The Audi A3 is all-new for 2015. The 2015 Audi A3 begins its third generation in the U.S. as a four-door sedan, the first time for this body style in the U.S. Three- and five-door hatchbacks and a convertible are right behind the new sedans. A premium-level vehicle, the Audi A3 boasts a high-quality interior with leather upholstery as standard equipment.
As cars in the compact segment keep getting bigger, manufacturers are creating new models to slip into the entry-level category. Audi is no exception; while the A4 sedan was once considered Audi's compact offering, the 2015 Audi A3 sedan now takes over as the smallest four-door in the lineup.
Riding on a new platform, the 2015 Audi A3 offers a choice of two drivetrains. The standard front-wheel-drive sedan uses a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 23/33 mpg City/Highway.
Top-of-the-line A3 sedans come with Quattro all-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 good for 200 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 24/33 mpg City/Highway.
Both models use a 6-speed dual clutch transmission.
Like all Audis, the interior of the 2015 A3 is of high quality, with soft-touch materials, a clean, simple layout, and attention to detail. Even the climate control knobs have a well-built, substantial feel in-hand. The standard display screen is thin and retracts elegantly into the dash when not in use.
The A3 is packed with many standard features not always found on base models, including leather upholstery, power driver's seat, power sunroof and automatic wipers.
A new version of Audi's MMI control interface also is also standard, with 4G LTE data connectivity that effectively turns the A4 into a mobile hotspot, allowing users to pair up to eight compatible devices. Navigation is powered by Google Earth and Google Street View, with real-time weather, traffic and gas prices.
Although it's a four-door sedan, the 2015 Audi A3 is best on long trips for front-seat passengers only, though rear space is adequate for average-sized adults on short commutes. Cargo space is average for the class with all seats in place, and split-folding rear seats, including a center pass-through slot, help to make the A3 more versatile.
The base 1.8-liter engine is fine in the A3 sedan, and would be an ideal choice for commuting or driving around town.
Plenty of power and thrust is on tap driving the top-of-the-line 2.0T Quattro, with the most satisfaction coming in the higher revs. Though we sometimes found ourselves wanting more from the dual-clutch transmission through the winding roads, especially between second and third gears. Ride and handling is comfortable, though we found it a little floaty when pushing it hard around corners on rougher roads.
The closest competitor to the 2015 Audi A3 sedan is the Mercedes-Benz CLA250, which also rides on a front-wheel-drive platform (with optional AWD). The CLA-Class offers more power for the money with its standard 208-hp turbocharged inline-4, though we think the Audi is better looking and comes with more standard features.
Size-wise, the 2015 Audi A3 is about 10 inches shorter than the Audi A4 sedan, but longer than the Audi TT coupe. It's about seven inches shorter than the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.
Design follows Audi's philosophy of placing two-thirds of the vehicle's mass below the daylight opening, or the space the windows occupy. Audi designers say concentrating volume at the bottom of the vehicle gives it a planted, aggressive stance.
Up front, the A3 uses Audi's signature trapezoidal single-frame grille, a tall, gaping maw with strong horizontal lines and the four-ring emblem affixed up top. Below, the grille is flanked on either side by air intakes that create a double-winged design. Daytime running lights are LED and are a unique shape to the A3 (with full-LED headlights on upper trim levels).
The roofline is more sloping than the A4, giving it a sportier appearance, but not curvy like the TT coupe, allowing for more rear headroom. A strong character line runs from the top corner of the wraparound headlight lenses, above the door handles and into the top corner of the LED taillights. A deep-cut, angular rocker panel rises sharply from the front fender to the rear. All new wheel designs appear on the 2015 A3 sedan, with standard 17-inch alloys on the base model.
In the rear, the curved decklid sits up high, with an integrated lip spoiler. New LED taillights are slimmer than before, and exhaust pipes are nestled in to the black plastic diffuser below.
Like all Audis, the interior of the 2015 A3 is of high quality, with soft-touch materials, a clean, simple layout, and attention to detail. Bauhaus is the word Audi designers use frequently in discussing the design of this third-generation Audi A3, yet they also insist the German minimalist philosophy was infused with some warmth, softening what could have otherwise been a too-austere look.
