2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro First Test
Audi's Turn in the Entry-Level-Luxe Hot Seat
Twenty-seven days after the dust settled on our BMW 320i vs. Buick Regal T versus Mercedes-Benz CLA250 versus Volkswagen CC 2.0T R-Line comparison (from here on referred to as the "entry-luxe rodeo"), an Audi A3 2.0T turned up on our doorstep. Chiseled into a sedan (a first for the model) specifically to invade the all-important U.S. and Chinese markets, it's positioned as the CLA250's most direct opponent. Meaning, it could have been posse member number five. Such is life.
By now, you know the drill for luxury automakers. As the chase for sales and competitive conquests will never end, adversaries BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have signaled for all hands on deck in the entry-luxe category. It's relatively straightforward. Start with a small car (sedans work great, or a hatchback/crossover thing in the case of BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer), add a headline-grabbing base price (don't forget to charge extra for features the people want), spring for a big marketing campaign, pop champagne, and rejoice while the money rolls in. To date, the formerly hatch-only A3 has never accounted for more than 9 percent of Audi's U.S. model mix in a single year -- its sales peak is 8040 units in 2006. Audi has more cars and SUVs taking pieces of the pie now than in '06, but it's safe to say the new A3 is going to enhance the brand's visibility in a big way.
Opening reaction: What a cutesy little car! The A3 is about 91 percent the size of an A4 by the exterior dimensions (91.4 for the tenths-place sticklers). Its stubby outline and truncated rear end give it an endearing "Oh, how precious" vibe, like you're looking at a toy car. Checking the specs from the entry-luxe rodeo, the A3 is shortest in length (by far) and height (by 0.1 inch under the CC), and it's the same width as the narrowest in the rodeo, the CLA250.
The core of this exercise is to postulate how the A3 would have fared in the comparison. Our 2.0T Premium Plus evaluation vehicle would have been the most expensive by $3300 over the Mercedes, with $2600 owed to the technophile's delight that is MMI navigation, plus a handwriting recognition touchpad (it's good at showing off the driver's poor penmanship) and Audi connect. You can subtract $3000 from the $39,845 as-tested total if you prefer the 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbo-four/FWD combo, but then it'd be impossible to achieve the gutsy performance afforded by Quattro, 225/40R18 Continental ContiSportContact 5 tires(a $0 upgrade), and a 2.0-liter I-4 hinting it puts out more than 220 hp (98.6-mph at the quarter-mile trap).
It bewilderingly weighs just 44 pounds less than the biggest and portliest-in-rodeo Regal, but will fly on country back roads with a crisp throttle pedal that could pass muster for a naturally aspirated engine (under load), a happy-to-be-manually shifted transmission, and enthusiastic transient response. It urges you to go to power early at a corner's exit, but toe in too deep and you're in for heavy front-end push. Maintain discipline with the gas and only the 320i has a shot at keeping up. The Haldex-based AWD system is a pleasant companion on dry asphalt, though Torsen disciples will likely be unmoved on principle.
As gleaned from the rigors of daily driving, there was a brief initial right-foot calibration to mitigate the twin-clutch auto's lurching habit on first-gear takeoff. (There's that eagerness.) We eventually found smoothness, and in the grand scheme of all dual-clutch transmissions ever, this most recent iteration of S tronic is pretty good. Presumably in an effort to tie down the short wheelbase, the ride is firm, as in the CLA250, but without the Merc's alarming suspension abruptness on sharp impacts thanks to either more front-end travel, smarter shock control, or both. The CLA250 has a 2.5-inch longer wheelbase than the A3, yet both produce a similar, small-car sensation from behind the steering wheel. Rodeo participants 320i, CC, and Regal are dimensionally bigger, consequently (and luxuriously) driving like they are.
The A3's main ride-quality concern is excessive tire noise, making conversing with back-seat passengers a challenge. Above 65 mph, we resorted to yelling, leading one staffer to assert that another 10 pounds of Dynamat would do wonders. Or non-summer tires could help. The seats are a smidge hard on the bum, too.
The second row is a squeeze, but there's no banging heads on the roof getting in. Manufacturer-supplied specifications tag the Audi and 320i both at 35.1 inches of rear leg space, though, as is standard in our line of work, the numeric interior dimensions don't always align with human perception. Mercedes claims 27.1 inches for the second row, but it feels better prepared for the leggier members of society than the A3, and less so compared to the BMW despite sharing the same spec. Cabin fit and finish is good, yet you still catch whiffs of GLI/GTI, especially in the touch and feel of the dashboard. If only the GLI/GTI came with as nice a retractable, 7-inch center display screen.
Real MPG tested out to 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined, besting only the Regal. (But look at the performance! AWD!) Admittedly, the more interesting A3 storyline will be learning how the less expensive and FWD 1.8T shakes out. In the meantime, we'll note the EPA fuel economy ratings of the 1.8T and 2.0T are nearly identical: 23/33/27 versus 24/33/27 mpg.
Our preliminary judgment call: The A3 would have needed a heckuva showing during the entry-luxe rodeo to depose the BMW, but it certainly would not have finished last.
Get the full test numbers on page two of this review.
Get the full test numbers on page two of this review.
|2015 Audi A3 2.0T|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, iron block/aluminum head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||120.1 cu in/1984 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||220 hp @ 4500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||258 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||16.5 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO||4.77:1 (1-4); 3.44:1 (5-6,R)/2.20:1|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||12.3-in vented disc; 10.7-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||225/40R18 92Y Continental ContiSportContact 5|
|TRACK, F/R||61.2/60.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.4 x 70.0 x 55.7 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||36.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3630 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||54/46%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||36.5/36.1 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.2/35.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.8/53.0 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||10.0 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.9|
|QUARTER MILE||14.0 sec @ 98.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.6 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1900 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$39,845|
|AIRBAGS||Front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||24/33/27 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB||140/102/123 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMBINED||0.71 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||23/31/26 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|