The Audi A3 is a old favorite of mine. The idea that I could buy a premium compact with a fun turbocharged engine and a hatchback, made instantly lustworthy. Sadly, the pressure of the market became too much, and for 2015 the Audi A3 is now a sedan. With an all-new platform, new engines and a completely redesigned look inside and out, Audi is claiming the new A3 is better than any model previously. I took the keys to a new TDI equipped model and decided that a good flogging would be the only way to really tell if this new car is worth the cash.
From the moment I laid eyes on the new A3 I was staggered. Audi has long created some of the simplest and most boring shapes. Their cars have always been smartly designed and handsome, but never exciting. This new A3 changes my thoughts on that. The car still looks very German and restrained, but every detail of the car now features some sculpting or design touch that looks modern and interesting. The complex shapes that have been created with simple straight lines are astonishing. The new headlights and taillights are modern works of art, and the front of the A3 looks menacing and powerful. The deep sculpting down the sides coupled with the large 18-inch alloys give the car a powerful stance. It looks squat, wide and powerful; like an angry bulldog.
Inside the car is typical Audi. Materials feel high quality, the fit and finish is impeccable, and ergonomics are top notch. Lots of German cars tend to use mostly black interiors that feel dark and somber, but this particular tester feels bright, open and welcoming. The crème colored pillars and roofliner make the car feel bigger, and the chestnut brown seats and interior surfaces provide a powerful and handsome contrast against the black dash. Those seats also give the car a great visual pop from the outside with the way they standout against the Glacier White metallic paint.
Once you stop ogling at the way this machine looks and get around to driving it, you will be pleasantly surprised once again. When it comes to diesel engines, the Volkswagen group has some of the best in the business, and this new 2.0-liter unit is no exception. Horsepower is up over last year to 150 ponies, while torque holds steady at 236 pound-feet. Despite the bump in power fuel economy gets boosted, now the EPA rates the A3 at 43 mpg on the highway. Of course like all the TDI diesels I have driven, that number is laughably wrong. During simple highway cruising I crested 50 mpg easily, and even when I really started to beat on the car down my favorite back roads, you will be hard pressed to ever see anything less than 35 mpg.
The torque arrives in one big lump around 2k rpm, and the car pulls smoothly and effortlessly. No matter how fast you are going, and no mater what rpm you are at, just stab the gas pedal and the car with accelerate away with astonishing speed. Kep in mid that this speed really only applies when the car is moving from a dead stop, to 60 mph, the car is only moderately quick; 7 seconds or so. Once on the move though, things become a different game. There are very few cars that can make it from 50-80mph quicker in top gear.
If I have any complaint about the drivetrain of this car, it’s the transmission. It uses Audi’s S tronic six-speed automatic, and while it is fairly quick to respond to commands, the gear ratios feel very wrong for this car. The biggest issue is the 2-3 gap. I took the Audi up to the Tail of the Dragon to give it a proper work out, and there was no right gear. Around the 35-45 mph mark, 2nd gear is at the top of its range, but 3rd is down around 3k rpm. It gets worse by the fact that the car won’t hold a gear. In the end, I would try to drop down to second for a tight turn, and the halfway through the car was trying to shift me into third, and I would lose power. It is a very specific problem that will only show up at a very specific time, but it was annoying nonetheless.
Move past the drivetrain, and the rest of the car is a pretty solid drive. The steering wheel is a joy to hold, the suspension exhibits far less understeer than what is typical of Audi, and the brakes are phenomenal.
The biggest problem with this particular A3 is the price tag. With a base MSRP of just $32,600 for the A3 TDI, the car is practically a bargain. But our tester came saddled with a whole host of extra options. That pretty Glacier White paint cost $550 and the Sport Package with upgraded front seats and sports suspension was another $800. And then there is the upcharge to get the “Prestige” trim level. This is what gets you that awesome brown leather interior, 18-inch alloys, S Line exterior treatments, extra power equipment, LED headlamps, and the amazing Bang and Olufsen stereo. That little pile of goodies rings up at $8,450. When you add in the $895 destination fee, our cars total bill rings up to $43,295.
There is no way around it. That is a lot of money for a car of this size.
Pricing aside, the new A3 sedan really impressed me. It feels great to drive, it gets outstanding fuel economy, and the new look is drop dead gorgeous. The amazing interior is just icing on the cake. $43k may seem like a lot to swallow, but you truly do get all the luxury features of a larger car in a compact size that is great for urban areas and tiny canyon roads, plus with that 50+ mpg, you should save a bit on fuel, helping to offset the MSRP. If you want a stylish, compact and luxurious machine that is fun to drive and incredibly fuel efficient, the new 2015 Audi A3 TDI seems like a perfect fit.