The five-door Audi A3 hatchback, on sale in the States since the 2006 model year, never earned the respect it deserved. Despite possessing the automaker's well-regarded build quality and a range of strong powerplants (including an excellent diesel option), the entry-level model always played second fiddle to the rest of the Audi lineup, suffering from less innovative technologies and fewer premium options on its list. Many buyers considered it inferior to the rest of the models in the company's showroom. But those misconceptions could be about to change, as Audi is in the midst of introducing its third-generation A3 family to the States with expectations that the range will finally align with the rest of its portfolio.
First to arrive is this new sedan, notable as it is the first time the A3 has been offered as a compact four door. The new bodystyle is positioned as a premium C-segment offering, with its most obvious competitor being the new Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class (BMW has not officially announced a 2 Series Gran Coupe, which would be the third entrant in the segment). The automaker says its "A3/S3 models will be among the most technically advanced Audi products around" and there will be "no sacrificing Audi craftsmanship and premium appointments." To put the automaker's claims to the test, we spent a week with this new sedan in Southern California.
Audi launched its 2015 A3 sedan at the 2013 New York Auto Show. The A3 four-door is constructed on the Volkswagen Group's new MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten, or Modular Transverse Matrix) platform. Unlike the A4, A5, A6, A7 and A8 models, which utilize a front-mounted, longitudinally placed engine platform, the A3 models ride on a front-mounted, transversely placed engine platform that puts the mass of the powerplant ahead of the front axle (other models that share MQB include the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf and the recently introduced Audi TT).
Unlike the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, which is immediately recognized for its "four-door coupe" styling, the A3 four-door is a traditional three-box sedan that looks like a seven-eighths scale version of the fourth-generation A4. Overall, its styling is clean, conservative and somewhat undistinguished – but it most certainly fits in with the rest of Audi's lineup. By the tape, the new four-door is 175.4 inches long, making it nearly 10 inches shorter in overall length than the A4, and it rides on a wheelbase that is seven inches shorter than its larger sibling.
Its styling is clean, conservative and somewhat undistinguished.
Two versions of the A3 sedan will roll into showrooms next month. The standard 1.8T model (base price $29,900), which is only offered with front-wheel drive, features a turbocharged, 1.8-liter inline-four rated at 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The higher-grade 2.0T models (base price $32,900) are fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four, rated at 220 hp and 258 lb-ft. The more powerful engine is only offered with Audi's full-time Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and the company's six-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox is standard across the board – no manual transmission is to be offered in North America.
Both engines have cast iron blocks with aluminum heads and are mounted sideways in the nose of the A3 under an aluminum hood, and regardless of powerplant, the front suspension is an independent MacPherson strut design with aluminum A-arms bolted to an aluminum subframe. The rear suspension is a four-link design, with its springs and shock absorbers mounted independently of each other. Steering assist is electromechanical. There are disc brakes at all four corners with single-piston sliding calipers over each iron rotor (the parking brake utilizes an electrically actuated servo on each rear caliper). Wheels are cast aluminum alloy, 17-inches in diameter, wearing all-season 225/45R17 tires. Optional wheel upgrades, in 18- and 19-inch diameters, provide a maximum factory-shipped summer-compound tire size of 235/35R19.
To move the new A3 into the same equipment league as the rest of the Audi family, the A3 arrives with an impressive list of standard premium equipment. There are three trim levels (Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige) and even the base model is fitted with leather upholstery, a large panoramic moonroof, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lamps, Bluetooth streaming audio and LED taillights. The options list, which can drive a loaded A3 Prestige trim to nearly $45,000, includes full LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, Audi Active Lane Assist, Audi Drive Select, dynamic steering, and Bang & Olufsen audio – note that many of the features are shared with the automaker's flagship A8.
The A3 arrives with an impressive list of standard premium equipment.
