NORFOLK-- If you follow the automotive industry at all, you know that luxury automakers have been rushing to introduce small cars to the American market that start at the magic $30,000 mark. The reason is simple: increasingly stringent EPA fuel economy requirements.
For consumers, this means that for the same price as a fully loaded midsize sedan, you can get a compact car with a premium nameplate. While some manufacturers are new to this space, Audi is not, having introduced the Audi A3 in 2006 as a five-door hatchback.
Americans never warmed to the idea of a luxury hatchback. Maybe it’s because the 2006-2013 A3 seemed like little more than oversized Golf – which to some extent it was.
So Audi skipped selling an A3 for 2014. Now comes the 2015 model: a handsome, if conservative, four-door sedan. It rides atop the company’s new MQB platform that also underpins the new Golf. Look for the A3 sedan to be joined later by an A3 Cabriolet, a high-performance S3, a gasoline electric hybrid and a diesel model.
For now, buyers get a sedan that comes in two flavors: a front-wheel drive model with a 170 horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine or all-wheel-drive and a 220 horsepower turbocharged 2.0–liter four-cylinder engine. Both power plants are mated to the standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Opting for all-wheel drive reduces trunk capacity from 12.3 cubic feet to a mere 10 cubic feet, but it also cuts the 0-60 mph times by a noticeable 1.4 seconds. Thankfully, fuel economy is largely unaffected.
Audi provided a Quattro model for a week-long test drive.
The A3’s new platform supplies a solid structure that makes this little four-door enjoyable to drive when pushed. But you’ll find its personality isn’t as frisky as the Volkswagen GTI, with which it shares much of its hardware. Instead, you’ll find its demeanor to be a bit more indifferent than the VW’s. It’s almost mellow. You can awaken it from this calm placidity, and when you do, you’ll find impressive grip and flat cornering behavior. Bumps rarely ruffle are always well absorbed, although road and tire noise are fairly intrusive on some surfaces.
The seats were very firm and interior space is good for four, although rear seat legroom is somewhat dependent on the good will of front seat passengers. Also, some taller passengers might find the headroom tight.
Like all compact junior luxury sedans, you’ll find the A3’s interior distinctly less impressive than its pricier siblings. It feels more like a premium car than a true luxury sedan. Maybe that’s because most of the luxury comes from the options list. There in Base, Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. The test car had the Premium trim, which included an upgraded sound system, leather seating surfaces, an alarm system, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights and a rain/light sensor. Options included a navigation system ($1,900), a Cold Weather Package with heated front seats, washer nozzles and mirrors ($500), an Aluminum Style Package ($450), an iPod music interface ($350), and optional “Scuba Blue” paint ($550). Given its $37,195 MSRP, it’s surprising to find manual, not automatic, climate controls and no rear back-up camera on a luxury car.
But it’s not the lack of equipment that may give you second thoughts; it’s this car’s bleakly minimalist interior. Filled with lower grade plastics than you’d expect in a brand known for its distinctive cabins, it just doesn’t feel much more upmarket than a Volkswagen, despite the promises made by this Audi’s exterior styling. Fans of the quad rings may not find this bothersome. Others may be put off, or will want to pop for the slightly more expensive A4, which starts at $35,500.
While this mini Audi looks and performs like its larger siblings, its interior and lack of certain amenities will no doubt drag it down in the eyes of hedonists. And given that the GTI offers similar passenger space, more than double the cargo room and better performance at a lower price, one has to wonder if this A3 will fare any better than the previous one.
Powertrain: 220 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, all-wheel drive.
Wheelbase: 103.4 inches
Length: 175.5 inches
Weight: 3,362 pounds
Cargo capacity: 10 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24/33 mpg
NHTSA safety rating: Not rated
Base price, base model: $29,900
Base price, test vehicle: $32,900
As tested: $37,195
Where to buy it: Audi Hampton, Hampton; Audi Virginia Beach, Virginia Beach.