The “Premium A-segment”, filled with cars like the A3, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, and the BMW 1-/2-series is prepped for massive growth. Smaller, more affordable, luxury cars fit the bill for the budding millennial market quite nicely and Audi plans on grabbing as much of that growth as possible with their new A3 models.
While the S3 sedan coming this fall will please enthusiasts’, the 1.8-liter and 2-liter turbocharged gas A3 models will represent the volume sellers. It shouldn’t be hard for the pair to rack up sales numbers, they match the CLA250’s sub-$30,000 “starting price” (minus that incessant $895 destination charge) and more importantly they do so while offering better standard equipment and superior technology. Audi really took the win when they paired with Google for in-car navigation. Also newly available 4G LTE integration from AT&T, and an available 705-watt Bang and Olufsen sound system are nice upgrades.
Audi sent over the 2.0TFSI model for a week of drive time. The 2.0T features Quattro (all-wheel-drive) exclusively as opposed to the 1.8-liter car’s mandatory front-wheel drive. The 2.0T feels like it has a few more than the 220 horsepower listed on the Monroney sticker, that’s likely thanks to the fact that the engine snappily rewards driver inputs with 258 lb-ft of torque. The car will easily obtain high speeds with deceiving quiet, comfort and stability. You’ll find yourself entering the highway from the onramp to an oh shit moment when you realize you overshot the speed limit by 20 mph. In fact I would say the A3 is quiet almost to a fault, maybe that’s just coming from a STI driver but I think a bit more exhaust sound would be a welcome intrusion.
Paired to the 2.0T motor is a 6-speed dual clutch S-tronic transmission that performs beautifully, behind a standard transmission it’s likely my favorite system on the market. Under normal driving conditions, the transmission makes quiet, efficient shifts, and there is enough torque and power to overtake someone on the highway, but it will not blow your hair back. Pull back on the shifter once to engage Sport mode and things get more fun as Sport mode quickens throttle response, and holds gears longer for more spirited acceleration. I expected paddle shifters, instead I found a center-mounted shifter with a click-over switchgate that had up and downshifts. I’d still prefer paddles but it works.
The added power (40 hp) and torque (58 lb-ft) figures of the 2.0T should be enough to seal the deal between it and the $3,000-cheaper 1.8-liter model, the inclusion of Quattro makes it a no brainer. Quattro all-wheel drive is front-biased, but in Sport mode it feels balanced and power is well placed. Carve up a mountain road, and you’ll appreciate that balance.
The A3’s interior is rather spartan in the context of the rest of the Audi lineup, and I love it. Their “economy car” nailed what an interior should be. It has all the features you need, without all the bells, whistles, flashing lights and buttons covering every surface. Despite being a mostly plastic interior, the lines and textures of that plastic give it a more upscale feel than most. The pop-up digital display certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Audi’s MMI multimedia interface does just about everything right, seamless smartphone integration, Google maps, a great radio tuner, a very nicely designed interface, it’s all there. Only complaint, there are only 12-volt “cigarette lighter” power outlets. Seriously Audi, you couldn’t get a USB outlet in there?
That is one of only a few glaring omissions in the A3. Where’s the push-button start? That can’t be a cost breaking feature in 2015. And a backup camera? You’ve got the screen real-estate. Well, if turning a key and backing up like a simpleton are my only complaints, I’m happy.
Fuel economy for the 1.8T is 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. My 2.0T Quattro achieved 28.8 in combined driving over the course of a week.
Base MSRP for the 2015 Audi A3 is $29,900. A Quattro 2.0L model starts at $32,900, and my test model with equipment came out at $36,645.
The A3 may be the perfect daily driver for those that prefer a more refined ride without losing the fun. You’ve got a great driver’s seat, a simple but functional cockpit and on the weekends, you can open the A3 up on a winding road.