We were fortunate enough to get our hands on a 2015 Audi A3 Sedan 2.0T Quattro S-tronic model for an early preview. Deciphering its nomenclature, the Scuba Blue over Black leather four-door arrived fitted with the 2.0-liter engine and all-wheel drive, and the aforementioned dual-clutch gearbox. Our Premium model started with a base price of $32,900 (plus $895 destination), and the five-passenger sedan was upgraded with the Audi MMI Navigation package ($1,900), Cold Weather package ($500), Aluminum Style package ($450) and metallic paint ($550) for a grand total of $37,195. While that bottom line may appear a bit steep for a car that's shorter and narrower than a Ford Focus, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class' pricing structure is nearly identical (the front-drive CLA250 starts at $29,900 and tops out at $47,450 for the much more powerful, all-wheel-drive CLA45 AMG).
The new A3's cabin is clean and uncluttered, with the driver sitting behind a three-spoke wheel facing two large analog gauges. A small, color multifunction display resides in the center of the cluster, with a digital coolant temperature gauge inside the tachometer ring and a similar fuel display inside the speedometer. Four round air vents, each beautifully crafted with rotating aluminum flow control collars, are spaced across the smooth dashboard. The MMI screen – a seven-inch, high-res display – rises fluidly out of a centrally located slot (it drops completely out of view when the vehicle is parked or at the touch of a button). The manual HVAC controls (automatic climate control is optional) are simple and self-explanatory, with three small aluminum rotary dials controlling temperature, fan speed and air distribution.
Audi has moved the MMI unit's hardware to the glovebox area, freeing up valuable space on the lower portion on the dashboard. This has allowed designers to place two cupholders in front of the transmission lever (PRND/S). The redesigned MMI controls, with integrated MMI Touch for handwriting recognition on the top of the dial, take center stage on the console just aft of the S-tronic lever. The latest version of MMI, with its aluminum switches, buttons and dials, is visually clean, and it has intuitive software with controls that are easy to operate by touch. Your author currently considers it the best user interface in the industry.
In terms of ergonomics, design and materials, Audi has done a remarkable job with the A3's cockpit.
In terms of ergonomics, design and materials, Audi has done a remarkable job with the A3's cockpit. However, we are a little disappointed to report that our "Premium" missed many basic premium features, including individual map lights, ambient cabin illumination, automatic dimming interior mirrors, automatic climate control (which remains standard on the $33,800 A4 sedan) and a modern key fob – our A3 arrived with Volkswagen's famed but aged switchblade key. It was irksome to see those features and upgrades offered in expensive additional-cost packages.
Fortunately, the A3 sedan's driving position is excellent, with this writer's six-foot, two-inch frame fitting very comfortably into the 12-way power front seat that also offers four-way power lumbar (front passengers are provided an identical throne). Leg, head and shoulder room were not an issue, and the standard manual tilt/telescope wheel moved into an optimal position for a clear view of the instruments. Three-box sedans typically provide very good outward visibility, and the A3 is no exception.
Those up front get all of the room, as the rear seating area is tight – cramped is a more accurate description. Ingress is hampered by the roofline, which cuts into the space that the occupants' heads want to occupy. Once seated, adults and children will find legroom that is seriously compromised. Those over six feet will find headroom an issue, too (your author's head pressed firmly against the padded ceiling). The second row's only salvation is that the large windows and standard glass roof allow a lot of light into the cabin so it doesn't feel claustrophobic. As a full-time family-of-four vehicle, there are much better sedans.
Those up front get all of the room, as the rear seating area is tight.
Audi lists trunk capacity of 2.0T models at just 10.0 cubic feet, which is a substantial 2.3 cubic feet less than 1.8T models (blame the bulky limited-slip "coupler" of the Haldex AWD system). It appeared small, so out of curiosity, we grabbed some luggage to find out just how much it would hold. Surprisingly, the A3 swallowed one 20-inch roller, two 22-inch rollers and one 24-inch roller – luggage for four, and there was still a bit of room left for two small soft bags. The trunk could have been larger, but the automaker chose to equip the sedan with a full diameter temporary spare tire. (We tried the same exercise with a CLA250, and it held the same bags as the A3 sedan plus an additional 22-inch roller.)
