by Jay Traugott
Perhaps Audi's most outstanding achievement with the Audi A3 sedan has been that, despite being the cheapest Audi available in the United States, nothing about this compact executive feels anything less than premium. With an all-new model imminent, Audi has trimmed the A3 sedan range and added even more equipment for the 2020 model year. What remains is as good as ever before: a punchy turbocharged engine in two states of tune, a smartly designed interior, and utterly balanced dynamics. Downsides are few but are worth noting - the A3's dimensions mean that both cargo capacity and passenger room are limited. The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan has also leapfrogged the A3 in terms of design and interior tech. Still, the current A3 remains one of the classiest options in this segment and can bow out with its head held high.
Audi has rejigged the A3 sedan line-up by removing the entry-level and fully-loaded trims - Titanium and Prestige, respectively - while beefing up the standard equipment on the Premium and Premium Plus mid-range trims. Premium trim now gets you 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, Black optic exterior trim, Audi drive select, Audi advanced key, a color driver information system, stylish Aluminum Mistral inlays, and a vehicle immobilizer with an anti-theft alarm and motion sensor. The Premium Plus now comes as standard with the interior storage package - including rear USB charging ports - high-beam assist, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Available on both trims is a new Final Edition package as a last hurrah to this generation of the A3. It adds front leather seats in either Black or Magma Red with contrast stitching, Audi Beam ring for the door puddle lights, and a sportier steering wheel with a flat bottom, shift paddles, and a three-spoke design. The previous A3 sedan quattro is now designated as the A3 S line quattro and it gets an S line exterior kit, aluminum door sills with S rhombus, and 18-inch five-spoke wheels. Quantum Gray, a new color option, is available on every A3.
Typically clean lines have seen the A3 sedan age remarkably well - it still looks classy and modern from any angle. The Premium trim gets larger 18-inch wheels for 2020, and these do a better job of filling out the arches than the 17-inch wheels used previously. The more aggressive Black Optic exterior trim has also been added to the Premium trim. LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and a panoramic sunroof are standard across the range, while the Premium Plus also gets full LED headlights and the S line exterior appearance - the latter features unique front and rear bumpers, body-colored side sills, and S line fender badges. The A3 S line quattro additionally has aluminum door sills with S rhombus, plus unique 18-inch five-arm-trapezoid design wheels.
The A3 sedan's compact size has both its advantages (nimble dynamics and a purposeful stance) and disadvantages (tight interior space). Measuring 175.5/55.7/70.7 inches in length/height/width respectively, the A3 is similar in size to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan. The wheelbase, at 103.8 inches, is shorter than both that of the A-Class sedan and BMW 2 Series. At the time of writing, official curb weights had not yet been released; it's a safe guess that the 2020 A3 will tip the scales from 3,197 lbs and max out at around 3,500 lbs, depending on drivetrain and trim, as based on figures from the previous year model.
One new exterior color, Quantum Gray, has been added to the A3's selection of colors, now totaling ten different shades. Standard colors are Brilliant Black, Ibis White, and Quantum Gray. Optionally available metallic shades are Cosmos Blue, Florett Silver, Glacier White, Monsoon Gray, Mythos Black, Nano Gray and Tango Red.
The A3 sedan is a strong performer in whichever guise you choose. A 2.0-liter turbo-four does duty in all models and produces either 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, or 228 hp and 258 lb-ft from its two powertrain options. The lower-powered engine is exclusively allied to front-wheel-drive and will hit 60 mph in 6.6-seconds. Aided by quattro all-wheel-drive, the more powerful S line 45 model comfortably dips below six seconds for the benchmark sprint. Whichever model you go for, performance is aided by a fast-shifting, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. While a base BMW 2 Series may offer more appeal for enthusiasts thanks to its rear-wheel-drive setup, the A3 will never be left far behind thanks to the torquey, responsive engine.
The same 2.0-liter turbo-four is used in both the A3 40 TFSI and the A3 45 TFSI. The former has the lower power outputs with 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, and this variant is only available with front-wheel-drive. The 45 TFSI produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft and power is sent to all four wheels via Audi's legendary quattro system. Both models use a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and it provides fast, smooth shifts while keeping the driver engaged during enthusiastic driving.
Mid-range power is excellent on both models and provides the A3 with ample passing power on the highway. Some turbo lag is present when pulling away from a traffic light, but it's soon forgotten as the A3 surges forward once the turbo spools up. The 40 TFSI stacks up well against the Mercedes-Benz A220, while the more powerful 45 TFSI is a close match for the BMW 230i in overall performance.
