Mainstream cars continue to get more expensive at the same time that luxury brands are introducing cheaper vehicles in order to entice buyers who care mostly about shiny, pretty things that make them look more affluent or successful than they really are. That’s why you can now buy a redesigned 2015 Audi A3 without any options – not even metallic paint – for about the same price as a Honda Accord EX-L with navigation.
Does that make sense? Is the A3 a more substantial car than the Accord? Or are you still paying a big premium just to get those four shiny chrome rings on the grille? Let’s take a closer look at the redesigned Audi A3 Sedan.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
My test car was pretty basic, the A3 1.8 TFSI Premium with front-wheel-drive, which starts at $30,795, including the $895 destination charge. That price includes a couple of items that are usually optional on entry-level luxury models, including a transmission without a clutch pedal and leather instead of leatherette seats.
To this, my A3 was coated in Scuba Blue metallic paint ($550), and it had the Audi Music Interface with iPod integration ($350), the Aluminum Style Package ($450), the Cold Weather Package ($500 – heated front seats, heated side mirrors, heated washer nozzles), and the Audi MMI Navigation Package ($1,900 – Audi MMI Touch with handwriting recognition, navigation, color driver information system). The total tally came to $34,545, before factoring in the $895 destination charge.
Quattro all-wheel-drive is available, but only with the more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and together these components add $3,000 to the price of the car. Load the A3 2.0 TFSI Quattro with Prestige trim and all the extras, and the price tag tops out at just over $45,000.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
From a styling standpoint, the 2015 Audi A3 Sedan is quite conservative, serving as the antidote to the more expressive design of its direct competitor, the Mercedes-Benz CLA. Personally, I think the Audi is the better-looking car.
My test car had the standard 17-inch wheels, and I liked how they looked and how easy they were to clean. My test car, however, had Dunlop SportMaxx RT tires on it, a maximum performance summer tire. According to Audi’s website, you won’t find this type of rubber at the dealer unless you’ve upgraded to the optional 18-inch wheels. Hmmmm.
Like the A3’s exterior styling, the interior is austere in design and beautiful in details, and nothing looks or feels inexpensive. Textures, tones, and glosses match throughout, and Audi employs tasteful aluminum detailing for a quality, upscale appearance. I also noticed that my A3 test car was remarkably creak and squeak free, for the most part.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Cargo
If you’re a larger person, you’ll want to snag one of the 2015 Audi A3’s front chairs. Both of them are height adjustable, and leather is standard equipment. It’s not soft leather, but it is real. While the A3’s front seats are quite comfortable, I wished for seat ventilation on a sunny June day with the sun beating down through the large standard sunroof. Aiding comfort levels, the center armrest adjusts for height and slides forward for added comfort, and the steering wheel is pleasing to grip, though I’d never complain if Audi elected to install a meatier wheel rim.
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of rear seat comfort, which might be why I was pleasantly surprised by the A3’s accommodations. There’s actually decent room in the back seat for a person of average size and height. Now, I’m a little bigger than average, but I found foot room, headroom, and legroom acceptable for shorter trips. Thigh support is decent, too.
The A3 is a small car, so it’s not surprising that it offers just 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space. The trunk is usefully shaped, though, and folding rear seats expand cargo capacity. The A3 even has a center pass-through allowing the car’s owner to carry four people along with skis and poles.
If you want greater utility, wait for the upcoming A3 5-door hatchback, which will offer a choice between a turbodiesel engine and plug-in hybrid technology.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
Lots of people don’t like Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) control design, but once you get the hang of the system and commit the primary function locations to memory, it can be operated by touch.
For the new A3, Audi has revised the MMI system’s design, and it looks cleaner and more modern while continuing to provide the contrasts in materials and topography that are critical for eyes-free operation. Also new, MMI allows the driver to input handwriting via characters and symbols atop the center controller’s touch-sensitive pad.
Historically, one of the least appealing aspects of MMI was that carelessness with drinks could lead to an icky, sticky disaster. That might still happen in the new A3, but the cupholders are now located forward of the shifter, decreasing the risk of a spill onto the MMI.
