New & Used Audi A3: In Depth
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The Audi A3 was once a competitor for vehicles such as the Lexus CT 200h, but with its fuller lineup, it's now also a rival for the Buick Verano, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, and the Acura ILX. BMW's basic 320i sedan can also compete on price, although it is a slightly larger vehicle, and the BMW 2-series could be considered a rival as well, although both Bimmers are rear-drive.
Previously available here only as a five-door hatch, the A3 lineup has grown to include a full range of compact cars, including sedan, convertible, and hatchback variants. The A3 was redesigned for 2015, bringing with it a new S3 performance spin-off. Together, they offer the widest range of powertrains ever for a small Audi, including plug-in hybrid, diesel, and gasoline options. The renewed A3 is poised to become the volume player for the brand.
MORE: Read our 2016 Audi A3 review
The first A3, which came here as a 2006 model, 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 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.
The A3 got its first refresh for the 2009 model year. Mechanical changes included a newly optional magnetorheological suspension system, 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, like 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 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 clean-diesel TDI was by far 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 and 42 highway with the S tronic transmission, and we observed more than 45 mpg in long-haul interstate cruising, using cruise control.
The new A3 family
The A3 carried over largely intact in wagon form only until the 2015 model year, when both the new A3 and S3 sedan went on sale.
The A3 and S3 are much like the original Audi compact, the 1996 A4, both 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.
The A3 currently offers three different powertrains, with one more on the way, as well as the high-performance S3 model. Front-wheel-drive 1.8T models get a 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine, while 2.0T quattro (all-wheel-drive) models come with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter engine. Both engines are direct injected, and both come linked to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, with no manual offered. There's also a turbodiesel A3 with a 2.0-liter four that makes 150 hp and returns EPA combined fuel economy of 34 mpg. The A3 features front struts, a four-link independent rear suspension, and precise electric power steering.
The most coveted A3 variant 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.
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 Mercedes-Benz CLA, but leg room still is tight.
The A3's base price is around $31,000. Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, and Audi's MMI infotainment system, which controls audio and vehicle systems; it also runs navigation, which is an additional option. Audi also offers a 4G LTE connection with WiFi 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 either of the A3 family's turbocharged gas-powered fours, and priced in the $30,000 range. Like in the sedan, quattro all-wheel drive is optional and dependent on the engine selected.
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 yet, but the e-tron will go on sale in the summer of 2015, along with a an A3 hatchback wagon with the turbodiesel engine.
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 five-cylinder engine and upgrades chassis, however.
The A3 will get a few changes for 2016, including increased standard equipment—a rearview camera, parking sensors, heated mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles, and aluminum-look interior trim—while the S3 gains a newly optional Black Optics Performance pack, including black exterior trim, different wheels, and the magnetorheological damper setup.