After just a few months on the U.S. market, Audi's new, entry luxury 2015 A3 sedan is on track to make the German brand fashionable with a new group of customers — millennials.
The A3 is revamped as an early 2015 model with new, attractive styling inside and out, a lengthy list of standard features including leather seat trim, peppy turbocharged four-cylinder engines and technology that's all about passengers staying connected.
Sure, the A3 can respond to voice commands to dial phone numbers like a lot of other cars.
But the A3 also can read aloud tweets, Facebook posts and even the latest Audi news in a mechanized voice; it can display navigation routes on Google Earth maps and access more than 7,000 Internet radio stations worldwide. Thanks to a partnership with AT&T, the A3 even offers the first in-vehicle 4G LTE data connection.
In essence, the A3 takes a new step in meeting millennials on their own terms.
The technology is relatively easy to use. It's intuitive, in fact, to some and doesn't require long tutorials or wading through layers of display screen menus.
There are “oh wow” items, too. For $850, the A3 offers an optional 705-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system that can sweep up a driver in the full richness of music.
About the only things the new A3 can't boast about are a flexible hatchback model and fuel economy.
Audi dropped the five-door A3 hatchback for the U.S. market after learning from earlier A3s that many Americans didn't view hatchbacks as luxury cars.
Meanwhile, the new, gasoline-powered A3, while classified as a subcompact by the federal government, carries a top city/highway combined fuel economy rating of only 27 miles per gallon. This is the same city/highway federal government mileage rating as a 2014 Mazda CX-5 sport utility vehicle.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $30,795 for a 2015 A3 with front-wheel drive, 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter, turbo four cylinder and six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 A3 with Audi's quattro all-wheel drive is $33,795.
Note that quattro is only on A3s with the uplevel, 220-horsepower, 2-liter, turbo four cylinder engine. It's mated to the six-speed, dual-clutch transmission that Audi calls S tronic.
Standard equipment on the lowest-priced A3, which includes leather seat trim, 12-way, power adjustable driver's seat, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control and 10-speaker audio system, is surprising.
Leather seat trim is not always found on entry luxury cars. For example, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 sedan comes with Mercedes' MB-Tex faux leather seat material. Leather costs $1,500 extra on the entry CLA. Yet, the CLA's starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $30,825 is $30 more than that for the base A3.
Another competitor — the rear-wheel drive, 2014 BMW 320i with 180-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and automatic transmission — also does not include leather seat trim. Yet the 320i's starting retail price is $33,700, or $2,905 more than that for the A3.
The A3 test car appealed on many fronts.
From the side, this sedan looks a lot like a BMW. The hood is long, and the rear deck is short. Wheels on the tester, which were optional 18-inchers, filled up the wheel wells to give a stout, purposeful look. But the front had the iconic Audi face, with light-emitting diode lights providing a ritzy accent.
Passengers have to drop down to get onto the A3 seats, and some views out front are blocked by taller vehicles. But riders don't feel like they are scraping the pavement as they travel, the way they can feel in some low-slung sports cars.
The test A3 had front sport seats that looked and felt good, and there was ample seat height travel for a range of drivers to get comfortable without heads touching the ceiling.
Seat track travel was ample, too, with both a 6-foot-plus person and a petite driver able to find good legroom, though a carload of 6-footers could feel cramped in the back seat. Also, the middle person in back has to contend with a raised section of floor.
Trunk space of 12.3 cubic feet with the 1.8-liter turbo is competitive. The smaller, 10.3 cubic feet of cargo space in A3s with the 2-liter turbo is not. The larger-engine A3 gets a bigger fuel tank that reduces trunk space.
The test A3 quattro model had the more powerful, 2-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged and fuel injected four cylinder. It generates a strong 258 foot-pounds of torque starting at 1,600 rpm and continuing to 4,400 rpm — enough to push passengers' heads back into the seats.
There was noticeable turbo lag, though, particularly when the driver wanted to accelerate in a hurry but had set the car's “driver select” mode to “comfort.”
There also are “dynamic,” “individual” and “auto” modes that alter the car's throttle response, shift points and steering effort to a driver's liking.
No matter the mode, the tester handled nimbly and confidently, keeping its line on long sweeping curves as if it were glued to the pavement. Steering response was quick but not twitchy or nervous, and the driver always felt connected to the road. The ride was firm, but not punishing.
But the tester averaged between 20.1 mpg and 23.2 mpg in city/highway travel. This compares with the federal government's ratings of 24 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. Audi recommends pricey premium gasoline, so filling the tester's tank cost more than $58.
More A3s are coming, including a diesel A3 and a cabriolet.