The 2015 Audi A3 is not soy milk. The 2015 Audi A3 is not the Pizza Underground. The 2015 Audi A3 is not even a fixie. But while its hipster marketing plan may not jibe with most of the actual car, there is one thing that should appeal to its ironic target demographic. It is very retro, in the best way possible.
Nowadays, Audi is known for their sleek executive land yachts for executives (did we mention executives?), like the A8L, which you can get with massaging seats and electric sunshades in the back, and the RS7, which can has the power to thrust you into hyperspace.
But the 2015 A3 is a return to Audi's roots. Starting at just $29,000, it's a truly entry-level luxury car, one that's small, light, well-equipped, and a confidence-inspiring hoot to drive.
(Full disclosure: Audi wanted me to drive the 2015 A3 so bad they flew me to California, where I was the most hipster thing outside of San Francisco city limits. After I got to the hotel, they fed me a chicken sandwich. It was so dry that my jaw crumbled into naught but dust, my eyes burned for moisture, and I sobbed, softly, on the inside. Also, they took us to some guy's private car collection, which was very nice, but had no Audis in it.)
You would be forgiven for thinking that the current A4 was Audi's "entry-level luxury" option. But you'd be wrong. The drive to add more space, more features, and more, well, more, to every successive generation has conspired to mutate it into a much larger version of its former self. It's now 700 pounds heavier and seven inches longer than it was when it came out. That's a sizable chunk.
It's not the chuckable little Hessian it used to be. Enter the 2015 A3, which usurps the bottom of the Audi lineup from the A4.
You'd also be forgiven for vaguely remembering the last A3 that was on sale here, which was only available in hatchback form. And notably, you could get it with a diesel. Yes, a diesel hatchback Audi is one of the most hipster cars you can think of. But in all its glory and wisdom, Audi realized that hipsters don't buy a lot of cars, and especially not Audis. They buy penny farthings and organic lettuces, lettuces so fine you have never even heard of them.
The last A3 thus sold pretty poorly, and when you're dealing with oodles of Germanic cash in the American market, Zis Ist Nicht Acceptable.
And that's where the new A3 comes in.
Let's be upfront, among friends. In case I haven't bashed it into your skull enough already, the A3 is made by a German company known in these parts as "Audi." That means it looks a lot like every single other Audi on sale today. Same exact face. Sitting right there. On the front.
It looks different from the rest of the lineup by virtue of its size. It fits neatly in between the A4 and the new-for-2015 Audi TT in terms of how big it is. For a four-door sedan, it's surprisingly little once you get up close to it.
But that's the main difference between the last A3, and the new model. It's a four-door sedan, instead of a hatchback. In a decidedly normcore move, America, which is normcore, refused to buy the hatchback because it's too "practical," or they "prefer a three-box design," or something. So Audi went through the trouble of designing a little sedan version, just for U.S. Americans (and China. Don't forget China). I actually prefer a hatchback, but that's why I'm weird and in auto journalism and I also don't own an Audi A3. So, shrug.
To distinguish itself from its big brother it's got neat little creases going through the sides, which doesn't sound like much, but they certainly add a certain bit of style that act to prevent it from looking like a little lump of Car.
But there are no surprises here, it's an Audi sedan. Just a bit smaller.
Included in that just-a-smidge-under $30k price is xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED taillamps, and a surprisingly large set of 19-inch wheels, all of which look pretty snazzy. If you want full LED headlights, though, you're going to have to pay a bit extra.
All of that is all very well and good, I suppose, if you like Audis and want something that looks like an Audi. But let's say you're cross-shopping the A3, and you want your car to look good, no matter what family it resembles. You want something distinct, something stylish.
And therein lies a problem. It's a bit boring, when compared to competition like the Mercedes CLA. The CLA design is fluid and fresh, with flowing lines and swoopy curves, while the Audi looks like, well, an Audi. It's just a standard, run-of-the-mill, three-box, Audi. And that's fine, if that's what you want.
It's all just a bit boring. But if subtlety is your game, then the Audi works.
I'm going to go ahead and say that straight up, the Audi A3 gives you a great place to sit for the price. Leather, a power driver's seat with four-way lumbar support, dual-zone climate control, a power moonroof, all that jazz is standard. Usually just to get some leather in a car you have to get some sort of crazy package, so the fact that you just get it in the car bone-stock is a big plus.
