The Car Connection Audi A3 Overview
The gateway into the Audi lineup in the United States is its A3, a polished compact sedan that delivers an increasingly large number of the virtues found on the automaker's larger sedans—except, of course, interior space.
The A3 lineup began life as only a quirky, European-styled hatchback, but it now includes a mainstream sedan, a cabriolet, and a plug-in hybrid hatchback. There's something for almost everyone in the A3 lineup, as long as you don't want a turbodiesel engine. That high-mpg option was quietly dropped as soon as Audi and parent company Volkswagen became mired in an emissions cheating scandal.
Those looking for more zip will find the S3, which is covered separately.
MORE: Read our 2017 Audi A3 review
The new A3 family
The new A3 is much like the original Audi compact—the 1996 A4—both in size and in style. Their interiors carve out new territory namely because they're stark and more plainly drawn than anything in the upper Audi reaches.
The A3 currently offers two different powertrains, as well as the high-performance S3 model. For 2017, all A3 sedans and cabriolets are powered by a 220 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and they offer a choice between front- and all-wheel-drive paired exclusively to a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The most coveted A3 variant for enthusiasts is the S3, with its uprated 2.0-liter turbo-4 and standard all-wheel drive. It's good for 292 horsepower, and for a 0-60 mph time of about 4.7 seconds, according to the manufacturer.
The A3 features front struts, a four-link independent rear suspension, and precise electric power steering.
The A3's compact cockpit is fine in front, tight in back. At just 175.4 inches long, and with a 103.8-inch wheelbase, the A3 has a more accessible back seat than the Mercedes-Benz CLA, but leg room is still is tight.
The A3's base price is around $31,000. Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, and Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) infotainment system, which controls audio and vehicle systems; it also runs navigation, which is an option. Audi also offers a 4G LTE connection with wi-fi hotspot capability, as well as an upgraded Bang & Olufsen stereo with 705 watts of power and 14 speakers. The S3 gets a little more standard equipment plus the performance enhancements, and starts near $42,000.
The A3 Cabriolet went on sale in late summer 2014, powered by the A3's turbocharged gas-powered inline-4, and priced in the $30,000 range. Like in the sedan, quattro all-wheel drive is optional and an automatic is the only gearbox available.
For the 2016 model year, the A3 lineup added 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 4-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 and it includes a Level 2 home charger.
Audi has also announced that a version of the RS 3 will be available soon in America. While other markets get a five-door Sportback RS 3, ours will be a sedan like the S3 we get. It should feature the same turbocharged 5-cylinder engine and upgraded chassis, however.
The A3 got a few changes for 2017, namely some mild styling updates, an available full LCD instrument cluster, and standard automatic emergency braking.
Audi A3 history
The first A3, which came to the U.S. as a 2006 model, offered several different combinations of running gear. It could be bought with front-wheel or quattro all-wheel drive, 4- and 6-cylinder engines, and manual or dual-clutch automatic transmissions. The A3's nimble handling won favor with 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-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4, which feels quicker in most real-world driving than the much heavier 250-hp, 3.2-liter V-6.
The A3 received its first refresh for the 2009 model year. Mechanical changes included a newly optional adaptive dampers, which could be switched between Normal and Sport modes, changing the properties of the magnetic fluid in the dampers to alter ride firmness and response. There also were aesthetic adjustments, such as new designs for the wheels and side mirrors, metallic interior trim, and revised audio controls.
More changes arrived for 2010, including a new engine choice—the Volkswagen 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 TDI was our editors' favorite, by far. The engine offered plenty of torque, giving it the response of a V-6 both off the line and in top gear. The TDI's fuel economy ratings were 30 mpg city, 42 highway with the S tronic transmission, according to the EPA, and we observed more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising, using cruise control.
In 2015, the EPA notified Volkswagen that its 2.0-liter diesel engines—including the one in the A3 TDI—exceeded by 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxides emissions. The automaker issued a stop-sale for the A3 TDI cars, and Volkswagen is working to fix engines that were sold with falsified emissions levels.