To stretch its legs, we ran the A3 sedan on a challenging four-hour road trip that was just shy of 200 driving miles. The route climbed from sea level to over 5,500 feet of elevation, utilizing two-lane roads and fast highways, as it ventured through mountain passes and across urban sprawl. On the open road, Audi's newest arrival did very well – a trait we have come to expect from vehicles that have four rings on their nose.
Don't ever dismiss VW Group's turbocharged 2.0-liter powerplants – they are some of the best in the world. The 220-hp variant under the A3's hood moved it rapidly off the line, with Quattro ensuring that wheel slip was non-existent. Audi quotes a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds, snuffing standard A4 2.0T models in the process, and the little four-door feels every bit as quick in practice. We didn't find the dual-clutch gearbox to be as smooth at parking lot speeds as a traditional torque converter automatic (there were occasional brief jerky moments when the clutch engaged), but its operation was polished at speed and it excelled when pushed aggressively.
We pushed it on long sweepers, challenged it over unsettling whoop-de-doos and aggressively attacked hairpins, but the A3 emerged unscathed.
The sedan proved proficient on the open highway, with a ride best described as "European" – firm but comfortable. Even though the drag coefficient isn't particularly impressive (a Cd of 0.30 is nothing to brag about compared to the CLA's Tesla-beating Cd of 0.23), the automaker has done a fine job keeping wind noise to a minimum, even at higher speeds.
Climbing through the mountains and carving through the canyons, our little blue car really left us grinning. Despite its unfortunate tire fitment (all-season Continental ContiProContact rubber with a rock-hard 500 treadwear rating), superb chassis and brilliant suspension tuning allowed the Audi more than its fair share of heroics. We pushed it on long sweepers, challenged it over unsettling whoop-de-doos and aggressively attacked hairpins, but the A3 emerged unscathed.
The Haldex-based Quattro fitted to Audi's transverse platforms is a reactive system that must sense slip before it sends torque rearward. Even with this limitation, it proved unflappable, and it was impossible to discern torque being shuffled fore or aft. More remarkable was that this nose-heavy four-door – a front-wheel drive platform with upwards of 60 percent of its mass over its front axle – felt very well balanced. Only once, when we entered a corner far too hot and the tires gave up in protest, did we notice annoying understeer.
To calculate accurate fuel economy, we filled the tank immediately before and after our trip. Our hand-calculated overall average was 25.8 miles per gallon. That's on the low side of the EPA's number of 24 city/33 highway, but not bad considering how heavy our right foot was. It should also be noted that our highway economy (as read from the on-board computer) hovered just below 35 mpg on the open road while on cruise control, so the EPA's numbers appear very plausible.
The A3 with Quattro was the champion canyon carver.
Because we happened to have one in our driveway, we opportunistically grabbed the keys to a Mercedes CLA250. The front-wheel drive model (all-wheel drive is offered on both the CLA250 and the CLA45 AMG) carried an as-tested price of $36,545. The cabin of the baby Benz was equally as comfortable for the two front occupants, but the second row was even more cramped than the Audi. On the open road, the CLA250 was the better cruiser, squeezing nearly 40 miles out of each gallon of fuel (the EPA rates it at 26 city/38 highway). However, things changed when the road became much more challenging and the turbocharged Mercedes began having difficulty putting its power to the ground. Corner after corner, our forward progress was hampered as the CLA250 spun its inside front wheel as it sought traction. It was soon obvious that the A3 with Quattro was the champion canyon carver.
If asked to hand out just four accolades at the end of the day, we'd give two to each. The CLA250 would earn one for its catchy styling and one for its fuel efficiency. The A3 sedan would earn one for its cabin build quality/ergonomics and the other for its superior driving dynamics. While both compete in the same segment, tested back-to-back, the Audi and Mercedes appear to be chasing different targets.