Everything looks and feels high-quality, which, you should totally expect from Audis by now. It's still a bit remarkable to find that they've gotten such soft leather, and soft-touch plastics in a car so cheap. Everything feels downright classy.
An infotainment system that rises on a seven-inch screen out of the dash also comes with the car, but you'll be paying extra if you want Audi's full MMI system. MMI is actually fairly easy to use once you get used to it, and instead of hunting to press buttons on a tiny screen, you can write them with your finger on the touch-sensitive click wheel.
Audi saw it fit to include Facebook and Twitter functionality, which I don't understand, because I am a crusty old man, but it's not like you'll be tweeting your junk at the Biebs while you're driving, unfortunately. It's pretty much limited to the oddly-dead sounding computer reading things that are sent to you. Seriously, it sounds like Stephen Hawking's twin sister. You'd think in 2014 that wouldn't be so prevalent, and it isn't, in most cars, but I guess Steve's a popular dude in some parts of the world.
But yeah, all this talk about the infotainment system and the center stack where it resides brings me to my main criticism, the center stack.
It's pretty much completely blank. You've got those two round googly eyes for vents up top, but the rest feels like something's missing. In the presentation Audi made us stand through, they kept bringing up "bauhaus" and "minimalism," but that isn't how this feels. It looks like there are spaces for added things, you just don't get any of them.
Even in the higher trim levels, there are barely any real buttons for anything, making you feel like you haven't actually gotten much, when logically you have. That might be a credit to Audi packaging everything into the infotainment system, but "minimalist" isn't how I'd describe it. More like "stark," or "bare."
And yes, I know these hip Millenials love them some goddamn austerity, what with them being force-fed it from every economic news they've heard since graduating college, but they don't need to be reminded of it the first time they get to experience owning "luxury."
Besides all that, the seats are comfy, although they could maybe use a touch more side bolstering, and the three-spoke steering wheel feels just fantastic to the touch. It's all lumpy and bumpy, and molded to your hands, like the rubber handle on a big mallet, fit for killing small animals with. It'll make you want to drive to things and/or places.
Oh yeah, rear seats and trunk: the seats are there, but if the front ones are all the way back, you're just Not Allowed to have legs. Ain't gonna happen.
The trunk is there, too, and is pretty much about what you'd expect. You can definitely fit a few dogs back there, but as it's a sedan, and not a hatch, I don't know why you would, you monster.
The littlest Audi comes with two choices of engines, a 170-horse 1.8T, and the 2.0T 220-horsepower engine. To be honest, I didn't get to drive the 1.8T as much as I would've liked, or on routes that would've really tested it, but it was adequate, I guess. It was fine. It was alright. It was okay. Just, okay.
Audi says it'll accelerate to 60 MPH in 7.2 seconds, and I suppose I believe them. Even though that's faster than a Mini Cooper, for some reason, whether it's the driving position or what, it doesn't feel just as quick. It wasn't entirely inspiring, but it made a good noise when a foot was mashed down. That's about it. It wasn't write-home-to-momma stuff.
The 2.0T, with an extra 50 horses, was more fun than anything in this segment has a right to be to drive. It's willing, it's eager, it'll easily have you go faster than is morally responsible, and it'll get you to 60 miles an hour in just 5.8 seconds. And 5.8 seconds is quick enough for you to really feel it when you stomp on the accelerator, the pedal stops, as if to ask, "are you sure?", and then you push a bit harder, and the engine finally gives you the full beans.
Actually, if you want the real full beans, you'll need the 300 horsepower S3, which will be hitting our shores in the next few months too.
Part of what makes both engines such a joy is the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. It really is incredibly smooth, and it changes gears pretty quickly. In sport mode, you can select gears using the stick, which just for some reason just feels awkward and not at all like shifting a proper manual, or you can let it select gears for you. When you do that it holds the gears after you've lifted, and usually knows which one you want next, giving the engine a throaty, mechanical sound, especially on the downshift. The downside to the dual-clutch is that while pre-selecting gears for you works really well when the car thinks it knows what you want to do, when you do something totally unexpected it gives the slightest hiccup in surprise. It's pretty much like this:
Third gear, yeah, third gear. He's gonna want fourth next. Yep, fourth. Great job. I knew it. I'm awesome. Yeah, now he's gonna want fifth. Totally. Here it comes. Fifth is up next. Oh, wait, crap, he wants second, crap, okay. Yeah, second. Now he's gonna want third next...
