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New Audi A3 base model not quite the real deal but you can make it one

New Audi A3 - exterior design is new but has the DNA
New Audi A3 - exterior design is new but has the DNA
austinautoboomer by permission

The newly arrived 2015 Audi A3 sedan is the latest to enter the premium subcompact segment that many manufacturers are looking at and offering an entry level vehicle with a competitive price point and featuring enough of their brand’s luxury and performance DNA to hook that customer to the brand, and then keep them.

New fresh design reflects Audi DNA
austinautoboomer by permission

The new Audi A3 Sedan currently offers two power train option models – the 1.8L TFSI turbocharged I4 FWD with a six-speed S tronic automatic transmission (MSRP $29,900) or the 2.0L TFSI turbocharged quattro with the same transmission (MSRP $32,900). We note that a diesel power plant will be available later.

Audi recently loaned us a base 2015 Audi A3 FWD with 1.8L turbo sedan for us to experience during a week long ride and drive. At first look, the fresh exterior styling of the A3 reflects the Audi DNA for sure. Audi athletic design elements continue on the inside as well. And, in the basic trim level, the 1.8L meets the generally accepted competitive price point for a premium subcompact of under $30,000.

Following a week of driving around town, in the hills and on the highway, we found the base model – even with some options and packages extras in our test A3 that took the price to just under $35,000 - just a bit short of what we (as former Audi sedan owners) expect an Audi to be.

The A3 base model comes with the 1.8L TFSI power train that delivers 170 horsepower with 200 lb.-ft of torque through a front wheel drive (FWD) that rides on 17-inch five-spoke star design wheels and all-season tires. Mechanically, the A3 includes the basics of Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with an electronic differential lock, ABS Anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, electro mechanical speed sensitive steering, MacPherson strut design front end joined to an aluminum frame, four-link rear suspension with steel cross member and shocks and springs mounted separately, bi-xenon headlights, LED tail lights and Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPMS).

On the inside, it includes the Audi standard premium leather seating surfaces, three-spoke multi-functional steering wheel, new design MMI control wheel with toggle switches for main functions, power panoramic glass sunroof, Bluetooth with audio streaming, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, HD Radio, power driver seat and split folding rear seatback. The interior design is clean and efficient with all available functionality easily within reach on what Audi refers to as a ‘wrap-around dash’. We particularly noted the good looking new circular air vents with their twist dial adjusters. The A3 has the usual air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks and so on.

The A3 we tested came in the optional Monsoon Gray Metallic ($550) with a black interior. The Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package for $1,900 included a CD/DVD Player, Audi MMI touch controller, Audi MMI Navigation with voice control and 7-inch pop up Color Driver Information display. A Cold Weather Package for $500 added heated front seats and exterior mirrors along with heated windshield washer nozzles. The Aluminum Style Package for $450 included aluminum interior inlays and accents plus high-gloss aluminum window surrounds and an Audi Music interface with iPod cable was included for $350.

Our test 2015 Audi A3 FWD with 1.8L power train priced delivered, at $34,350. It was a nice drive, but not an exciting drive – and we always expect an Audi look refined and have still have plenty of driving excitement to give. Overall, there was plenty of room inside both front and rear seating and the seating was comfortable and supportive. We did note that some interior surfaces were harder to the touch than we would have liked. Handling on the road was not as smooth as we expected and the cabin had more noise exterior and road noise than we think it should have as an Audi. The 1.8L 170 horsepower engine is adequate for normal local and comfortable highway driving, but does not have much left over for Audi-level performance driving in our view.

For many buyers, this base level A3 would do nicely putting an entry level Audi in their driveway for about $35,000. However, we have a bit higher performance expectation of an entry level Audi – and making just a few additional changes to the A3 sedan we tested, it could be more like we expect a true Audi to be.

Taking the base model, we would start by powering it with the 2.0L TFSI engine with quattro to get the additional horsepower and torque (220 hp / 258 lb.-ft.) plus the sure footed handling of the quattro drive. There is no fuel efficiency impact as both power plants are rated at 23/33 mpg City/Highway and an expected average of 27 mpg.

Including the packages and options that had been included on our test A3, we would add the optional S Sports Suspension, eight-way power front seating, Driver Assist Package that includes Audi Active Lane Assist, Side Assist and Pre-sense braking, Parking System with front and rear sensors and rear camera and – maybe – the Audi Drive Select that offers four driver selected performance settings.

We would not go for the optional 18-inch wheels as we found the 17-inch wheels provided the A3 more than acceptable road handling performance.

Taking a quick run at the Audi ‘build tool’ on the consumer web site to make these changes, we think a 2015 A3 base model configured to not only look like an Audi, but perform like one – would probably price right around $40,000.

So, if you want to get into an Audi, the A3 is a good place to start – and it can be configured with packages and options to make it as much entry level Audi as you want. The $30,000 price point version may be okay for many buyers – but we think a few bucks more can make the A3 a pretty good bet to give you the drive experience that will make you the repeat buyer and continuing customer that Audi would like to have.