The best new compact this year | I like driving cars that are elegant but low-key at the same time.
The entry-level luxury class has experienced a considerable amount of growth in the past year. Mercedes-Benz released their all-new CLA250, and BMW brought out the 228i. Audi redesigned the aging A3 with this brilliant new model, and we’ve tested a couple of different iterations thus far. I particularly fell in love with the hot new S3 I tested last month, and my colleagues sang praises to the regular A3. I decided to book one for myself to see what’s what, and spent a great week with this 2015 Audi A3 quattro Technik.
This test isn’t exactly a new car review as one would expect; it’s dedicated to the numerous people who have asked us to help them make a decision between the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 and the new Audi A3. I’ve now extensively driven both, and there’s one that stands out as the one where my money would go. Here’s the thing; both cars start right around the $30,000 mark, making them appeal to younger buyers as a stepping stone into a well-reputed luxury brand. However, for that price, it’s important to remember that they’re relatively base models. The $31,000 Audi A3 is front-wheel-drive, shares its 1.8L TSI engine with the Volkswagen Jetta, and lacks a bunch of the great features that my pictured tester is equipped with.
Even though my tester is a $46,000 car built to a $31,000 standard, this A3 feels considerably more premium than its price tag might suggest. The steering wheel, seats, and interior are Audi-grade and not far off from the more expensive A6 and A7. The controller for the MMI and surrounding buttons are of exceptional quality and are actually nicer than the setup used in higher-spec Audis. Addresses in navigation-equipped models can be input handwriting-style on the touchpad on top of the controller; a very slick setup. The motorized infotainment screen has a high-resolution display and seamlessly slides into the dashboard at the touch of a button. Even the air vents on the dashboard feel expensive; the aluminum-look surround rotates to open and close them.
Under the hood of this A3 is the 2.0L TFSI turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, tuned here for 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is also on board, making this a car for all four seasons. In other applications, the 2.0L has taken some flack for being a bit old at this point and outclassed. That’s not the case here; the A3’s 258 lb-ft of torque get the little car moving with ease and sounds great while doing it. Though no manual transmission is available in North America, this car makes do with the slick-shifting S-tronic dual clutch transmission, a 6-speed unit.
One particularly surprising thing I noticed with the A3 is just how quiet it is at highway speeds. It’s so quiet that it’s hard to determine just how fast you’re going, and the ride, even with the optional 19″ wheels, is also excellent. Steering is sharp and direct, if not a little bit lifeless. It’s a brilliantly engineered car based on the new MQB platform that’s shared with the amazing new Golf family. I personally prefer the styling of the A3 to the CLA250; I think it’ll age more gracefully and looks a bit more elegant without the over-the-top flashiness of the other car. If anything, the A3 looks to me like a freshened A4, and that’s a very good thing.
The refreshed MMI system that I briefly touched on earlier contributes to this new Audi being particularly good for the daily commute. This is the car that young professionals will want to live with, and I can see why. A close friend of mine purchased a new A4 last year, and he’s now kicking himself for not waiting for the A3. Upper trim levels come with the Bang & Olufsen sound system that’s easily the best factory sound system available today in any car under $50,000. The navigation system on my tester has sharp graphics and little-to-no lag while browsing menus. Now, this system provides real-time traffic situations and is able to navigate you out of a bind.
My car was the top-level Technik trim with a few option boxes selected. The Advanced Technology Package adds Audi Pre Sense, Adaptive Cruse Control, and Active Lane Assist. While the former two are self-explanatory, the Active Lane Assist actually keeps the A3 in the lane if the driver dozes off. This car also had the S-Line package, which adds various trim bits all around, sport seats, a sportier suspension, and a unique flat-bottomed steering wheel. Factoring in the gorgeous Misano Red paint job, my A3 stickered in the $47,000 range. That might seem a bit much, but this particular test vehicle is literally loaded to the gills.
I like nearly everything about the A3. I wish the S-tronic transmission had an extra gear, as competitors like the CLA250 and 228i both have 7 and 8 gears, respectively. Even still, the 6-speed S-tronic is able to shift faster and more efficiently than both competitors. I also wish the seats were a little bit more comfortable; I like the driving position but I could use a little bit more adjustability. Other than that, the A3 is about as perfect as an entry-level car from a luxury automaker could be. I’d rather have this than an equally-priced 3-series, too, as good as the 320i’s driving dynamics are.
Over my test week, I did a considerable amount of local driving. With the holiday season coming up, various errands seemed to pop up every day. Using strictly premium fuel, the A3 was able to pull off an average of 8.7L/100km, and I observed highway numbers as low as 7.8L/100km. For a turbocharged car, this isn’t particularly bad at all. It doesn’t have start/stop technology, which is a great thing, and I don’t mind a little bit of extra fuel consumption due to this. The fuel tank accepts 55L of premium fuel.
I like driving cars that are elegant but low-key at the same time. The Misano Red Pearl Effect paint on my Audi A3 tester was absolutely stunning, and the 19″ S-Line wheels help the car stand out from other A3s on the road. Even still, I like this car a considerable bit more than the CLA250. The 2-series lacks two doors, and isn’t quite as practical in the long run. To those who have asked me in the last little while which one they should buy; I’ve replied with “drive them both and we’ll talk after”. In the past two months, I’ve convinced three friends to buy A3s. It’s definitely worth noting that the latest A3 buyer traded in his previous-generation C-Class.
2015 Audi A3 quattro Technik Gallery