- Quick, nicely weighted steering
- The best in-dash interface (MMI)
- Super-flexible, efficient engines
- Tiny back seat
- Road noise
- Not quite a luxury car
The 2016 Audi A3 models offer a variety of body styles, powertrains, and options to battle whatever the small luxury segment has to offer.
The Audi A3 is a new weapon in the battle for compact luxury buyers. A new family of vehicles that slots in below the A4 lineup, the A3 was introduced first for the 2015 model year as a four-door sedan, and now includes convertible and plug-in hybrid hatchback models, as well as the sporty S3 (covered separately).
These models compete directly with the new, curvaceous Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 and an updated Acura ILX, as well as possibly the BMW 2-Series coupe and convertible as well as entry-level versions of the 3-Series sedan. Buick's Verano, while not likely to be cross-shopped, offers a turbocharged engine and matches the A3 sedan's size, and the Buick Cascada convertible matches up with the A3 Cabriolet.
The 2016 Audi A3 has a quintessentially Audi appearance, almost to the point of looking conservative in comparison to competitors. You have to look closely to differentiate it from the A4, despite completely new sheet metal and a distinctive angle to its rear pillars. From the available LED headlights to the emphatic, spare grille, to the gentle roll of the roofline into the stubby trunk, it's Audi from head to toe and couldn't be anything but.
But the interior of the A3 models ventures subtly into new aesthetic territory for Audi. More of the VW roots show through in the horizontal dash, though it's differentiated well here with round vents, a trio of small climate-control knobs, a new Multi-Media Interface (MMI) controller on the console, and the LCD display that rises from the dash—a uniquely German solution to infotainment that hits a fragile note in the cockpits of Benzes and BMWs, too.
The corporate heritage gets clearer in the powertrain lineup chosen for Audi's American A3 customers. Front-wheel-drive 1.8T models, with their 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4, and 2.0T quattro (all-wheel-drive) models, with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, are both direct-injected. Both offer low, 1,600-rpm torque peaks and quick responsiveness and do a great job in making the driver believe they're larger-displacement engines.
The gas engines are both hitched up to a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox (no manual is in the plans). Otherwise, these models are pretty conventional in layout—transverse-mounted engines, front struts, and a four-link independent rear suspension. The electromechanical, speed-sensitive steering is excellent here—precise and well-weighted. These engines are offered in both the sedan and Cabriolet. The 1.8-liter models take a little over seven seconds, while 2.0T models take a little less than six seconds, although between these two engines, because of different gearing, it's more of a wash in real-world driving.
The most coveted edition is the S3. With an uprated version of the same 2.0-liter turbo four found in the lesser quattro models and standard all-wheel drive, the S3 is good for 296 hp, providing a 0-60 mph time of about 4.8 seconds—just 0.2 seconds shy in that benchmark then the CLA 45 AMG, which sports almost 60 more horsepower.
A3 sedans are just 175.5 inches long and ride on a 103.4-inch wheelbase. That's more than a half-foot longer overall than Benz's CLA, though the wheelbase is longer on the A3, by more than an inch. The Audi is also marginally wider, and that difference combined with how the A3's doors and roofline make it petite back seat more accessible than the one in the CLA is noticeable. There is, however, quite a bit of road noise in the A3's cabin, and trunk space is rather limited.
Audi aimed to maximize interior space and boost crash performance by moving the front wheels forward by about 1.5 inches compared to the last-generation model. The A3 also has pre-collision restraint prep, simulated torque vectoring on the front wheels via its anti-lock brakes, and a passel of optional safety technology, including blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control that maintains a traffic crawl with a tap of the resume button.
The 2016 Audi A3 1.8T starts at $31,825, while the 2.0T quattro model starts at $35,125. The Cabriolet models start at $37,525 for the front-drive 1.8T and $40,525 for the quattro 2.0T model. All are sold as A3 Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige models—which, technically, leaves room for a value-leader base model at some future time.
Leather upholstery, a power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a panoramic sunroof are standard across the model line; base models also include Bluetooth audio streaming, HD Radio, satellite radio compatibility, bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, and a rain/light sensor for the wipers and headlights. Sound can be rendered through a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with 705 watts of output.
For 2016, Audi has added more standard equipment to the A3 lineup, including aluminum-look interior trim, a rearview camera, and heated washer nozzles and mirrors. An S line styling package is newly optional. S3 models also get enhanced equipment and some new options.
Audi's MMI system is also standard, with a 7.0-inch, 0.5-inch-thick retractable screen displaying information from audio and phone systems—and navigation, when it's purchased. MMI now has a wide touch surface on its controller knob, for fingertip text entry—just write out letters, Palm Pilot style, and MMI translates them into destinations or other data.
Audi Connect is a key upgrade for the connected class. With a monthly subscription, A3 drivers can tap into a 4G/LTE data network that delivers Google Earth maps and other rich feeds to the car; it can even store photos of destinations for use as favorites. Audi Connect also provides wi-fi access to as many as eight devices, and it can stream music from them via the local wireless network it creates.
Front-wheel-drive A3 sedans have the 1.8-liter (1.8T) engine and get ratings of 23 mpg city, 33 highway, 27 combined. Those with quattro and the 2.0-liter earn a slightly better 24/33/27 mpg.