Audi's wide-ranging A3 family will be an impressive brood, but regrettably, this standard A3 sedan probably won't be our pick of the litter.
The all-new 2015 Audi A3 sedan is a very good C-segment premium sedan – maybe the best – but that accolade comes with a long list of caveats. Its engineering, platform, powerplant and powertrain are outstanding, but its second row seating is cramped, its styling unadventurous and its standard equipment list perplexing. We genuinely enjoyed driving it, but it was disheartening to look at our test car's $37,195 as-tested price, only to insert a steel ignition key into the column, manually adjust the climate control, squint from headlight glare in the mirrors at night and then fumble without map lights.
But even though we can't shower the A3 2.0T sedan with all-encompassing praise – it simply doesn't make for a particularly wise value proposition – we're still yearning for the arrival of the rest of the A3 family, a lineup that will include five-door hatchbacks, a convertible, efficient diesel-powered variants, sophisticated plug-in hybrid Sportback E-Tron and the exciting enthusiast-tuned S3 that we recently drove in Monaco. When complete, Audi's wide-ranging A3 family will be an impressive brood, but regrettably, this standard A3 sedan probably won't be our pick of the litter.
New Car Test Drive
New premium compact sedan with available all-wheel drive.
The Audi A3 is all-new for 2015. The 2015 Audi A3 begins its third generation in the U.S. as a four-door sedan, the first time for this body style in the U.S. Three- and five-door hatchbacks and a convertible are right behind the new sedans. A premium-level vehicle, the Audi A3 boasts a high-quality interior with leather upholstery as standard equipment.
As cars in the compact segment keep getting bigger, manufacturers are creating new models to slip into the entry-level category. Audi is no exception; while the A4 sedan was once considered Audi's compact offering, the 2015 Audi A3 sedan now takes over as the smallest four-door in the lineup.
Riding on a new platform, the 2015 Audi A3 offers a choice of two drivetrains. The standard front-wheel-drive sedan uses a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 23/33 mpg City/Highway.
Top-of-the-line A3 sedans come with Quattro all-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 good for 200 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 24/33 mpg City/Highway.
Both models use a 6-speed dual clutch transmission.
Like all Audis, the interior of the 2015 A3 is of high quality, with soft-touch materials, a clean, simple layout, and attention to detail. Even the climate control knobs have a well-built, substantial feel in-hand. The standard display screen is thin and retracts elegantly into the dash when not in use.
The A3 is packed with many standard features not always found on base models, including leather upholstery, power driver's seat, power sunroof and automatic wipers.
A new version of Audi's MMI control interface also is also standard, with 4G LTE data connectivity that effectively turns the A4 into a mobile hotspot, allowing users to pair up to eight compatible devices. Navigation is powered by Google Earth and Google Street View, with real-time weather, traffic and gas prices.
Although it's a four-door sedan, the 2015 Audi A3 is best on long trips for front-seat passengers only, though rear space is adequate for average-sized adults on short commutes. Cargo space is average for the class with all seats in place, and split-folding rear seats, including a center pass-through slot, help to make the A3 more versatile.
The base 1.8-liter engine is fine in the A3 sedan, and would be an ideal choice for commuting or driving around town.
Plenty of power and thrust is on tap driving the top-of-the-line 2.0T Quattro, with the most satisfaction coming in the higher revs. Though we sometimes found ourselves wanting more from the dual-clutch transmission through the winding roads, especially between second and third gears. Ride and handling is comfortable, though we found it a little floaty when pushing it hard around corners on rougher roads.
The closest competitor to the 2015 Audi A3 sedan is the Mercedes-Benz CLA250, which also rides on a front-wheel-drive platform (with optional AWD). The CLA-Class offers more power for the money with its standard 208-hp turbocharged inline-4, though we think the Audi is better looking and comes with more standard features.
