Driving an Audi is always a pleasant experience, test driving them has always been fun and unique, specially because of that German 'signature feel' that only an Audi can offer and a feel that comes in very handy when test driving the new A3 all throughout Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay area south of San Francisco on those twisty and curving mountain roads, an area full of tall Redwoods, highs and lows and parts of the Pacific Coast Highway.
By now, it is pretty clear that most luxury automakers are competing and chasing each other to excel in popularity and sales when it comes to that entry level luxury category which most of us in the industry expect to see it grow by more than 300% in the coming 3 to 5 years. But one thing looks very positive, and that is the 2015 Audi A3 surely looks to be heading in the right direction and might end up dominating this premium small-sedan segment and enhance the brand's visibility in a big way! Yet Audi expects the growth to happen not just in sales numbers but diversity of product, so it plans to cover all bases with a whole escadrille of A3 variants, including this amazing four-door sedan we were testing for a couple of days in northern Cali, a two-door cabriolet, a Q3 crossover, and sometime during early 2015, the A3 e-tron five-door plug-in hybrid.
Audi designed this new A3 sedan specifically with the American driver/consumer in mind which is why the new A3 sedan will be offered here in the states with a choice of three powerplants - a 1.8 TFSI with 170 ponies and 200 lb-feet of torque, a 150 hp 2.0 TDI clean diesel, and a 2.0 TFSI with 220 ponies and 258 lb-feet of torque. All three engines will be offered with a standard six-speed S-Tronic transmission, which it is also called or refer to as an automated manual tranny... This type of transmission engages gears using a clutch, similar to a manual transmission, but it has two clutches controlled by a computer. It combines the convenience of an automatic with the efficiency of a manual. It's also combined with an Audi drive select system that allows the driver to adjust throttle response, shift points and the electromechanical steering effort. The Audi drive select has four settings - Auto, Dynamic, Comfort and Individual.
During our first day of testing, we were able to see how nimble and quick this A3 would be. Our 2.0 TSFI version was very fast - effortlessly, we hit 60 mph in a shade under 5.7 seconds at a top speed of about 133mph. The other version we tested later on that day was the 1.8 TFSI and we easily reached 60 mph in about 7.1 seconds getting right around the same top speeds.
We were very impressed with the MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link architecture in the rear equipped in the new A3 suspension -- every turn we took no matter how hard or fast, it felt acquiescent and it absorbed all the rougher spots on the road regardless of where we were. The steering could be set to Dynamic or Comfort modes with Audi's DriveSelect feature but for the most part we were engaged in the Dynamic it mode which felt nice and tight and very responsive, as oppose to the more relaxed and indistinctive Comfort mode. Everytime we came hard near the edge of grip in turns at a higher rate of speed, the Quattro AWD system performed flawlessly - we could almost feel how the dynamics of the Quattro would command the rear wheels to dig in and combat the understeer.
As we ventured inside the A3, the cockpit felt intuitive and sporty/elegant - the horizontal dash gave us a quick reminder of some VW pedigree but after panning through the entire instrument panel we noticed the difference with those Audi signature round vents, a trio of small climate-control knobs, a new MMI dial controller on the console allowing you to program a destination by tracing letters on the top of the dial with your finger, plus next-turn directions displayed on a color screen in the dash, but the most impressive part of this set up is the MMI Navigation Plus LCD 'very thin' display that rises from the dash in a very friendly and outstanding Bavarian way -- a great solution for the infotainment system ($2,600 on the mid-level Premium Plus and standard on the top-line Prestige), which includes 4G LTE wireless Internet connectivity that provides Google Earth satellite imagery for the navigation system, Google voice searches, the ability to find a destination by uploading a photo to the car (using GPS location info embedded in the picture), and a very responsive WiFi hot spot. Wireless service is free for the first six months, and priced at $99 for 6 months and $499 for 30 months thereafter.
One of the most common complaints about the larger Audi A4 was the legroom and space in the back seat, so when it came time to sit back in the new A3, especially my driving partner who happens to be 6'2" tall, we thought we would encounter a challenge and need a shoehorn to get him in but much to our surprise the A3 has only a hair or two less rear-seat legroom than the A4 - we were also surprised at the headroom in the A3... it was comfortable and much easier to get in and out than many other comparable car that we have tested in the last few weeks. Trunk room in the 1.8T model is similar to the A4 at 12.3 cubic feet but 2.0T models has a larger fuel tank and the bulk of the all-wheel-drive system thus bringing the trunk capacity to just 10 cubic feet.
In just a few weeks, the new A3 will be flowing into showrooms all over America with prices for the 1.8 Premium starting at $ 29,900, the Premium Plus 1.8-liter turbocharged four at $32,800 and the Prestige at $38,700 featuring an amazing 705-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers that will make you feel like you were part of the original music recording of whichever music you happen to be listening to.
The A3 was built on the belief that there are no shortcuts to greatness and we could not agree with them more... the folks at Audi took an entirely different path full of innovations, great design, adamant craftsmanship, and several Audi and industry firsts, like the available 4G LTE Wi-Fi® hotspot connection, MMI® touch, and so much more -- truly a compact luxury vehicle that will set new standards in the industry and will put a big smile on your face as you are driving home with your new A3.