What's New for 2016
For 2016, the A3 Premium adds a rearview camera, parking sensors and heated mirrors and washer nozzles as standard, while the features on higher trim levels have been mildly reshuffled. There's also a new "S line" style package to dress up the A3's appearance.
The 2016 Audi A3 marks the second year of production for Audi's compact sedan and soft-top convertible (Cabriolet), but the honeymoon's far from over. Like the original A4 from the late 1990s, the pint-sized A3 has struck a chord with shoppers who appreciate its relatively modest dimensions and pricing. Unlike many entry-level luxury models over the years, the A3 manages to capture the essence of the brand, delivering authentic Audi style, quality and performance despite its affordability. You're not slumming it if you choose the A3; you're just picking the Audi that happens to fit your life.
Indeed, the only real compromise is the A3's limited passenger and cargo space, which is inevitable for a car of this size. If you often have rear passengers or big loads to haul, you'll likely find the A3 sedan's backseat and trunk underwhelming, to say nothing of the even tighter convertible. But if you can live with those shortcomings, you won't find much else to gripe about. From its sharp handling and peppy acceleration to its strong fuel economy and well-equipped cabin, the A3 has a lot to offer, even if you can afford some of Audi's pricier offerings.
The A3 sedan's primary rival is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan. The CLA is stylish, but the Audi beat it handily in an Edmunds comparison test. We also recommend the A3 over the underwhelming 2016 Acura ILX. If you're looking for more room or versatility, you'll probably want to check out the base versions of slightly larger models, such as the sporty and sophisticated BMW 320i and the fashion-forward Lexus IS 250. As for the A3 Cabriolet, it faces stiff competition from the BMW 2 Series, which is even more engaging from behind the wheel. But if your lifestyle calls for a genuine luxury car in a tidy little wrapper, the 2016 Audi A3 is the best of the breed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2016 Audi A3 comes either as a four-door compact sedan with seating for five or a two-door convertible (Cabriolet) with seating for four and a power-folding fabric roof. There are three main trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. Trim levels for the sedan and convertible have essentially the same equipment.
The base Premium trim level comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, heated mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles, a rearview camera, automatic wipers, cruise control, a panoramic sunroof (sedan), an eight-way power driver seat with four-way power lumbar (sedan only), leather upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, the MMI electronics interface (with a console-mounted controller and a power-retractable display), dual-zone automatic climate control and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, HD radio and an SD card slot.
The Premium Plus adds 18-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Audi's proprietary digital music interface (with an iPod cable), heated front seats and an eight-way power passenger seat with four-way power lumbar (sedan only).
The Prestige adds an "S line" exterior appearance package, an LED Lighting package (including LED headlights and LED ambient interior lighting), power-folding exterior mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a forward collision mitigation system and a Technology package (including a color trip computer, mobile 4G LTE connectivity with WiFi hotspot capability, mobile-app integration, an upgraded MMI system with an improved display and a touch-sensitive controller, voice controls, a navigation system with Google Earth imagery, lane-departure warning and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system).
The S line, LED Lighting and Technology packages are optional on the Premium Plus, while all of the Technology package's contents except lane-departure warning are offered as a separate bundle on Premium. The Bang & Olufsen stereo is offered as a stand-alone option on the Premium Plus.
Available as stand-alone options on the Premium are the Audi music interface (with iPod cable), keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats and 18-inch wheels.
For the Premium Plus and Prestige, a Sport package is available that adds a lowered sport suspension, front sport seats, steering wheel shift paddles and adjustable vehicle settings (Drive Select). The sport suspension is available separately on all three trims.
Additional options include 19-inch wheels (except Premium) and, for the sedan only, a black cloth headliner and rear side airbags.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2016 Audi A3 comes standard with a six-speed automated manual transmission that operates like a regular automatic. There are three available engines: a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder (1.8 TFSI), a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (2.0 TFSI) and a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder (2.0 TDI). The 1.8 TFSI is rated at 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.0 TFSI pumps out 220 hp and 258 lb-ft. The 2.0 TDI checks in at 150 hp and 236 lb-ft.
The 1.8 TFSI is the standard engine in both the sedan and the convertible. It comes solely with front-wheel drive. Audi estimates that the 1.8 TFSI sedan will go from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, with the convertible needing an additional 0.2 second. EPA fuel-economy estimates stand at 27 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway) for the sedan and 28 mpg combined (24/35) for the convertible.