2015 Audi A3 sedans come in two basic models: A3 1.8T uses front-wheel drive and a 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4. A3 2.0T models have Quattro all-wheel drive and are fitted with a 200-hp turbocharged inline-4. Both models are available in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.
A3 Premium ($29,900) includes air conditioning, leather upholstery, a 12-way power driver's seat, manually adjustable passenger's seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, power windows/locks/mirrors, driver information system, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio connectivity, 10-speaker audio system with single CD player, HD radio and satellite radio capability (with 90-day included subscription), SD card slot with 32GB capacity, panoramic sunroof, 60/40-split-folding rear seat, rain-sensing wipers, automatic Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and taillights and 17-inch alloy wheels. Options include navigation ($1,900), a Cold Weather Package ($500) with heated front seats, power adjustable side mirrors and heated windshield and washer nozzles.
A3 Premium Plus ($32,800) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, aluminum interior trim, pushbutton start, and upgrades to 18-inch alloy wheels. Packages include Navigation Plus ($2,600) which adds navigation and the AudiConnect hotspot connectivity with six-month subscription, a Driver Assistance Package ($1,400) including blind-spot detection, parking sensors and rearview camera; a Convenience Package ($750) adds power-adjustable folding heated exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror with digital compass, ambient LED interior lighting and an interior storage package.
A3 Prestige ($38,700) upgrades to a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system and adds navigation plus Audi S-line interior and exterior trim. Options for the Prestige trim include an Advanced Technology Package ($1,400), which includes front collision mitigation, lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control.
A Sport package ($550) available on Premium Plus and Prestige trims adds front sport seats, a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, and adjustable driving modes. In addition, many of the features found on Premium Plus and Prestige models are available as packages or stand-alone options on Premium trims.
Size-wise, the 2015 Audi A3 is about 10 inches shorter than the Audi A4 sedan, but longer than the Audi TT coupe. It's about seven inches shorter than the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.
Design follows Audi's philosophy of placing two-thirds of the vehicle's mass below the daylight opening, or the space the windows occupy. Audi designers say concentrating volume at the bottom of the vehicle gives it a planted, aggressive stance.
Up front, the A3 uses Audi's signature trapezoidal single-frame grille, a tall, gaping maw with strong horizontal lines and the four-ring emblem affixed up top. Below, the grille is flanked on either side by air intakes that create a double-winged design. Daytime running lights are LED and are a unique shape to the A3 (with full-LED headlights on upper trim levels).
The roofline is more sloping than the A4, giving it a sportier appearance, but not curvy like the TT coupe, allowing for more rear headroom. A strong character line runs from the top corner of the wraparound headlight lenses, above the door handles and into the top corner of the LED taillights. A deep-cut, angular rocker panel rises sharply from the front fender to the rear. All new wheel designs appear on the 2015 A3 sedan, with standard 17-inch alloys on the base model.
In the rear, the curved decklid sits up high, with an integrated lip spoiler. New LED taillights are slimmer than before, and exhaust pipes are nestled in to the black plastic diffuser below.
Like all Audis, the interior of the 2015 A3 is of high quality, with soft-touch materials, a clean, simple layout, and attention to detail. Bauhaus is the word Audi designers use frequently in discussing the design of this third-generation Audi A3, yet they also insist the German minimalist philosophy was infused with some warmth, softening what could have otherwise been a too-austere look.
This is immediately evident in the dash design, a long, single piece, unfettered by the usual cut lines and variety of trim materials most carmakers use. The result is clean, yet in some ways almost boring. Fortunately, the dash material is a soft-touch plastic, with a feel and texture that keep it from seeming cheap. We were bothered, however, by a few blank buttons on the instrument panel and on the center console, a constant reminder that our car wasn't equipped with all the options.
The A3 is packed with many standard features not always found on base models, including leather upholstery, automatic climate control, power driver's seat, power sunroof and automatic wipers. Knobs and switches have a quality feel, more so than those found on the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class or the BMW 2 Series. Even the climate control knobs have a well-built, substantial feel.
