The Car Connection Audi A3 Overview
If it's the smallest car you want with the most rings in its nose, let us introduce you to the Audi A3.
Petite but polished, the A3 family of cars has much of the driving essence of Audi's big sedans and hatchbacks, just without all that useful space.
With the A3, Audi offers a small convertible, sedan, or plug-in hybrid hatchback. A turbodiesel was dropped when Audi and parent-company Volkswagen admitted it illegally polluted.
Those looking for more zip will find the S3, which is covered separately. The big news for 2018 was the inclusion of an RS 3 sedan variant that added more horsepower to the formula with predictable results: it's wildly entertaining to drive everywhere.
MORE: Read our 2018 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 offers two different powertrains—gas and plug-in hybrid—as well as the high-performance S3 and RS3 models. For 2017, all A3 sedans and cabriolets are powered by a 220 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 and they offer a choice between front- and all-wheel-drive paired exclusively to a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
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. 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.
In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)
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 turbo-4, 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.
The A3 received a few changes for 2017, namely some mild styling updates, an available full LCD instrument cluster, and standard automatic emergency braking. The car was largely the same for 2018.
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-hp 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.
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.