Quick Summary: The all-new 2015 Audi A3 returns, this time as a sedan rather than a hatchback. As a challenger in a resurgent entry-level luxury sedan segment, the A3 delivers refinement, enough performance to make it fun to drive, cutting-edge technology and even a little prestige. Among a small batch of rivals, this new A3 rises to the top, and with a starting price of $30,795 (with the 1.8-liter engine), it won't break the bank.
What Is It?
The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro represents the bigger of two engine choices (a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 220 horsepower) and comes standard with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automated manual transmission. Even in base Premium trim — the least costly model with the upgraded engine — it includes leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof and xenon headlights.
Our test car — equipped with the optional MMI Navigation package, the Cold Weather package and the Aluminum Style package — stickered at $36,645. For those who live in cold climates or place an emphasis on performance, this version is a better fit than the base front-wheel-drive model with the smaller 1.8-liter engine. A sportier and more powerful model called the Audi S3 will go on sale in the fall.
How Does It Drive?
There's brief hesitation from the automated manual transmission upon initial throttle application, but it's not very intrusive. On the road, the A3 feels solidly planted, yet still light and nimble. Smaller ruts and bumps are absorbed well, though larger undulations can cause uneasy jostling inside. Wind noise is minimal, and road noise is present but never intrusive.
On twisting mountain roads, the all-wheel-drive A3 shines. Not only is it capable and confident, it's also quite entertaining for drivers who value performance. We prefer the paddle shifters in these conditions, as they allow you to keep both hands on the wheel while manually selecting gears. They're optional, but our car didn't have them.
In everyday driving, the A3 is well-mannered and comfortable, with excellent outward visibility. The light steering effort also makes it a breeze to park.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, our test drivers praised the A3's agility and controllability in emergency handling maneuvers, as well as its strong and consistent brakes. The engine also proved capable, pushing the A3 from zero to 60 mph in only 5.8 seconds (5.4 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip), which is quicker than any other car in this class. On the highway, that power also makes for stress-free passing. We're confident that drivers of all types will appreciate the A3's balance of comfort and athleticism.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Deliver?
All A3s powered by the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine are paired with all-wheel drive and the six-speed automated transmission. The EPA rates this model at an estimated 27 mpg combined (24 city/33 highway). On our standardized Edmunds evaluation loop, the A3 returned 33.7 mpg in mostly highway driving. When we crunched the numbers for its entire stay with us, which included plenty of spirited driving and stop-and-go traffic, the average fell to 21.5 mpg overall.
It's hard to make a fuel economy argument for the base 170-hp 1.8-liter turbo engine, as its ratings are almost identical at 27 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway). For those seeking more fuel efficiency, a TDI diesel and plug-in hybrid will be available at a later date.
Is Its Interior Comfortable?
Front-seat comfort is commendable even after several hours behind the wheel. We prefer a slightly lower seat cushion and a bit more side bolstering, however, especially on curvy mountain passes. Finding an optimal driving position is aided by 12-way power adjustments, while the front passenger has to make due with manual adjustments.
There's no shortage of head- or legroom for taller passengers up front. Rear accommodations have significantly less room and are only comfortable for small adults or children, which is typical for cars in this class.
With the addition of the Cold Weather package, our A3 benefitted from heated front seats as well as heated mirrors and headlight washer nozzles. Under the height-adjustable center armrest is a small bin with an iPod/iPhone connector. Sport seats are available as an option, but only if you step up to Premium Plus or Prestige trims. These higher trims also come standard with dual-zone automatic climate control.
How Safe Is It?
Crash tests by the government or the IIHS have yet to be conducted, but the A3 boasts a long list of standard and optional safety features. All models come with front-seat side and knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags to complement ultrahigh-strength steel frame components to keep occupants safe. Optionally available are a rearview camera, a blind-spot detection system, a frontal-collision warning alert and a system that helps keep the A3 from wandering out of its lane.
What Unique Features Does It Offer?
On the tech front, the A3 is the only vehicle in the segment that offers a handwriting recognition system. Along with the dial and voice inputs, the driver can trace letters on a pad atop the controller knob for navigation and music searches. The A3 is also the only car in the category to offer full LED headlights as an option. Even if you don't opt for them, however, the standard xenon headlights still work well and feature LED accents.
On higher trimmed models the Audi Connect system is available and adds high-speed mobile Internet functions. This allows for quick Google-based map searches, access to more than 7,000 Internet radio stations, e-mail and social media alerts read aloud, voice-to-text messaging and a WiFi hotspot for up to eight users. Smartphone-sourced high-definition video and videoconferencing are also possible.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The A3 leans toward the sporty side of the sparsely populated compact luxury segment. Its primary competition is the similarly priced Mercedes-Benz CLA250. It lacks the Audi's athleticism and its automated manual transmission also comes up short in terms of refinement. Some may find the CLA250's interior design more in line with traditional luxury sedans relative to the A3's austere cabin.
The more expensive BMW 320i essentially splits the difference between the Mercedes and Audi in terms of performance and luxury. BMW's upcoming 228i, though only available as a coupe, will likely equal the A3's performance, if not its practicality.
The Acura ILX will undercut all of these choices in price, but it lacks an automatic transmission when equipped with its upgraded engine and still trails the others when it comes to acceleration.
Why Should You Consider This Car
The 2015 Audi A3 is our top pick among entry-level luxury sport sedans. It delivers an elusive balance of sporty performance and a comfortable ride. Despite its relatively affordable price, it possesses many of the same luxurious qualities of more expensive vehicles in the Audi lineup. Liberal use of attractive interior materials and a long list of standard and optional features will satisfy most buyers at this price point.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car
Cargo capacity is one of the Audi A3's few drawbacks, as the trunk can only hold a maximum of 10 cubic feet. This makes it the smallest in the class. The 60/40-split folding rear seats and center pass-through do allow for more space, though.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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