The A3 is Audi’s entry-level car here in North America, but as such, the car unfortunately does not get much promotion or media attention. Which is understandable-Audi is going to spend its advertising budget pushing the A4 and Q5, which compete in white hot markets. The A3, on the other hand is unique in the entry-level luxury car market. Americans continue to be aloof when it comes to hatchbacks, especially when a premium price tag is part of the deal. But does the entry-level Audi retain all the goodness its larger and pricier siblings offer, or is the A3 a ploy just to get people to buy into a premium brand with a less than premium car? Read on…
For anyone who has honestly thought that hatchbacks look cheaper compared to a traditional four door sedan, I’m showing them the A3. The car oozes class, and is every inch an Audi, regardless of being a hatchback or the entry-level car. Understated, serious, and sporty. Our test car was finished in the optional Deep Sea Blue pearl effect which was positively gorgeous, not to mention one of the highest quality paint jobs I’ve seen. It really makes the car, and the sporty but elegant 17″ wheels was icing on the cake. Further proof that the A3 was built to a standard, not a price, come when you shut the door, which gives a solid “whump”. Solid.
Audi has a well-earned reputation for being the gold standard when it comes to interior design and quality, and the A3 is no exception. Fit and finish and quality of materials are exceptional. Gauges are large and easy to read. The beefy steering wheel and comfortable, supportive seats are subtle hints that the A3 is fun to drive. I’ve done seat time in an A3 before in a car with a black interior, which was austere to the point of being drab. Our test car’s Luxor Beige interior went a long way to cheer things up, and is worth it, even if it may be harder to keep clean. Navigation and audio were controlled by Audi’s MMI (multi-media interface), a knob mounted just to the right of the screen. You get used to it, but I desperately wished it was just a touch screen so I could quit the knob. Again, sitting in the driver’s seat there is no mistaking you are enjoying an Audi interior.
The A3 is available with two engines: a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder rated at 200hp, or a 2.0L TDI diesel rated at 140hp (in August 2011, nearly 70% of A3 buyers chose the diesel). Both engines can be teamed to either a six-speed manual or a 6-speed S Tronic dual clutch auto. Quattro all-wheel drive is available with the gas engine only, and S Tronic is the only transmission choice. Our test car was a front-wheel drive gasser with the S Tronic. We’ve sampled this engine in several VW’s, and have grown quite fond of it. Today 200hp does not sound like much, but the A3 is quick from a standstill and you’re never wanting for power when you need to make a quick pass. The S Tronic shifted quickly, and is obviously far superior than any torque converter automatic, and did nothing to take away from the A3’s inherit driving pleasure. And the A3 is fun. The A3 is a gleaming example of why people respect German engineering, and how Audi continues to walk the line in providing drivers a sporty yet comfortable ride.
In addition to choosing between gas or diesel, manual or automated manual, front or all-wheel drive, the A3 is offered in Premium and Premium Plus trim levels. The base A3 starts at $27,270USD. Our test car, with the optional paint, S Tronic transmission, Navigation, panoramic sunroof and Premium Plus (includes xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth, multifunction steering wheel, power drivers seat, aluminum trim, and 17″ wheels) for an as-delivered price of $35,250. If you go full out with options, you can top out an A3 for over $40,000, which seems ridiculous, but such is the case with most premium German cars when you start checking every option box in sight.
The Audi A3 may be the entry-level car to the brand, but it isn’t the ‘everyman’ Audi-leave that for the A4. In spite of its ‘entry’ status in the Audi family, the company has successfully instilled all the ingredients that make people admire, and aspire to own an Audi. I applaud Audi for resisting the temptation to go cheap with this car when they so easily could have. In doing so the A3 is a no compromise Audi.