The 2.0 TFSI is optional on both body styles. All-wheel drive is standard with this engine. In Edmunds testing, an A3 2.0 TFSI sedan accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a quick 5.8 seconds. The EPA rates the sedan at 27 mpg combined (24 city/33 highway) and the convertible at 26 mpg combined (23/32).
The 2.0 TDI is offered only on the sedan and comes standard with all-wheel drive. In our testing, the A3 2.0 TDI went from zero to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, though its generous torque makes it feel quicker in real-world driving. The diesel A3 returns an EPA-estimated 36 mpg combined (31/43).
Every 2016 Audi A3 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front knee airbags, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and automatic seatbelt tightening and window closing (Audi Pre Sense Basic) in the case of a potential frontal collision. Rear side airbags are optional for sedans.
The Prestige adds lane-departure warning and forward collision mitigation with automatic braking (Audi Pre Sense Front).
In Edmunds brake testing, an A3 2.0 TFSI with 17-inch wheels and all-season tires came to a stop from 60 mph in 118 feet, which is a few feet better than average. An A3 TDI with the optional (and grippier) 18-inch summer tires stopped in just 105 feet, a superlative performance.
In government crash tests, the 2016 Audi A3 sedan was awarded the top five-star rating overall, including four stars for total front-impact protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the A3 sedan the highest possible rating of "Good" in its small-overlap frontal-offset, moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests. The A3's seat and head-restraint design was also deemed "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2016 A3's exterior closely resembles that of other Audis, and the result is an interior that's a standout for the price. The jet-engine-inspired air vents and expensive-feeling switchgear are suitably luxurious, as is the fluid action of the MMI display as it rises automatically from its slot in the top of the dashboard. From the A3's driver or passenger seat, there's little indication that this is the cheapest new Audi you can buy.
In typical Audi fashion, the MMI system comes in two versions. You get a rotary controller on the center console either way, but the upgraded system adds a navigation system, an upgraded display and voice controls, as well as a touchpad on top of the controller that lets you scrawl letters with your finger when entering a destination. Whichever one you choose, the knob-based interface may be confusing at first if you're accustomed to traditional dash-mounted buttons, but we've found MMI to be one of the more intuitive infotainment systems with regular use. One downside is Audi's continued use of a proprietary iPod interface, which isn't nearly as versatile as a regular USB port.
Backseat space in the A3 is another potential drawback. It's true that average-sized adults actually fit OK, so in that regard the A3 might be roomier than you expect. It's also more accommodating than the Mercedes CLA-Class. But the reality is that the A3 is still pretty mediocre back there; there's more room to stretch out in an Acura ILX or other slightly larger sedans, such as the A4. The A3 convertible is even tighter, so unless your rear riders are kids, they likely won't be happy on longer trips.
Trunk space is likewise limited. The sedan has a tiny 10-cubic-foot cargo hold (with all-wheel drive; the front-drive A3 is a bit roomier at 12.3) that isn't much good for holding more than a golf bag or a couple pieces of luggage. The rear seats do fold down flat to help with loading of longer items, though. The convertible's trunk is essentially the same at 9.9 cubic feet.
Compared with other small luxury cars, the 2016 Audi A3 feels more grown-up: an honest-to-goodness luxury car instead of a fancy compact. The ride is composed yet compliant with the standard 17-inch all-season tires, while the turbocharged engines provide a solid wallop of low-end torque that instills confidence. The cabin remains pleasantly quiet on the highway -- another marker of luxury status. If you opt for the slightly noisier 18-inch or 19-inch tires (as we did on the Edmunds.com long-term A3 2.0 TFSI), you'll find that the ride is still livable, but we've noticed additional harshness over significant bumps and ruts.
The A3 feels a bit disconnected at lower speeds because of its light steering effort, but it perks up when you drive it with purpose. This athletic character is particularly pronounced with the larger summer tires, which yield higher limits and sharper reactions to driver inputs. The available steering-wheel shift paddles add to the sporty feel, though the automated manual transmission is rewardingly quick and precise in every model. And when the fun's over, the A3's humble size makes it a cinch to park in small spaces.