Consider the Audi A3 as the VW Golf’s more luxuriant sibling; or at least that’s what it is overseas where its primary business is as a hatchback. Locally, though, it’s more than that. Based on the VW group’s venerable MQB platform, the A3 can be had in the choice of sedan, convertible, or a ‘sportback’ 5 door-hatch body style; though it’s the first of the three we’re focusing on here. The A3 rivals the BMW 2 Series and Mercedes-Benz CLA-class in an age old battle of the German big three.
Audi has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors, matching up quality materials, excellent craftsmanship, and simple, effective design in a wholesome package. The A3 is no different – truly the best in its class. All panels feel soft to the touch, and all are finished off smoothly, even in crevices where you’re unlikely to even touch. The interior of the sedan and hatch (only available in e-tron specification) provide loads of space compared to both the BMW 1/2 Series and the Mercedes-Benz A/CLA twins’ cramped cabins – seating 5 in a relatively spacious environment with comfortable, supportive leather seats. The driver’s seat gets 12-way power adjustment with lumbar support for increased convenience as standard. In Prestige trim, the pilot gets a view of Audi’s latest virtual cockpit lifted straight from the Lamborghini Huracan – the perks of part sharing between the VW group companies.
Whilst the German autobahn may have been where this was honed, the A3’s suspension seems equipped to deal with just about any US road it may encounter. Firmly sprung, it has unshakable grip – in both FWD and AWD guises. But the dampers are soft and responsive, ensuring superior bump absorption, and even better levels of comfort over rapidly undulating surfaces. The A3 may not be the sporty variant, but its handling is nothing short of exceptional. Despite the cold-feeling MQB platform not giving much feedback, front end grip is high, and body lean is minimal. Dig deeper and it responds better – as competent at 10/10ths as it is at 2/10ths. The steering weight may feel somewhat artificially weighted, but it somehow manages to communicate levels of grip better than most electronic power assisted steering setups and even some hydraulic ones.
Two engine options are available on the sedan, both 2.0-liters in displacement. The front-wheel drive derivative’s 4 cylinder turbo motor develops 186 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. A 7-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox handles the shiftwork, and 0-60 mph takes 6.6 seconds. The quattro-equipped sedan ups outputs to 220 hp and 258 lb-ft, driving all wheels via a six-speed version of the dual-clutch automatic. With the extra power and all-wheel drive, the quattro model drops the 0-60 mph time to just 5.8 seconds.
Dual zone climate control and a panoramic sunroof are standard across the range, though Premium Plus and Prestige trims allow for S-line body trimmings, key-less entry and start, heated seats, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, and full LED headlights among other things. As an NHTSA 5-star rated vehicle and IIHS Top Safety Pick + for 2017, safety levels are exceptional – including features such as pre sense collision safety system, forward collision warning, and auto-braking. A standard suite of airbags, ABS with EBD, and ESC are all standard across all models.
Audi’s A3 is the definitive compact sedan – elegant styling (particularly in S-line trim), meets practical packaging and excellent driving dynamics. The potent 2.0 TFSI motor is the one you’ll want – so a sedan pick is the go-to option, with our recommended pick being the Prestige model with full LED lights, virtual cockpit, and adaptive cruise control.