2015 Audi A3 Sedan Review
Aiming low, hitting high
|1. The 2015 Audi A3 sedan will be available with at least seven different engine options around the world.
2. The car’s base price in America is estimated at about $30,000. The car is expected to launch in the first quarter of next year.
3. The standard engine in America is a 1.8-liter TFSI gasoline turbo that delivers 180 horsepower and surprising acceleration.
4. A 2.0-liter TDI diesel is also available in America. It churns out 150 ponies with a heaping helping of torque, 236 lb-ft to be precise.
In a bid to attract more customers and comply with upcoming fuel economy standards, luxury automakers are expanding their North American portfolios with smaller, more affordable models.
BMW has offered its 1 Series on this continent for some time, though with limited popularity. Mercedes-Benz is also thinking small; the company is about to introduce the CLA-Class, a brand-new compact luxury sedan. Not to be outdone by its compatriots, Audi is readying a suitable sedan of its own: the 2015 A3.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
To further increases this market penetration the maker is introducing a sedan version of the popular car to better target U.S. buyers. The company estimates that two out of every three A3s sold will be sedans... Globally. To call this introduction an important one for the Ingolstadt-based automaker is an understatement.
THE POWER OF CHOICE
When it comes to reciprocating bits, U.S. customers have no fewer than four engines to choose from. Naturally the list includes cutting-edge gasoline powerplants and an ultra-efficient diesel. All mills bound for the U.S. are fitted exclusively to the brand’s S tronic seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
North American buyers miss out on some of the engines, though there’s still plenty of variety. The base unit is a 1.8-liter TFSI four-cylinder that puts out a reasonable 180 horsepower. Thanks to advanced direct-injection, turbocharging and other technologies, it delivers 185 lb-ft of low-rpm torque. Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) should take a light-footed 7.3 seconds.
Audi claims the A3 will achieve 33 mpg in the city and 49 on the highway for 42 in mixed driving. If that seems optimistic, it’s because it almost certainly is. Expect those numbers to fall once the EPA releases its own ratings for the car.
For more bang, a larger 2.0-liter TFSI engine will also be offered, although Audi didn’t have output specifications available.
For diesel lovers the company will also offer a 2.0-liter TDI engine. It puts out 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of axle-snapping torque. The twist hits like a sledgehammer around 3,000 rpm, after that it gradually tapers off in the upper-rev range. Supposedly this car will sprint from a standstill to 62 mph in just 8.7 seconds and deliver a combined U.S. fuel-economy score of more than 57 miles per gallon. Again, those numbers deserve some salt.
Audi will also offer a plug-in hybrid drivetrain packaged in the A3 e-tron, which is due later in 2015. The seven-speed S tronic transmission is the only gearbox available in America.
Beyond these choices, global customers can get a 1.4-liter gasoline engine and a 1.6-liter TDI, among numerous other powertrain options. We had a chance to test drive both engines and the 1.4 was the most interesting bar none.
With up to 140 horsepower it’s perfectly adequate for normal driving, with enough spunk for expressway merging and two-lane passing. To conserve fuel it’s fitted with start/stop, which kills the engine when the vehicle is parked or stopped. When the driver is ready to go it automatically starts up again.
Another efficiency-boosting system, and arguably a more important one, is “Cylinder on Demand” or “COD.” No, it has nothing to do with flaky white beer-battered fish and everything to do with shutting down unnecessary cylinders.
When maximum power is not required two of the 1.4-liter TFSI’s pots can be turned off. It works a lot better than the company’s start/stop system; COD is totally seamless. Audi was quite clear that this technology won’t be offered in U.S. models, but it’s hard not to wonder if that will remain true in the future.
Additionally the A3 will be offered with Audi’s Drive Select system. As you may already know, it lets drivers adjust the car’s steering feel, throttle response and transmission shift points for a tailor-made experience.
Despite its position as an entry-level model, the A3 is still an Audi, which means it has a superbly finished interior that’s every bit as stylish as the car’s elegant coachwork. Typical of the four-ring brand, the A3’s cabin is crafted of rich materials that look and feel top shelf. Similarly, fit and finish is unassailable.
Bucking current industry trends, the car’s secondary controls are simple to use, as is the latest-generation MMI infotainment system. Overall the cockpit is very cleanly laid out. About the only letdown was the cloth seating surfaces on the entry-level model, which didn’t seem appropriate in such a classy interior. Then again, cloth seats are unlikely for North America.
The front chairs are fine for long-haul driving and even the back seats are sufficiently spacious. Two adults can ride in steerage for a fair length of time as long as they’re not too tall; headroom can be a bit tight back there. Putting three people in the rear is an invitation for complaints as the center position is nearly useless.
As expected in a luxury car, the A3 sedan comes with all kinds of high-end features. Some of them are obvious, others not so much.
To boost fuel economy engineers focused heavily on cutting mass, and the 2015 model weighs less than 2,800 pounds. The use of high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium helped cut the fat. After all, this A3 uses the same lightweight MQB architecture as the new Volkswagen Golf.
As for actual features, the seven-inch navigation display slides slickly into and out of the dashboard, completely disappearing when not in use. In-car WiFi is available as are a variety of other features like real-time traffic updates and fuel prices.
Lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are also available, to name but a few of the other available features.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
The A3’s suspension feels quite stiff over weather-beaten rural roads. In spite of, or perhaps due to its firm ride the A3 handles surprisingly well, with the confidence and road-feel of a much larger – and more expensive – car. Its refinement approaches that of the A6, a vehicle two sizes larger in Audi’s lineup. That’s an accomplishment for such a small vehicle.
As expected it’s available with quattro all-wheel drive, which adds grip and further improves handling. The car’s steering is nicely weighted – light and easy at parking-lot speeds, solid and steady at higher velocities. Road feel is likewise good. Overall, there’s nothing to complain about with the way the A3 drives.
North American customers can expect the 2015 Audi A3 sedan to launch in the first quarter of next year. Pricing has not been announced at this time but company representatives hinted that it will start around $30,000, which sits with Mercedes’ CLA like sour cream on a baked potato.
The A3 delivers sophisticated driving dynamics along with a beautifully constructed cabin. It’s also the most attractive vehicle in its class, with restrained design and superb attention to detail. Its body-panel gaps are tight enough that it’s hard to slide a credit card through them.
The A3 brings Audi’s signature technology, driving feel and unquantifiable “specialness” to a smaller class of vehicle. If you think Audi’s compact misplaces any of the brand’s panache, you should think again.