In addition to the new Audi MMI design, the A3’s controls are rendered with style and clarity, from the gauges and information display to the stalks and climate controls. This Audi’s simplicity is a refreshing departure from European models of the recent past.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Safety Matters
One of the most aggravating things about my A3 1.8 TFSI Premium test car was that it lacked a standard reversing camera. You can’t get one on the Premium model, not even when you spend $1,900 to upgrade to the MMI Navigation Package. Instead, you’ve gotta buy the Premium Plus model and then upgrade to the Driver Assistance Package, which effectively adds $3,950 to the base price. C’mon, Audi, if Honda can install a reversing camera as standard equipment in a 2015 Fit, surely you can figure out how to do the same thing on the A3.
Aside from this, the A3 also offers rear-seat side-impact airbags, front and rear parking sensors, a blind spot information system, and Audi Active Lane Assist technology, all available as options, most of which first require the purchase of the Premium Plus trim level. Upgrade to the A3 Prestige model, and you can buy an Advanced Technology Package containing Audi Active Lane Assist as well as Audi Pre-Sense Front and an adaptive cruise control system with stop-and-go capability.
When equipped with the Advanced Technology Package, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the A3 a “Top Safety Pick+” rating thanks to its top-rated crash-test assessment scores combined with an “Advanced” rating for front crash prevention. Without that option package, the A3’s rating is a basic “Top Safety Pick.”
That’s still pretty good, though.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
The 2015 Audi A3 1.8 TFSI is equipped with a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. The engine makes 170 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, numbers that don’t sound all that impressive. However, keep in mind that maximum torque is generated from 1,600 rpm to 4,000 rpm, and then maximum horsepower kicks in from 4,500 rpm to 6,200 rpm. The result is a steady surge of power almost from the moment you mash your foot on the accelerator pedal, and Audi says it gets to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, making the A3 quick if not outright fast.
Upgrade to the A3 2.0 TFSI for an even more energetic engine and Quattro all-wheel drive. This version of the car gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, one making 220 horsepower from 4,500 rpm to 6,200 rpm, and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,400 rpm. So equipped, the A3 scoots to 60 mph in an impressive 5.8 seconds, according to Audi, and with no penalty in terms of fuel economy.
Both engines are bolted to Audi’s 6-speed S-tronic automated dual-clutch manual gearbox, and if you upgrade to the Sport Package on Premium Plus or Prestige models, it offers paddle shifters. All A3 models are equipped with a standard Sport shift program, or owners can manually shift using a separate gate to the right of the main pattern.
In any case, the A3’s S-tronic transmission is remarkably refined for an automated manual gearbox, delivering smooth and responsive shifting the majority of the time. I used the Sport mode about half the time, which likely explains why I averaged 25.4 mpg in my A3 1.8 TFSI test car, short of the official EPA estimate of 27 mpg in combined driving.
Remember how I noted that my test car’s 17-inch wheels were wrapped in maximum performance summer tires, ones that aren’t available according to Audi’s own website? That sure explains why my test car handled so tenaciously. I mean, in just about any front-wheel-drive car you expect a little bit of tire scrub when pitching it into corners because the majority of a front-drive car’s weight sits over the front wheels. But this Audi? When ripping down Mulholland Highway, it exhibited none. Zero. Nada. No scrub, no squeal. It gripped the road better than the stock seat bolsters could grip me, making it hard to keep myself planted behind the steering wheel.
That’s fantastic, of course, but likely not representative of what you’ll get from a dealership unless you upgrade to the 18-inch wheels and then opt for the no-charge summer performance tires. And if you do that, be sure to get the Sport Package, too, for its sport-bolstered front seats.
Sticky tires also help with braking and acceleration, but I don’t believe that in the course of my testing on public roads that they were a notable factor in the car’s favor. No matter what tires you put on this A3, the turbocharged 4-cylinder would pull with remarkable willingness, making the car feel far more powerful than its horsepower rating suggests.
Though my relatively basic test car didn’t have the more powerful engine or the Sport Package, for the most part it didn’t need it. Even in basic format, the Audi A3 is a really fun car to drive.
2015 Audi A3 Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
The new 2015 Audi A3 is something of a conundrum. It’s small, but not inexpensive. It is premium, but not luxurious. It is fun to drive, but not an outright performance car. It represents value, at the same time that it doesn’t. Whatever you think the Audi A3 is, or isn’t, know that I find it compelling, even in this relatively stripped-down format.
Audi provided the 2015 A3 1.8 TFSI Premium for this review
2015 Audi A3 photos by Christian Wardlaw
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