Going through tight bends is a joy as well, and even with the, shall we say, "spirited" driving that's common to auto journos, there was nary a peep from the all-season tires, which was a testament to the suspension. Seriously, the little Audi just grips and grips and grips, and despite it being an Audi, it feels small when you turn the wheel. Just like a fun car should.
And somehow, the suspension isn't still rock-hard. It just feels remarkably balanced, and when you throw something crazy its way, it doesn't get too unsettled. The four-wheel drive in the 2.0T is front-biased, but even when you are being totally completely maniacal, not that I would do that because that is CRAZY and also hilarious, you don't notice it shifting power to the rear. It's in the background, like it should be, leaving the driving to you without you having to worry about every little thing.
But when you are being totally maniacal, you also start to notice something a bit odd. That gloriously lumpy steering wheel, that feels like it was designed with the body of a bony old dog in mind, feels pretty much dead on-center, but comes alive once you've turned the wheel, and thus midway through a corner. It's another thing you'd get used to, but it's a consequence of the fact that it's electrically assisted, instead of using a hydraulic system. That saves on efficiency, which is good for European regulations, and enables you to change the steering feel on the higher trim levels, but is a weird sensation the first time you encounter it.
This car comes with 4G/LTE function embedded, as standard, but you've got to either pay nearly 100 bucks to get it for six months and 5GB of data, or nearly 500 bucks to get it for 30 months and 30 GB of data. Which isn't cheap, considering SiriusXM satellite radio also comes standard with the car, but you've got to pay a monthly fee on top for that, too.
For your money, you get plenty of connectivity options from the car's computer. You can not only see things like traffic and weather, full Google integration, including Google Earth and Google local search, and something called "Picture Navigation," which does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. You can upload a picture of wherever it is you're going, and then the car will keep that as a navigation file. Neato.
But possibly the best thing is that all that 4G goodness means you can turn your car into a mobile Wifi hotspot, which works sooooooo much better than BoltBus. And, unlike an actual ride on Boltbus, the Wifi hotspot will support up to eight devices. What are you doing using eight mobile wifi-capable devices, while you're driving a car? I have no idea.
The point is, you can.
Add in the fact that the higher-level trim options in the A3 give you gizmos like active cruise control, which let's you set the distance to follow the car in front of you, blind-spot assist, and even active lane keeping thanks to the electric steering, and you've got a fantastic set of gizmos available in a car that's considered "entry-level luxury."
I still couldn't get the voice recognition to really work. If you ever find a car in which it does work, I will give you a whole nickel.
The A3 is what a fun, small German luxury car should be. It made the right noises, it felt light on its feet while the doors still closed with a solid thunk, and the amount of toys that you get as standard, plus what you can get as an option, are just great for the segment and for what you pay.
At base price.
But here's the kicker: the 2015 Audi A3 starts with an MSRP of $29,900. And that's great. Remarkable, even, when you consider that an Audi A4 of the same size went for more, 15 years ago, when adjusted for inflation. But add on some of those packages, and a fully-loaded Audi A3 sedan will start setting you back almost $45,000, which is tear-inducing.
And if you're in the market for $45,000 worth of car, suddenly your main competition isn't just the Mercedes CLA.
But never mind all the competition. Let's just go with what Audi itself says and wants. Judging from the launch party directions they sent out, they want the people that buy A3s to also enjoy maple bacon donuts, spotify playlists, and "raw space."
But that's not who will likely end up buying this car. The average Audi A3 buyer probably won't have a Spotify playlist, and their spaces will almost certainly be fully-cooked. Because the people that Audi aspires to attract will, unfortunately, be too busy aspiring to pay off their student loans.
So they'll probably be left with a user base of semi-retirees with children who have left the coop, in which case they won't be using the back seat much, or 24-year olds who still haven't left the house, but have finally managed to graduate from State College in only six years, and Dad's real estate investment trust has been doing really well as of late, and they really, really can't be seen driving the same Mercedes C230 Kompressor they drove in high school, please Dad, I would just die if somebody saw me in that.
So, yeah. Would I drive one again? Absolutely. In a heartbeat. It's a fun little car to drive. Especially at $29,900. But that question gets harder to answer as the price goes up.