What It Is
Audi appeals to a young audience with a new car that is fast…thanks to its 4G LTE high-speed data connection.
Crisp handling, incredible MMI infotainment system.
Fuel economy could be better.
Fun to drive and loaded with technology, the A3 offers a great value in its space.
"Please let this be good," I said to myself as I stepped into the Audi A3 and turned on the engine. Admittedly, I was skeptical. The market for a newly-emerging set of entry level luxury cars is hot right now, but it is a segment that has gathered mixed results. Largely, these cars appeal to young buyers that are looking for all the perks of a luxury car in a price tag under $30,000. The goal for automakers is to lure in a new set of buyers, in hopes that they will continue on with the brand as they get older. But, as I've learned, it can be tough to keep all the tradition and expectations of a luxury car with such a limited price point.
The A3's predecessor, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, sort of fell in this trap. Its handling is great, but many have opined this car's lack of driving refinement and sub-luxury interior quarters. It just didn't quite hit the mark on its first try. The question is: Will the Audi A3 do any better?
The Audi A3's claim to fame is that it starts at just $29,900, excluding a $895 destination charge. This base model comes with a 1.8-liter engine, but upgrading to the more powerful 2.0-liter brings the cost to just $32,900, which is still a very reasonable price.
WalkaroundIt's hard for an Audi not to look sexy, and the A3 continues in this tradition. The new sedan retains the signature Audi sexiness, but emphasizes simplicity compared to the brand's more lavish sports cars. It's kind of like the little black dress of the Audi lineup; it has broad appeal and makes a statement without being over-the-top.
The A3 is Audi's first model designed specifically for the American market, and thus, the model is not just a shrunken A4. Its roofline is slightly sloped like the TT, giving it a more dramatic appearance than its larger cousin. Two unique character lines on the side caress the otherwise plain body of the car. A few more design elements enhance the sporty look. Bi-xenon headlights and available full-LED lighting adorn the front, and in the back, a rear spoiler and angular taillights give the car a subtle hint of aggression.
Sitting DownThis simplicity of design also seeps through into the interior of the car. Audi has filled the cabin of the A3 with lots of hard plastics, but some of the best in the industry. Our test car came with brown leather surface seats complementing a black interior. The center console is largely bare, adorned only by a straight row of buttons located below two circular air vents.
All the action happens on the seven-inch touchscreen, which pops up out of the dashboard with the push of a button. The screen, which is little thicker than a smartphone, is a key feature. Buyers can opt for Audi connect, which includes some groundbreaking navigation features with this screen. Audi has partnered with Google to bring the capabilities of Google navigation to the car, a big plus for those who always use Google Maps. Users can conduct local destination searches and view satellite imagery and street views. And with the innovative picture destination feature, drivers can get to their destination by simply inputting a picture of wherever they want to go. Other than voice-activation, all functions on the touchscreen are controlled with a circular knob and a touchpad that allows drivers to write in destination functions.
The Audi A3 is also the first car to feature 4G LTE technology, which according to its partner AT&T, will allow for 30 to 40 percent faster reaction times. Drivers can also access high-resolution videos, have their Facebook and Twitter alerts read aloud, and access 7,000 Internet stations with the infotainment system. Standard features on the Audi A3 include seating with leather surfaces, bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, power driver seat, premium six-speaker sound system with subwoofer, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and SiriusXM and HD radio. Keyless entry and backup camera are options.
Moving on to the back of the car, there is room for three passengers. Headroom is aplenty, but passengers may struggle with the limited room to stretch their legs. A trip to the grocery store is also a little tough. Depending on the model, the A3 comes with 10 to 12 cubic feet of space in the trunk, smaller than the trunk offered by the competing Mercedes.
DrivingWe tested out both the 1.8-liter and more powerful 2.0-liter engines for the A3. While the first engine provides decent acceleration and is very respectable as a base model, the 2.0-liter is the true performer. With 220 horsepower, this engine allows the car to reach 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Passing other cars is not a problem and is exceptionally enjoyable with this engine. This car accelerates on demand, and at high speeds, it makes a delicious sound that makes you think it is a true sports car.
While driving through mountainous roads, we enjoyed this car's nimble handling and overall responsive feel on the road. The 2.0-liter version also benefits from the confidence provided by standard all-wheel drive. With either engine, this car is downright fun to drive and can handle most challenges with ease, including tight turns. On rough highways, bumps can faze the A3 and noise can intrude into the cabin. But these were minor issues, especially compared to the lack of driving refinement in the CLA. Unlike its predecessor, the A3 delivers an overall composed and balanced ride.
Still, the CLA gets points for achieving much better fuel economy than the A3. While the CLA averages 26/38 mpg city highway, the comparable A3 2.0-liter gets an EPA estimate of 24/33 mpg city/highway. Strangely, the less powerful 1.8-liter A3 gets slightly worse fuel economy than the 2.0-liter A3.
SummaryAudi has proved that, perhaps, luxury is possible on a $30,000 car. We recommend springing for the 2.0-liter engine because it provides plenty of value for a small price premium. If possible, buyers will likely want to consider spending between $1,900 to $2,600 for the navigation system as it is a one-of-the-kind in the industry. The car features a nice array of standard and optional features, and it is clear that Audi is not trying to skimp to save costs.
But to be honest, not everyone will define this car as luxury. Hard plastics and somewhat cheap leather surfaces may drive some customers away. After all, buyers can get a Buick Verano Turbo with full leather and every imaginable convenience for the same price. But we think buyers will be attracted to Audi's reliability and brand image in choosing an A3. And we think it is a pioneer in its segment, providing an attractive alternative to the CLA-Class. We expect the A3 to fly off dealership lots in no time. The sedan arrives this spring, followed by the launch of the A3 convertible, S3, and A3 TDI in the fall. A plug-in hybrid is in the works for 2015.
Basic Specs1.8-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine, front-wheel drive, 170-horsepower, six-speed automated manual Base price: $29,900, 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy
2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, 220 horsepower, six-speed automated manual Base price: $32,900, 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy