The 2015 Audi A3 sedan is a standout in its own right. It makes a statement among premium brands on how urbane it is for city use, and fits in well anywhere other luxury cars exist. Being one of the few true sedans in its segment, the 2015 A3 has all of the brand’s cache and gumption at a lower price.
The new Audi A3 now comes as a sedan and a convertible – a departure from the five-door hatchback that wore the same badge before it. The 2015 A3 has been revamped from the ground up with engines from across the Audi lineup. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder, connected to a standard dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the front wheels. A more powerful gasoline engine and a turbodiesel are available, along with the option of quattro all-wheel drive. The A3 sedan will seat up to five people and is available in three equipment levels – Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.
Audi uses a “family” approach to design. The grille shape, headlamps, glasshouse and rear end all seem derived from every model in the automaker’s lineup. This is a mixed blessing, since Audi employs a distinctive design that is copied by other manufacturers – a form of flattery on Audi’s behalf.
The A3 is distinctive by the badge and its size. Today’s A3 sedan is roughly the size of what the old Audi 4000 used to be. Though it rides on a 103.8-inch wheelbase, it is only 175.4 inches long. The A3 sedan is sized in-between a mainstream subcompact sedan and a compact car. By scale, it is indeed small enough for city use.
One expects Audi to have a high level of quality throughout the cabin. The A3 may not be on the level of an Audi A7 or A8, but it is quite good. The plastics are mixed, but mostly on the good side throughout. Touch points feel premium, and even the leather is of good quality.
One such feature that I liked was the retractable MMI infotainment screen. The readouts for most functions were quite easy for the eyes. There was a lot of Audi-ness throughout, but somehow it felt like the A3 had to take on “lesser” design elements – circular vents, sparse spaces on the dashboard, small mirrors – to position it toward the low end of the premium market.
It seems there should be room for five people. In reality, the A3 will seat four medium-size adults in a pinch. If the driver is tall or big, then the back seat is best for children. Front seat room is good, however, but a low position would be better suited for tall drivers in the end. This tester came with power seats for rake, recline and lumbar adjustments. The steering wheel is manually adjustable for rake and angle, but the rim is quite thin for this car. For a starter family, the A3 sedan would be fine, but if one needed more room, there are other options available.
The trunk is well-shaped and squared off, though it is only 12.3 cubic feet. One complaint was the high lift over. Roller bags would need a bit of up-and-over to make sure they get in – and out.
The A3 comes with three engines – a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a turbodiesel 2.0-liter four-cylinder. This tester A3 TDI had the turbodiesel, which is a fantastic engine in its own right. The A3 comes with front wheel drive, though you can get Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system with the 2.0-liter engine. All A3 sedans are equipped with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The A3 TDI is rated at 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. Equipped with the base engine, those figures come down to 24 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.
It is expected that an Audi is a good road car. “Balanced” would be the best word to describe the A3’s ride/handling mix, which falls somewhere between soft and firm. The ride is absolutely smooth with an uncanny ability to absorb rougher roads. Though the steering feels light, it is quite responsive through the curves. In all, turning the A3 is a smooth operation. This lends to excellent handling in various situations. Braking is sharp and responsive, providing quick stops in both normal and panic situations.
It all starts with a knob that controls the MMI interface, which provides access to audio, Bluetooth, navigation and some vehicle functions. Audi Connect is controlled from this screen, which includes telematics services linked back to Google. These services include Google Earth views on directions to a destination, as well as an in-car 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot.
As with most premium cars these days, the A3 still offers a remote fob for access to the car, dual-zone automatic climate control, SiriusXM satellite radio, a hard drive for your music files and a smartphone app for Audi Connect.
There is a USB port in the console storage, but a specific cord was found to connect with the Apple iPhone 4/4S. It would be easier to remove the cord and replace it with a standard USB connection.
With that said, the MMI system takes time to understand. The screen is simply too far away to make it touch-sensitive, therefore the knob, finger tracing on the knob and associated switches on the console suffice for switching screens and systems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated the A3 sedan with an overall 5-star rating. Four stars were given to frontal crash and rollover tests, while the A3 earned a 5-star rating in side crash testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave its Top Safety Pick+ award to the A3 sedan. All IIHS crash tests conducted came back with Good ratings.
While the crash test scores are quite good, you have to upgrade to the Prestige trim to get advanced active safety features like adaptive cruise control, active lane assist and a rearview camera with a park assist system.
Our Premium Plus tester did not come with any of these safety features. Luckily, a basic version of Audi Pre-Sense is standard across all models.
The A3’s base price is $29,900, which is about the baseline for premium small cars. Only the Acura ILX is less expensive. This A3 TDI Premium Plus tester came with a sticker price of $38,645 with the addition of the Audi MMI Navigation plus package.
The new-for-2015 A3 has all the cache of other Audi models in a very diminutive package. Though small for some families, it serves as a good compact sport sedan for those that want the badge and the efficiency. Joining the sedan and convertible will be the Sportback – a five-door hatchback that should join the A3 lineup for the 2016 model year.
Where the A3 has an advantage is with its competitors. The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a true four-door coupe with less space inside, while the BMW 2-Series is available only in two-door models.
This leaves the Acura ILX to compare with the A3. Where the Audi trumps the Acura is in design execution, overall quality, engine and drive options and the prestige of the brand.