Introduced in the mid-1990s in Europe and brought to the United States in 2006, the A3 is Audi's entry-level model for the North American market. Smaller and lighter than the A4, the Audi A3 presents a strong argument for buying a bargain sport sedan, hatchback or convertible, provided one goes easy on the options. But just because this is Audi's entry-level car doesn't mean the company cut corners on quality. The cabin's design and materials are up to the lofty standards Audi has set for the industry, meaning everything fits tightly, moves with precision and looks and feels top-shelf.
Body styles differ between the two generations, but since its introduction, the A3 has been a classy alternative to mainstream compacts yet still budget-friendly compared to its rivals. The current-generation A3 is available in a sedan or convertible body style; the previous-gen version was sold only as a hatchback in the U.S. No matter which version you get, the A3 offers the distinct German flavor of Audi, that being one of engineering excellence combined with a rich, upscale cabin.
Current Audi A3
The Audi A3 is sold as a sedan with seating for five or a two-door convertible with four seats and a power-folding fabric roof. It's available in three trims, regardless of body style: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. The A3 is generously equipped in base Premium trim, with standard features including xenon headlights, a rearview camera, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker audio system with satellite radio, and a panoramic sunroof for the sedan. Stepping up to the Premium Plus adds an exterior body kit, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The top-dog Prestige counts LED exterior lighting, adaptive cruise control, a 14-speaker audio system, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a wide-screen driver information display among its upgrades. Options include a Sport package, 19-inch wheels and a sport suspension.
Under the hood of every A3 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 186 horsepower in front-wheel-drive models and 220 hp with all-wheel drive (Audi's Quattro). Transmissions are also split: The FWD version gets a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, and AWD models have a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic.
On the road, we've been impressed with the Audi A3's grown-up personality; it feels more like an honest-to-goodness luxury car rather than a fancy compact. The ride is composed and comfortable, the cabin is quiet, and the turbocharged engine provides plenty of punch around town and on the freeway. Superb fuel economy helps as well. Surprisingly, the A3 doesn't feel especially sprightly when driving around town due to its somewhat light and numb steering feel at lower speeds. However, it perks up when driven with more enthusiasm. Particularly when equipped with all-wheel drive and the extra power it brings, the A3 feels like a running back in bankers' clothing.
Used Audi A3 Models
The current-generation Audi A3 debuted in 2015, quickly becoming is a top choice for an entry-level luxury car. Both body styles have something to offer, whether you're looking for a sporty yet buttoned-up sedan or a convertible that is surprisingly quiet with the top up. (Though if you plan on bringing multiple friends to join in on the fun-in-the-sun antics, consider the larger A5 droptop instead.) It's quite different than the A3 hatchback that preceded it. Although a solid performer in its own right, that A3 felt (and looked) as if it had more in common with the Volkswagen Golf upon which it was based than a car built from the ground up in Audi's wheelhouse.
This second-generation A3 has received just a few updates over the years. Originally, it came with one of three engines: the current 2.0-liter, plus a 170-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter gasoline engine and 150-hp 2.0-liter diesel. Audi discontinued the latter two after the 2016 model year. Also note that these 2015-'16 A3s with the 2.0-liter gas engine and front-wheel drive had the six-speed transmission and produced the full 220 hp. A revised infotainment system (with a standard USB port instead of the Audi's proprietary media interface plug and cord) and standard forward collision mitigation round out the changes for 2017.
The previous-generation Audi A3 was introduced as a 2006 model in the United States and was produced through 2013. There was no 2014 model. It came only in a four-door hatchback body style with enough cargo space that some might consider it a small wagon.
A 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four and front-wheel drive were standard. Audi offered either a six-speed manual transmission or a quick-shifting six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission (S tronic). All-wheel drive was optional starting in 2009, and it came with the S tronic transmission. From 2006 to 2009, a 3.2-liter V6 engine was available that produced 250 hp. It was outfitted with all-wheel drive and the S tronic transmission as standard. Starting in 2010, Audi began offering a 2.0-liter diesel-powered engine (TDI) with 140 hp. It came with front-wheel drive only and had the S tronic transmission.
Originally, the A3 came in 2.0T and 3.2 Quattro trim levels. Standard features on the 2.0T included 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 10-speaker audio system. The S line package provided a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats with leather upholstery and special exterior styling. The Premium package also included some of the S line's items but added a power driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rain-sensing wipers. The 3.2 Quattro included almost all of the equipment from the S line and Premium packages as standard. Notable options on both trim levels were xenon headlights, a sunroof, a navigation system, Bluetooth, iPod integration and a Cold Weather package.
On the road, we found that this generation of A3 struck an agreeable balance between athletic handling and a comfy ride. With the base 2.0-liter engine, it provided energetic acceleration along with good fuel economy. The V6 was a little quicker, but not dramatically so. The A3 TDI's ample low-end torque was nice around town, but the engine could feel winded at higher speeds. As for passenger space, the A3's hatchback design provided some added versatility, but the small rear seat was cramped for adults.
The most significant changes for this generation took place for 2009. The exterior and interior were refreshed, most notably with Audi's signature larger grille and LED running lights. Leather upholstery, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack became standard equipment, while the 2.0T could now be equipped with all-wheel drive. For 2010, new Premium and Premium Plus trim level names debuted. From then on through 2013, only minor equipment updates took place.
Read the most recent 2018 Audi A3 review.
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