The color display screen is thin and retracts into the dash when not in use, a more elegant design than the screen found in the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, which is stuck on top of the dash and not movable.
A new version of Audi's MMI control interface is equipped with 4G LTE data connectivity that effectively turns the A4 into a mobile hotspot, allowing users to pair up to eight compatible devices. Navigation is powered by Google Earth and Google Street View, with real-time weather, traffic and gas prices. (An updated plug-and-play architecture allows Audi to update MMI hardware and software more frequently during the life cycle of the model, to ensure A3s rolling off the assembly line will have the latest technology.)
But despite Audi billing the A3 sedan as avant-garde in the tech department, we were dismayed to find that our 2.0T test car in the base trim did not come with a USB port, only the Audi music interface, which uses a last-generation iPod/iPhone cable. Consequently, we scrambled to find an adapter for our iPhone 5s. Upper trim levels come with one USB port, but for charging only, it does not pair the device with the MMI.
The front seat fit us nicely, and look higher-end than the CLA's one-piece design. Smaller adults will especially like that the A3's seat cushions are not too long, meaning that average-sized people will be able to bend their knees while sitting. Bolsters also hugged us nicely, though our 6-foot-3 driving companion complained the seats weren't long or wide enough.
The Audi A3 is best on long trips for one or two. On paper, the A3 offers several inches more legroom and slightly more headroom than the CLA-Class, but we found rear-seat space adequate for average-sized adults on short commutes, not long drives.
Cargo space measures 12.2 cubic feet in the 1.8-liter base model, and only 10 cubic feet in the 2.0T model. That falls short compared with 13.1 cubic feet in the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and 13.8 in the BMW 2 Series coupe. Split-folding rear seats, including a center pass-through slot, help to make the A3 more versatile.
We drove a front-wheel-drive 1.8T, but our longest drive in the Audi A3 to date has been in a 2.0T with Quattro all-wheel drive. This is the most expensive setup, with the most powerful engine and the best handling.
Plenty of power and thrust is on tap driving the top-of-the-line A3 2.0T Quattro, with the most satisfaction coming in the higher revs. Ride and handling is comfortable, though we found it a little disconnected and floaty when pushing it hard around corners on rougher roads.
The dual-clutch transmission worked well, but, as with all new cars, it's tuned to provide fuel economy over performance and will spin in the highest gear possible in normal driving. In manual mode, we found shifts to be on slow side, and we sometimes found ourselves wanting more, especially between second and third gears. Our pre-production cars were not equipped with paddle shifters, but Audi says a forthcoming sport package will offer this option, plus a lowered sport-tuned suspension that should provide more grip when cornering.
Noise, vibration and handling was fine on smooth roads, however, we did notice some wind- and road noise once pavement got bumpy, and on the freeway at speeds over 65 mph. At higher speeds, we had to raise our voices to converse with our fellow passengers.
We got only a short driving loop in the front-wheel-drive 1.8T sedan. As with the bigger engine, the 1.8-liter inline-4 does best in the mid- and higher revs, and has no problem merging on the onramp. We'd suggest this car for driving around town and the daily commute.
Four-wheel disc brakes on both models worked well, with an assured, yet not-too-bitey pedal feel.
The 2015 Audi A3 sedan is an attractive small sedan with adequate space and good road manners for those seeking a luxury car at an entry-level price. The 1.8T is a good choice for the daily commute. For better performance, opt for the 2.0-liter engine with all-wheel drive, but expect to pay more.
NewCarTestDrive.com senior correspondent Laura Burstein wrote this report after her test drive of the Audi A3 sedan near San Francisco, California.
Audi A3 1.8T ($29,900), A3 2.0T quattro.
Options As Tested
MMI interface with Navigation Plus ($1,900); Cold Weather Package ($500): Heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated exterior mirrors; Aluminum Style Package ($450).
Audi A3 2.0T Quattro sedan Premium Edition.
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