2015 Audi A3 Sedan 1.8T / 2.0T
The A3 is more than half a foot shorter than its prime competitor, the slinky Mercedes-Benz CLA-class, and a dimensional near-duplicate of the original, B5-generation A4 sedan (sold from 1995 through 2001). Built using Volkswagen’s flexible MQB architecture that also underpins the MkVII VW Golf/GTI and 2016 Audi TT, among many other VW Group products, the A3 is 10 inches shorter than the 2014 A4, but within about an inch of its bigger brother in height and width. As such, the A3 slides into the space left open when the A4 grew into the ’tweener it is now. Like many Audis, the front wheels have been moved forward from the platform baseline, by about 1.5 inches in this case, to give the car better dash-to-axle proportions.
Given how Audi’s handsome, Bauhaus-inspired design language hasn’t changed radically in the years since the B5, the A3 looks instantly familiar. Indeed, only the keenest observers will be able to tell the difference between the A3 and the A4—or maybe even the A6—from 50 paces. Two of the A3’s most noteworthy elements, however, are the beautifully integrated ducktail shape of the short decklid—no tacked-on spoiler!—and the wedge line that rises from the front axle to the rear bumper. The latter catches a broad swath of light near the rear fender arch, imparting a sense of forward lean. The A3 has its own LED light signatures, which look like eyebrows to some and, for others, conjure memories of long-division math problems in grade school.
Unlike the CLA’s somewhat disappointing cabin, the A3’s zero-gap panel fits and excellent materials give its streamlined interior a true luxury brand ambience, even when modestly equipped. Nicely grained surfaces and the requisite soft-touch surfaces grace the dash and doors. Missteps include the overly stiff standard leather and the few hard plastics sprinkled around. To dress up the space, we recommend springing for the Aluminum Style package, which adds silver inlays and a knurled ring around each HVAC vent. A standard retractable info screen serves as the display for Audi’s MMI system, while the available Navigation Plus system includes a larger screen and character input capability via a touch pad atop the MMI controller.
The A3’s standard-issue front seats are comfortable enough, although their lack of lateral support was evident on our brisk run through the mountains southwest of Silicon Valley and along scenic Pacific Coast Highway. The driver’s chair features 12-way power adjustments, but we recommend springing for the $550 Sport package available on higher-end trims, which brings shift paddles, sport seats, and the Audi Drive Select system, the latter for tailoring shifting, throttle mapping, and steering effort to the driver’s liking. The rear seat is tight, but hardly the penalty bench found in back of the Mercedes CLA, and it splits and folds to expand the A3’s trunk space from a minimum 12.3 cubic feet (10.0 with Quattro). Another highlight is a large moonroof that Audi describes as “panoramic,” over the front-seat area.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to sample any A3 with the Sport package, but we did spend much of the day enjoying the A3’s industry-first optional 4G LTE connectivity, which uses a NVIDIA graphics processor for quick loading of Audi’s Google Maps–based navigation, smooth audio streaming, and even a cool “picture navigation” feature that lets you send a geotagged picture to your car and set it as a destination. The system also turns the A3 into a mobile hotspot, should you feel like sharing your data dollars with friends and family. We also got a chance to sample the sparklingly crisp optional Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system, with its 14 speakers and 705 watts—some 200 watts more powerful than similar systems in the A4 and A5. Clearly, Audi has one thing right about the A3’s Gen Y/Millennial target market: They like their music loud.
Regardless of model, the A3’s electric steering is direct, precise, and nicely weighted, especially at higher speeds, although not possessed of much feel. Not surprisingly, with the 18-inch wheels and lower-profile 40-series tires (vs. 45-series rubber with the 17-inchers), steering feedback improves slightly, but the difference in ultimate grip is remarkable, and we suspect the difference would be even greater when shod with summer rubber (our testers wore all-seasons). All the while, impacts are nicely absorbed, and, thanks to the innately solid MQB structure, sound insulation, and other sound-deadening measures, not even the grainiest road surfaces intrude upon cabin serenity. The only source of unwelcome noise is wind rush, which creeps in above 70 mph. Another reason to upgrade to the more powerful 2.0T Quattro is the surprising fact that, at 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway, the heavier, more powerful 2.0T’s city fuel economy is actually one mpg better than the 1.8’s, which achieves 23/33 mpg city/highway.
To meet the needs of the blossoming premium small-sedan segment, the A3 must be a good-driving car and not just a good-looking car. We’ll reserve final judgment until we strap our equipment to it and get a bit more seat time, but our first impressions of Audi’s new baby nominally put it at the head of the tiny-luxe table, particularly in 2.0T Quattro form. It’s not the charismatic car that the S3 is, but let’s just say it’s probably as good as it needs to be.