-Benz failed to penetrate the sub-compact market. Today's A3 faces a different set of challenges, though, with the rise of crossovers. The Q3 sold almost three times as many units last year as the A3, and sales of the sub-compact sedan have been falling steadily and substantially since their 2015 high of 36,000 units. This new model is a dramatic improvement over both its predecessor and the Q3, but whether that's enough to tempt buyers is a question only time can answer.
A3 Competitor Reviews:
- Acura ILX: Not Rated
- BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe: Not Rated
- Cadillac CT4: Not Rated
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Not Rated
Gallery: 2022 Audi A3: First Drive
2022 Audi A3 Quattro Premium Plus