First Drive: 2015 Audi A3 2.0 QuattroPosted on March 17th, 2014
Premium compact sedan features advanced connectivity
By Nina Russin
There’s a bit of a debate going on among automakers as to which is more important: technology under the hood or advanced connectivity inside the car. As the number of new driver’s license applications among teens continues to decrease, one might wonder if the days of the driving enthusiast are drawing to a close.
Audi, an automaker that has always catered to car lovers, doesn’t believe this is the case. But the company also understands how much new connectivity features are driving the market. So in designing the new A3 compact sedan, the OEM made both priorities.
The sedan, which starts at $29,900 for the turbocharged 1.8-liter model and $32,900 for the two-liter quattro, is available with 4G LTE, to optimize the owner’s experience with Audi Connect: the technology that enables occupants to access apps such as Facebook and Twitter, and transforms the vehicle into a mobile hotspot. There is a text-to-speech function for email and text messaging.
Audi has had an ongoing relationship with Google for the past decade, and Google Earth maps remain an integral part of the available navigation system.
Other technology partners include Qualcomm (modems), eSolutions (infotainment), MyScript (touchpad interface) and Bang & Olufsen (audio).
Because the life cycle of this technology is shorter than the typical ownership period for a car, Audi has made it easy to update, with a removable board for replacing chipsets.
New A3 family to include sportback, TDI, cabriolet and high-performance variants
The sedans that launch this spring are the first of an extended compact premium car family that will eventually include turbo-diesel, cabriolet and plug-in electric hybrid sportback models. Both of the engines available at launch are direct injection and turbocharged, making peak torque available at speeds as low as 1600 rpm. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard.
Through extensive use of ultra high strength steel, engineers shaved 120 pounds of curb weight off the car as compared to the outgoing model. A MacPherson front and four link rear suspension is standard on all models, as is electromechanical steering.
Standard convenience features include dual-zone climate control, a retractable center stack screen, bi-xenon headlamps and LED tail lamps.
Chief designer Dany Garand gave the new sedan a coupe-like profile. The side view reflects the fastback influence of the TT as well as the larger A4 sedan. Cars are metaphorically an expression of fast animals. In the case of the A3, the rear fenders are reminiscent of a horse’s rear haunches when the animal is galloping.
A sharp beltline draws the viewer’s eye from the front of the car to the decklid. Garand included quite a few character lines along the sides of the sedan to create a dramatic interplay of light and shadow. While this may sound superfluous to readers who are not design oriented, it prevents the sides of the car from having a slab-like appearance.
The front of the sedan features Audi’s well-known trapezoidal grille, while bright LED tail lamps punctuate the back and emphasize a relatively wide track.
Despite its sloping roofline, the sedan is fairly spacious inside, with more head and legroom for second-row passengers than the previous model. Second-row seats also fold flat in order to extend the cargo floor.
Of all the German car companies, Audi has the closest allegiance to the historically significant Bauhaus school of design. Founded by the architect, Walter Gropius, the school became known for a minimalist approach to design that came to embrace everything from painting to textiles and home furniture.
Garand’s approach to the A3 interior is similarly Spartan, with an uncluttered instrument panel, where push buttons are replaced by a single mouse-type control and touchpad. The driver can use the touchpad on the center console to draw out letters rather than having to locate them by scrolling through the alphabet. It simplifies the search function on the navigation system and reduces driver distraction.
Test drive in Northern California
Recently, I had the opportunity to test drive the A3 equipped with the two-liter engine and quattro all-wheel drive on a combination of surface streets, highways and canyon roads south of San Francisco. Options on the test car included the Multi Media Interface system with navigation, heated seats, washer nozzles and side mirrors, aluminum interior trim and chrome window trim. Final MSRP including the $895 destination charge was $36,295.
At the end of the day, it was obvious that Audi had delivered on its promises of driving enjoyment, style and connectivity. The two-liter engine delivers up to 220 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, with excellent acceleration off the line and in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range for merging into high-speed traffic.
Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 5.8 seconds according to the manufacturer.
The dual clutch automatic transmission has the crisp feel of a manual gearbox without the driver having to push a clutch pedal. The drive can manually choose gears using the shift lever for more aggressive performance.
Curb weight for the test car is about 3200 pounds which is quite light for a sedan equipped with all-wheel drive. Front-to-rear weight balance is excellent, enabling the driver to slither through mountain switchbacks with ease.
I applaud the design team for keeping A and B pillars narrow, maximizing visibility to the front and sides of the car. A rearview camera is not standard: something I take issue with on a car in this price range. I would recommend buyers purchase the option. It not only eliminates blind spots in the back corners but also makes it easier to monitor cross traffic in parking lots.
On-center steering response is quite good for a car with electric power steering. Enhancements to torsional rigidity through the use of high strength steel may have something to do with this. At any rate, it’s a pleasure to feel truly connected to the wheels.
The independent suspension is crisp but not overly so. Granted, none of the roads we travelled on were particularly uneven, nor did we have to content with potholes. But I think drivers in northern cities should be able to navigate rougher roads without being uncomfortable.
Braking is firm and linear without being dicey.
Engineers did an excellent job of isolating passengers from road, wind and engine noise. Passengers in both rows of seating should have no problems conversing on the highway.
The optional navigation system is easy to follow. Voice prompts and written cues on a digital display inside the gauge cluster augment the map graphics. A really cool feature on this particular system is a photo locator. The driver can download a photo from a smartphone and Google Earth will locate it. The navigation system then gives the driver directions.
I continue to be a fan of the MMI system for its simplicity. While it might take a couple of clicks to set a function, I think it’s less distracting than having to search through a myriad of push buttons to locate the correct one.
The Audi A3 comes with six standard and two optional airbags, antilock brakes, all-wheel drive, traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitoring, xenon headlamps, LED tail lamps and a spare tire.
All models come with complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first 12 months or 5,000 miles: whichever comes first.
Like: A stylish yet versatile compact sport sedan with seating for up to five passengers and the ability to carry long cargo, thanks to its fold-flat rear seats. Exceptional infotainment offerings.
Dislike: Rearview camera is not standard equipment
Model: A3 2.0T quattro
Base price: $32,900
As tested: $36,295
Horsepower: 220 Ho @ 4500 rpm
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 24/33 mpg city/highway2015, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, Audi, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety
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