New & Used Audi A3: In Depth
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The Audi A3 is a family of compact cars, ranging from a wagon, to a sedan, to a convertible. New this year, the A3 family is adding the latter two body styles, as well as some more efficient powertrains, as it becomes the anchor for the Audi lineup in the U.S.
The A3 has competed with vehicles like the Lexus CT 200h, but with its fuller lineup, it's now a rival for the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the Buick Encore, and the Acura ILX.
MORE: Read our 2015 Audi A3 review
Before 2015, the A3 was sold as a hatchback in America. Now it's being spun off into a family of cars, including a four-door A3 sedan and sporty S3; a plug-in A3 e-tron hybrid wagon; and an A3 cabriolet.
The first 2006 A3 offered several different combinations of running gear. It could be bought with front-wheel or quattro all-wheel drive, four- and six-cylinder engines, and manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions. The A3's nimble handling won favor with those enthusiasts, though some reviewers felt the stiff ride and the electric power steering were lacking compared to the best competitors. Most A3s of this era driven by enthusiasts were fitted with the 200-hp turbo 2.0-liter four, which feels quicker in most real-world driving than the much heavier 250-hp, 3.2-liter V-6.
Of all the Audi A3 models offered, the clean-diesel TDI was our editors' favorite. The engine offered lots of torque, giving it the response of a V-6 both off the line and in top gear. The TDI's EPA fuel economy ratings were 30 mpg city, 42 highway with the S tronic, and we observed more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising, using cruise control.
The 2009 model year brought the first specification changes: a new magnetically-controlled suspension option, plus some slight cosmetic revamps. The physical changes to the body included new mirrors and wheels; inside, there were new audio controls and metallic trim. The suspension system adopted shocks with magnetic fluid that change firmness in milliseconds, offering a Sport and a Normal driving mode.
More changes arrived for 2010, including a new engine choice--the VW Group's popular 140-hp, 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel--and the end of the V-6 option. The other change for 2010 was that the previous S-line appearance package became standard equipment on all A3 models.
The new A3 family
The A3 carried over largely intact in wagon form only, until the 2015 model year. That's when both the new A3 and S3 sedans went on sale.
The A3 and S3 are much like the original Audi compacts, the 1996 A4, in size and in style. Their interiors carve out new territory--they're stark and more plainly drawn than anything in the upper Audi reaches.
Three powertrains can be had in these two models. Front-wheel-drive 1.8T models, with their 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine, and 2.0T quattro (all-wheel-drive) models, with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter engine, are both direct-injected, both linked to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, no manual offered. Both have front struts, a four-link independent rear suspension, and precise electric power steering. The most coveted A3 is the S3, with its uprated 2.0-liter turbo four and standard all-wheel drive. It's good for 296 horsepower, and for a 0-60 mph time of about 4.8 seconds. There's also a turbodiesel edition with a 2.0-liter four, 150 hp, and EPA combined fuel economy of 34 mpg.
The A3's compact cockpit is fine in front, tight in back. At just 175.5 inches long, and with a 103.4-inch wheelbase, the A3 has a more accessible back seat than the Benz CLA, but leg room still is tight.
Prices for the A3 start at about $31,000, and include leather upholstery, Bluetooth, and a panoramic sunroof, as well as MMI, which displays information from audio and phone systems--and navigation, when it's purchased. A 4G LTE connection is available, as is a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with 705 watts of output. The S3 is priced at about $42,000.
The A3 Cabriolet will be available in late summer 2014, powered by either of the A3 family's turbocharged gas-powered fours, and priced in the $30,000 range.
For the 2016 model year the A3 lineup will add the e-tron hybrid hatchback wagon. In a distinctive hatchback body, Audi mates a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor to a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, for a net of 204 hp. In electric-only mode, the A3 e-tron can travel about 25 miles, and has a range of more than 500 miles on a full tank of gas and a full charge of the battery pack. Audi promises a full recharge in less than four hours. No pricing has been announced, but the e-tron will go on sale in the summer of 2015, along with a turbodiesel-powered A3 hatchback wagon.