Menlo Park, Calif. ? When Audi first introduced the A3 to the U.S. market in 2006 it was a stylish five-door hatchback (or wagon). There were competitors, but they tended to be priced more mid-level, while the A3 nudged closer to the luxury market in price and content. At that time it stood out in the market for its styling, luxury character, compact size and fun-to-drive attributes.
For 2015, Audi has redesigned the A3 into a sedan and plans to introduce a family of seven A3 variations in the next year including a Cabriolet, Sportback, S3 performance model, diesel, Q3 crossover and even an electric version.
The way I see it, the new Audi A3 fills the gap between two convergent markets — those shopping for mid to upper level mid-size cars like the Camry, Accord, Fusion and Malibu, and those shopping for entry luxury vehicles like Mercedes CLA, Cadillac ATS and BMW 2-Series. The buyers moving up are flirting with luxury while those downsizing are probably coming out of a larger luxury model.
Unlike the previous A3 which had four- and six-cylinder engine choices, the 2015 Audi A3 Sedan has two four-cylinder engine options. The two model designations are represented by the engine sizes — 1.8T and the 2.0T. As you might guess from the ?T? designation, both engines are turbocharged. The 1.8T is a new 1.8-liter engine which produces 170-hp and drives the front wheels. The 2.0T is the latest variation of the hard-working turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that has been used extensively in the Audi lineup for years. The new version is 220 horsepower, but like with past models I have driven the horses seem more powerful than the numbers indicate. The 2.0T is equipped with Audi?s legendary quattro all-wheel drive. Both engines use a six-speed S tronic? automatic transmission, the 2.0T also has steering wheel mounted shift paddles.
The smaller engine accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and the 2.0T in 5.8 seconds and both have a top speed limited to 130 mph. Interestingly, the fuel economy rates for the two engines is nearly identical. The 1.8T is rated at 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined, and the 2.0T with quattro is actually one mile per gallon higher in the city at 24 mpg.
Both engines have the quick smooth feel I like. I do prefer the larger 2.0T engine because it has better passing power, quattro and paddle shifters. I like to downshift for corners and I find the paddles quicker to use than the transmission shift linkage.
I suppose drivers that push harder than might find the A3 suspension a bit on the soft side, but I thought it was perfect. The car feels very controlled, well balanced both on the freeway and on the tight corners my driving partner and I experienced when driving through the winding Santa Cruz Mountains during the introduction. The electromechanical steering goes where it?s pointed and I like the fact that the turning radius is a tight 36.1 feet on both models.
Both models are offered in three trim packages (Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige) allowing shoppers to select a level of equipment fitting their needs and budget.
All three trim levels include features like leather seating, panoramic sunroof, bi-Xenon headlights, HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth?, Rain/light sensor for wipers and headlights. The top level Prestige model adds features like LED headlights and taillights, S-Line? trim, heated seats, Bang & Olufsen? audio and the MMI navigation system. The navigation system uses a screen as thin as a smart-phone; it rises out of the center of the dash. It?s a perfect position and allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road while just glancing sideways to see the screen.
Each trim level has a handful of options available, but the Prestige has the most interesting packages. I especially like the Advanced Technology Package ($1,400) which added Audi Pre sense? front (a crash avoidance system) Audi Active Lane Assist and Adaptive Cruise control. One other interesting feature in the option packages is the Audi Drive Select system which allows the driver to adjust throttle response, shift points, and the electromechanical steering effort by selecting one of four settings: Auto, Dynamic, Comfort and Individual.
Hoping to have a stronger appeal for younger technological savvy shoppers Audi has equipped the A3 with what it expected to be the first-ever in-vehicle 4G LTE data link. This will give the system faster connections and the ability to show state-of-the-art graphics for applications like Google Earth Maps?. They expect online connections to be as fast as a home computer. The system will work in connection with AT&T cell service and will allow for a wider range of services and entertainment than any other manufacture currently offers.
The 2015 Audi A3 prices start at $30,795 for the 1.8T Premium trim level, and the 2.0T model is $3,000 more on all trim levels. The Premium Plus trim adds and additional $2,900 and the Prestige trim is $8,800 more than the Premium. With all the available options, the 2.0T Prestige will have a bottom line price of $44,550.