Audi’ A3 Mixes Luxury Touches With Cost Compromises – Bloomberg

Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014

Volkswagen AG (VOW) is supposed to be the
German car company for the masses, but even its premium brother,
Audi, is looking to gain market share by going slightly down
market.

The latest A3 ostensibly starts at $29,900, a magic price
point when it comes to a marquee with a luxury name like Audi.

The A3 nameplate has been around for years, but this
generation arrives in the U.S. as a small sedan rather than its
historical form as a scrunched five-door wagon.

I’d always felt the wagon version was underappreciated in
America and was crestfallen to see that the A3 has taken a more
common turn as a compact four-door. I spent a week with a 2015
model, gauging how luxurious an Audi can be at a lower price.
Does a less expensive Audi mean a cheap Audi?

Of course, you can’t actually get the A3 for less than
$30,000, considering the destination charge of almost $900. The
base model has a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
with 170 horsepower and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

That model offers front-wheel drive rather than Ingolstadt,
Germany-based Audi’s familiar Quattro all-wheel-drive
technology. It doesn’t have a standard navigation system.
Standard comforts do include leather seats, a panoramic sunroof
and xenon headlights.

My test car had the more robust 2.0-liter turbo engine,
with 220 horsepower. It’s an all-wheel-drive model, a crucial
point for many cold-weather buyers. The 2.0 model starts at
$32,900, and my test car came in just under $39,000 with
options.

Spiraling Prices

Therein lies one of the problems with luxury brands,
whether you’re buying a $33,000 vehicle or one for $133,000:
Options have a tendency to spiral the price upward in sudden
sweeping gusts. In this case, the $2,550 premium-plus package
got me better seats, 18-inch tires, heated mirrors and extra
aluminum accents. (I could have done without and bought a new
mountain bike instead.) Audi’s navigation system is fabulous,
but it costs $2,600.

Go gangbusters and you could option an A3 to more than
$44,000. By comparison, the upmarket A6 sedan starts at $43,100.
It’s worth mentioning that Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW have their own lower-price
entrants. Mercedes’s new front-wheel sedan is the $29,900 CLA,
which I reviewed in January, and BMW now sells a $32,750 version
of its famed 3 Series.

While the A3’s form has changed, it’s still not a big car.
At 14.6 feet (4.5 meters) long, the A3 is slightly shorter than
a 2014 Honda Civic sedan. The wheelbase is 103.8 inches.

Dapper Looks

Fortunately, the A3 is a dapper looking thing. A deep
crease runs the length of the body between the windows and door
handles, making the car look longer. The Audi grille takes up
most of the real estate on the front and is offset with
aggressive side air intakes. Small does not mean subtle.

The turbo engine isn’t so restrained either. This four-cylinder is found in a number of Audis, including the A5 coupe,
Q5 SUV and Allroad wagon. It’s particularly well suited here,
because the A3 weighs less than the others. Audi gives a curb
weight for the 2.0 of 3,362 pounds (1,525 kilograms).

It’s a decently efficient engine: I saw 31 miles per gallon
in a mix of highway and stop-and-go driving. The official EPA
numbers
are 24 mpg city and 33 highway, and premium fuel is
recommended.

The problem with the 2.0-liter’s turbo system is that it
can seem high-strung. Lay your foot too heavily on the gas pedal
while motoring about town and the turbo turns bellicose,
announcing itself with sharp forward surges. It takes a ballet
dancer’s footfall to keep the A3 smooth in city driving.

Jittery Feel

The car, too, can feel jittery in that way of short-wheelbase vehicles. The suspension handles pits in the road just
fine, but a bridge joint sets the car atremble. It’s more of a
hummingbird than a hawk. It eagerly changes directions and zings
down narrow roads, but keeping it soaring smoothly on the
freeway takes discipline.

In regular driving, more torque seems to go the front
wheels than those aft, and the A3 is no sports car. But the AWD
was welcome on a very rainy day, and I powered through sheets of
standing water on the freeway, keeping a steady, moderate
throttle.

Much of a car owner’s experience is informed by the
interior, especially when it comes to entry-level luxury. You
may note the exterior when you get in and out, but it’s the
inside where you actually spend the long minutes or hours that
make up a daily commute.

Design Sensibility

Is there something pleasant to look at when you’re idling
at stoplights? How do the knobs and steering wheel feel under
your hand? In the end, do you feel the price of the car is
justified by that interior?

The A3’s cockpit has a few very real disappointments, but
they are mostly overcome by the keen design sensibility that
Audi uses as its calling card.

The elements most clearly missing are any soft coverings on
the dash or windowsills. Those areas are soft-touch plastic, a
clear example of cost savings. The dash is clean and
uncluttered, however, with four classily wrought air vents.

The second problem is the cluttered center console, the
cramped space dominated by the transmission shift selector and
infotainment controls. My passenger inadvertently brushed the
volume knob and channel selector several times, changing radio
stations
or suddenly blaring music. There’s no place to put your
phone and the cup holders are rammed against the dash.

Grown-Up Audi

Nonetheless, the A3’s interior is grown-up Audi, with a
fabulous steering wheel and perfect fit and finish. A thin,
computer notepad-sized navigation screen elegantly rises from
the dash when the car is turned on. In all, it falls short of
total luxury, but it’s far better than, say, a dash overtaken by
a digital touch screen, like Cadillac’s ham-fisted CUE system.

We’ll be seeing more iterations of the A3, as the company
is introducing the sportier S3 model, a diesel version and a
convertible.

As for the hatchback version which I so dearly miss? It’s
reappearing in 2015 as a plug-in hybrid. How back to the future
is that?

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T at a Glance

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 220 horsepower and 258
pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: six-speed double-clutch automated manual.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 24 city, 33 highway.

Price as tested: $38,945.

Best feature: Look how easy this is to park!

Worst feature: Complaints from the rear seat when you make
your oversized buddies cram back there.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The
opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this review:
Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter
@JasonHarperSpin

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
John Lear at
jlear@bloomberg.net
Stephen West

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