By Micah Muzio
KBB Expert Rating: 7.7
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be aware that this vehicle's diesel engine is involved in a Notice of Violation of the Clean Air Act issued by the EPA to Volkswagen for producing and selling 4-cylinder diesel cars that include a software device that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants. The EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determined that these diesel cars emit up to 40 times more pollution than emission standards allow. Recalls, investigations and litigation are currently ongoing.
Audi's player in the rapidly expanding entry-luxury segment is the sub-$30,000 (destination charges not included) 2015 A3 sedan. Happily that price tag comes attached to a car you'd actually want to drive. Both sporty and welcoming, the all-new A3 and sportier S3 may be small, but they're a pleasure to live with – a standard panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights and leather seating only sweeten the deal. The new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA is a prime competitor, as are the cheaper Acura ILX and Buick Verano, but the A3 distinguishes itself as a traditional premium sedan available with a fuel-efficient diesel engine or in a fun convertible version. A hatchback will eventually join the lineup. We like the A3 and we're guessing luxury buyers looking to downsize will too.
You'll like the Audi A3 if you're in the market for a smaller and consequently cheaper luxury car. More traditional than the Mercedes-Benz CLA and more legit than the Acura ILX, the new A3 feels like a real-deal premium car, and an available diesel engine is unique to the class.
The 2015 A3 sedan has its charms, but it is not a major risk taker. For bold styling, the Mercedes-Benz CLA is a better choice, while the BMW 2 Series Coupe is arguably more thrilling to drive. That said, prospective A3 buyers looking for a greater balance between performance, style and value should consider stepping up to the 292-horsepower Audi S3.
KBB Expert Ratings
The Audi A3 and high-performance S3 sedans are all-new for 2015. Joining the lineup are a fuel-efficient diesel engine and a fun-to-drive convertible.
Driving Impressions From the driver's seat, the new A3 feels compact, not in a disconcerting, exposed way, but rather like the unnecessary mass has been removed. Small-car fans will find a lot...... to like here. The supple ride and quiet cabin help make daily commutes or long-distance travel all the more tolerable. Despite its stable, pleasant demeanor on the freeway, the A3 remains impressively agile in the corners. While the performance-focused Audi S3 rides stiffer, it won't make your daily commute a cringe-worthy affair. Currently, the A3 comes with two turbocharged gasoline powertrains – a front-wheel-drive 170-horsepower 1.8-liter that eagerly sprints to 60 mph in slightly more than seven seconds, or an all-wheel-drive 220-horsepower 2.0-liter that does the run to 60 in less than six seconds. The 2.0-liter TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy without sacrificing performance. Knocking out gear changes with impressive speed and smoothness, a standard 6-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic transmission rounds out the A3's well-sorted dynamic package.
BANG & OLUFSEN AUDIO
We're suckers for a sweet stereo, and the A3's optional 705-Watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen unit certainly qualifies. We've loved the sweet B&O audio found in Audi's larger vehicles, so it's a real pleasure to see that excellence trickle down to the brand's most frugal offering.
AUDI ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL WITH STOP & GO
Not only can the new A3's adaptive cruise control automatically maintain a pre-selected distance from the car ahead, it can bring the vehicle to stop if needed. Your daydreaming commutes just got a little safer.
With a clean design and just the right amount of sportiness, the new A3's interior is perfectly in line with what you'd expect from Audi. We like the simplicity of the audio controls but the MMI infotainment interface's low placement makes it hard to quickly see which button does what. Given the A3 sedan's small size it's not surprising that the cabin feels cozy, especially if you plan to squeeze three people into the tight rear seats. For maximum A3 enjoyment, we recommend sitting in the much roomier front seats.Exterior
Sporting standard bi-xenon headlights, a big sunroof and standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, even the cheapest 2015 A3 looks great. Buyers looking to amp up the basic sedan can spring for 18-inch and even 19-inch wheels, though we're not sure 19s on a car this size would be the wisest aesthetic choice. Lift the short trunklid, complete with integrated spoiler, and you'll find 12.3 cubic feet of luggage space...at least in the 1.8T trim. Thanks to its all-wheel drive, that cargo capacity is reduced to an even 10 cubic feet in the 2.0T trim.
Filling out the generous standard equipment roster are leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and a 7-inch audio/information screen controlled by Audi's MMI interface. S3 variants add standard Quattro all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and a sport-tuned suspension. The absence of a standard backup camera is a surprising omission, but otherwise the safety equipment list looks good, featuring a suite of electronic stability assists and eight airbags, including front-occupant knee airbags.
The new A3 might be the cheapest of Audi's, but it's still quite possible to load one up with a budget-busting array of options. Standouts include LED headlights, heated seats, rear-seat thorax airbags, a Bang & Olufsen audio system, navigation with Google Earth map imagery, and MMI Touch, a clever touchpad conveniently located atop the MMI controller that recognizes handwritten text entry. There are also several dynamic safety features available like active lane-keep assist, blind-zone warning, dynamic cruise control, and a parking-assist package that bundles front and rear parking sensors with a rearview camera. Lastly, S3 models can be had with a $1,500 Magnetic Ride Control suspension system comprised of three driving modes: dynamic, comfort and individual.
Powered by either the 1.8-liter or the optional 2.0-liter, the new A3 sedan pulls with welcome gusto. Strangely, the more-powerful all-wheel-drive 2.0-liter A3 is rated one mpg higher in city driving than the 1.8-liter. The 2.0-liter's supposed efficiency advantage should also serve as consolation for cold-weather Audi A3 buyers who are forced to pay for more power just to get all-wheel drive. For the fuel-conscious, the new 2.0-liter TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy with little penalty in performance. The range-topping S3 pairs a 292-horsepower version of the aforementioned 2.0-liter engine with the A3's standard 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Note: Everyone has to pay extra at the pump, as premium fuel is required throughout the A3/S3 lineup.
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4
170 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm
200 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/33 mpg (sedan), 24/35 mpg (cabriolet)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
220 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/33 mpg (sedan), 24/32 mpg (cabriolet)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
292 horsepower @ 5,400-6,200 rpm
280 lb-ft of torque @ 1,900-5,300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/31 mpg
2.0-liter turbocharged diesel inline-4
150 horsepower @ 3,500-4,000 rpm
236 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-3,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 31/43 mpg
Including $895 worth of destination charges, the base price for a 1.8-liter 2015 Audi A3 sedan starts at $30,795. Ignore all restraint, and it's possible to spec a 2.0-liter A3 that costs around $45,000. If you want diesel power, the TDI sedan starts at about $33,600, and if you want the wind in your hair, be prepared to pay $36,600 for the 1.8T convertible and about $39,600 for the drop-top 2.0T quattro. The S3 line begins right around $42,000 and tops out just over $50,000. The Mercedes-Benz CLA boasts a slightly lower starting price, but it comes with fewer cool features. The Acura ILX and Buick Verano are both thousands less expensive, but neither offers the gravitas of the Audi A3. As for resale values, specific figures aren't yet available for the 2015 A3, but Audis typically hold their value well, and should be roughly in line with those of the Mercedes CLA.