Automotive tradition used to be that new technologies would be reserved for a manufacturer’s flagship sedan or SUV. Those unique systems would be featured in those vehicles before trickling down through the model lineup in ensuing years.
Over the past five or six years, however, the auto industry has been trending towards today’s test car, the all-new 2015 Audi A3 compact sedan, by continuing to add more and more premium content to subcompact and compact vehicles.
Industry analysts noted the trend, but Audi has taken it to the ultimate step by totally redesigning the A3 and now presents it as a premium compact sedan.
Instead of tricking out or rebadging a lesser vehicle, Audi went all-in to make this a real member of its premium and luxury lineup.
The 2015 A3 replaces the outgoing A3 hatchback, a useful vehicle that was phased out after the 2013 model year.
Audi plans to roll out additional A3 variants later this year, including a cabriolet (convertible), TDI (diesel engine), and S3 performance sedan. Early in 2015, a gasoline-electric hybrid should join the family.
Notably missing in this rollout is a hatchback replacement. That’s a head-scratcher, but probably a story for another day.
If it isn’t obvious by now, the A3 is a real Audi. It looks like an Audi, handles like an Audi and, most important, performs like an Audi.
It’s also priced like an Audi, and that poses a serious question. Will buyers pay a premium for this size vehicle? We could go off on a tangent and examine this question, but in the end, the answer belongs with you, the buying public.
A potential buyer could load up a less expensive vehicle such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta, Ford Focus, or the like for a lot less. That would please regular e-mailer Dan P, who rails every time there’s a review of a premium-level vehicle on these pages.
However, luxury brands have their own cache. I’ve often talked to friends and neighbors about buying the top trim level of a mid-level brand (the option noted above) only to see them instead come home driving an Audi, Lexus, or Acura.
That’s proven to me that the luxury marques’ allure is there.
You have to think Audi fans will find it in today’s A3, too.
We drove the all-wheel-drive version. You’d anticipate this will be the vehicle of choice for New England buyers.
Our test car was the Premium Edition, somewhat of a misnomer because it’s the entry-level trim line. Our test car had a base price of $33,955 (including destination). It had a desirable Cold Weather Package (heated seats, washer nozzles, and exterior mirrors) for $500, an Aluminum Style Package (vent surrounds and door handles, mirror and window controls, window surrounds and trim inlays) for $450, 18-inch high-gloss wheels ($800), and Ice Silver paint ($550). A $350 credit for single-zone climate control left the bottom line at $35,745. That’s reasonable for the marque, the image, and the contents.
Standard items include leather seating surfaces and a 12-way power driver’s seat, speed-sensitive electromechanical power steering, Xenon front lights with LED DRLs (driving lights) and taillights, panoramic sunroof, and rain and light sensors.
So what doesn’t it have? The one notable missing item for a premium vehicle is a rearview monitor. Also not in the base model is keyless entry and push-button start. Instead, you get a clumsy hard-to-insert-and-remove ignition key and awkwardly positioned ignition lock tumbler combination. Also absent: adaptive cruise control, lane and blind spot warnings, parking assist, and a power passenger seat (Mrs. G was not pleased about that).
Most of those missing items (and much more) are available in a $8,450 Prestige Package. An additional $1,400 Advanced Technology package offers active lane assist, pre-sensing front seat belts, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function.
Obviously, that puts the price tag into the mid-40s, territory that puts it up against Audi’s own A4 and the BMW 3-Series, making for some interesting buying decisions.
We found the A3 as docile as any vehicle in city traffic but a spirited pleasure to drive on both highways and back roads when the engine gets a chance to work and the speed-sensitive electromechanical power steering shows its stuff.
Our version had a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine mated to a six-speed automatic and Audi’s proven Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Fuel economy is rated at 24 city, 33 highway, and 27 combined. We wound up right about on the 27 mpg figure (27.1 mpg) while spending an inordinate amount of time sitting in rain-caused traffic delays.
The interior is clean and has a quality-though-somewhat-Spartan appearance, a line that’s broken up when the MMI (multi-media interface) screen rises out of the dashboard like the sword Excalibur rising out of the lake.
There’s a volume and power switch for the audio system on the right side of the center console, meaning the driver must touch the passenger’s left leg to make a change—or get used to voice commands or the adjusting scroll on the steering wheel.
Rear seat legroom is snug. The A3’s five-passenger rating is a bit optimistic, except in an emergency. We made an eight-block trip with four adults, requiring front-seat passengers to move seats forward to make things work.
Still, for a single driver or couple, this is what the industry analysts say will appeal to the US consumer: a premium compact.
And, if you’re an Audi-Phile, so much the better.
2015 Audi A3 Sedan
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $33,795/$35,745. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 24 city/33 highway/27 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 27.1 mpg. Drivetrain: 2.0-liter I-4 turbocharged engine, 6-speed automatic, Quattro all-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger sedan.
Horsepower: 220. Torque: 258 lb.-ft. Overall length: 175.4 in. Wheelbase: 103.8 in. Height: 55.7 in. Width: 77.2 in. Curb weight: 3,362 pounds.
Build quality, optional technology, strong engines, satisfying handling.
Cramped rear seat, the rising-from-the-dashboard MMI screen.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The premium compact sedan is here.
BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz CLA Class.