This is immediately evident in the dash design, a long, single piece, unfettered by the usual cut lines and variety of trim materials most carmakers use. The result is clean, yet in some ways almost boring. Fortunately, the dash material is a soft-touch plastic, with a feel and texture that keep it from seeming cheap. We were bothered, however, by a few blank buttons on the instrument panel and on the center console, a constant reminder that our car wasn't equipped with all the options.
The A3 is packed with many standard features not always found on base models, including leather upholstery, automatic climate control, power driver's seat, power sunroof and automatic wipers. Knobs and switches have a quality feel, more so than those found on the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class or the BMW 2 Series. Even the climate control knobs have a well-built, substantial feel.
The color display screen is thin and retracts into the dash when not in use, a more elegant design than the screen found in the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, which is stuck on top of the dash and not movable.
A new version of Audi's MMI control interface is equipped with 4G LTE data connectivity that effectively turns the A4 into a mobile hotspot, allowing users to pair up to eight compatible devices. Navigation is powered by Google Earth and Google Street View, with real-time weather, traffic and gas prices. (An updated plug-and-play architecture allows Audi to update MMI hardware and software more frequently during the life cycle of the model, to ensure A3s rolling off the assembly line will have the latest technology.)
But despite Audi billing the A3 sedan as avant-garde in the tech department, we were dismayed to find that our 2.0T test car in the base trim did not come with a USB port, only the Audi music interface, which uses a last-generation iPod/iPhone cable. Consequently, we scrambled to find an adapter for our iPhone 5s. Upper trim levels come with one USB port, but for charging only, it does not pair the device with the MMI.
The front seat fit us nicely, and look higher-end than the CLA's one-piece design. Smaller adults will especially like that the A3's seat cushions are not too long, meaning that average-sized people will be able to bend their knees while sitting. Bolsters also hugged us nicely, though our 6-foot-3 driving companion complained the seats weren't long or wide enough.
The Audi A3 is best on long trips for one or two. On paper, the A3 offers several inches more legroom and slightly more headroom than the CLA-Class, but we found rear-seat space adequate for average-sized adults on short commutes, not long drives.
Cargo space measures 12.2 cubic feet in the 1.8-liter base model, and only 10 cubic feet in the 2.0T model. That falls short compared with 13.1 cubic feet in the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and 13.8 in the BMW 2 Series coupe. Split-folding rear seats, including a center pass-through slot, help to make the A3 more versatile.
We drove a front-wheel-drive 1.8T, but our longest drive in the Audi A3 to date has been in a 2.0T with Quattro all-wheel drive. This is the most expensive setup, with the most powerful engine and the best handling.
Plenty of power and thrust is on tap driving the top-of-the-line A3 2.0T Quattro, with the most satisfaction coming in the higher revs. Ride and handling is comfortable, though we found it a little disconnected and floaty when pushing it hard around corners on rougher roads.
The dual-clutch transmission worked well, but, as with all new cars, it's tuned to provide fuel economy over performance and will spin in the highest gear possible in normal driving. In manual mode, we found shifts to be on slow side, and we sometimes found ourselves wanting more, especially between second and third gears. Our pre-production cars were not equipped with paddle shifters, but Audi says a forthcoming sport package will offer this option, plus a lowered sport-tuned suspension that should provide more grip when cornering.
Noise, vibration and handling was fine on smooth roads, however, we did notice some wind- and road noise once pavement got bumpy, and on the freeway at speeds over 65 mph. At higher speeds, we had to raise our voices to converse with our fellow passengers.
We got only a short driving loop in the front-wheel-drive 1.8T sedan. As with the bigger engine, the 1.8-liter inline-4 does best in the mid- and higher revs, and has no problem merging on the onramp. We'd suggest this car for driving around town and the daily commute.
Four-wheel disc brakes on both models worked well, with an assured, yet not-too-bitey pedal feel.
The 2015 Audi A3 sedan is an attractive small sedan with adequate space and good road manners for those seeking a luxury car at an entry-level price. The 1.8T is a good choice for the daily commute. For better performance, opt for the 2.0-liter engine with all-wheel drive, but expect to pay more.
NewCarTestDrive.com senior correspondent Laura Burstein wrote this report after her test drive of the Audi A3 sedan near San Francisco, California.