Riding on a MacPherson front suspension and a four-link rear suspension, the A3 also benefits from the superb MQB platform, which also underpins the Volkswagen Golf. The overall sensation behind the wheel is one of supreme balance, the A3 offering both secure handling and a comfortable ride. Coupled with high levels of interior refinement, it feels every bit as premium as more expensive Audis.
The electrically assisted steering requires little effort when maneuvering the A3 around town and when parking. As speeds pick up and the road gets twisty, the system remains accurate and predictable, making the A3 an easy car to drive at high speeds, although feedback isn't overly generous. The BMW 2 Series remains more involving, but that's not to say that the A3 is a dullard. Quattro models take the dynamic ability up a notch with unending amounts of grip.
Generally, the ride is smooth and composed, with occupants being effectively shielded from the worst road scars. A sport suspension can be specified, but this degrades the ride quality and seems superfluous considering the balanced dynamics of the standard suspension setup. Braking ability is excellent, with good feel through the pedal and admirable composure under emergency braking.
The 2.0-liter engine in the A3 returns acceptable, but not outstanding, economy numbers. The lower-output 40 TFSI (with its front-wheel-drive layout) returns 26/35/29 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycle. This means a mix of city and highway driving will see a range of around 383 miles from the 13.2-gallon gas tank. The 45 TFSI expectedly gulps more gas as it is mated to the heavier quattro all-wheel-drive system - economy numbers are 22/30/25 mpg with a combined range of 362 miles from a slightly larger 14.5-gallon gas tank. By comparison, the Mercedes A220's EPA-estimated economy numbers are 24/35/28 mpg. An added benefit to the A3 is that it is able to run on regular gasoline.
It's difficult to recall the last time Audi produced a car interior that wasn't logically designed and finished in rich, top-quality materials. Even nearing the end of its lifecycle, the A3's cabin reeks of German solidity. It's not the flashiest design, but we'll take austere any day if it means that it's this easy to use. The only significant downside is space utilization: rear passengers don't have much space in any direction, with headroom especially restricted due to the sloping roofline. Passengers of smaller stature will have no problems, and they'll enjoy the comfy, neatly trimmed seats. There's also no shortage of the latest technology and safety features, the highlight being the available Audi virtual cockpit display. Slim roof pillars aid excellent general visibility from the driver's seat.
Technically a five-seater, comfort and access levels differ dramatically depending on whether you're seated in the front or the back of the A3 sedan. For the driver and front-seat passenger, ingress and egress are easy thanks to wide-opening front doors. Once seated, there is a useful amount of space, and the seats are comfortable albeit slightly lacking in side support. Rear-seat passengers will need to contend with undersized door openings, which make getting in and out rather awkward. While an average amount of knee room can be freed up if those in front aren't too tall, headroom is lacking, and passengers over six-feet will be uncomfortable. The lack of space isn't unusual in this segment, but it does point to possibly the A3's most significant flaw when compared to the bigger A4.
Audi has provided a well-chosen range of materials and color options, all of which complement the A3's appealing blend of sport and luxury. All models get leather seats in a choice of three shades: Black, Rock Gray, and Chestnut. Aluminum Mistral interior inserts are now standard across the range - previously, they were only fitted to the Premium Plus trim. A newly available Final Edition package can be specified for both trims and adds front leather sports seats in either Black or Magma red, along with contrast stitching.
Cargo capacity isn't the A3 sedan's forte, and we'd advise going for the front-wheel-drive model if you need more space. This variant's trunk maxes out at 12.3 cubic feet, while models equipped with quattro all-wheel-drive have a puny ten cu.ft. This isn't enough for much more than two smallish suitcases, and folding down the 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks is likely to be a common undertaking for A3 owners. Storage for smaller items is similarly limited, with door pockets being on the tiny side - and not many other options, besides a console bin and the glovebox.
More equipment for the 2020 model year ensures that even the base A3 sedan is kitted out with all the essentials. Standard items across the range are dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver's seat with four-way power lumbar adjustment, a panoramic sunroof, Audi drive select, a backup camera, and LED daytime running lights. The Premium Plus trim gets a couple of worthwhile new additions, like high-beam assist and an interior storage package with rear USB ports. This upper trim level also has full LED headlights and eight-way power adjustment - with four-way power lumbar adjustment - for the front passenger seat. Overall, the A3 offers all the expected features plus a few nice-to-have extras.
The A3's age shows a bit in its infotainment system. Where rivals have bigger, integrated touch screens, the A3's pop-out seven-inch central display looks and feels rather outdated. Thankfully, the MMI system remains intuitive to operate. Audiophiles will appreciate the standard music interface with USB port, HD radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, SiriusXM with a 90-day subscription, and an SDXC card slot with 32 GB of capacity. There's also both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The audio system sports 180 watts of punch and ten speakers, but the Premium Plus' upgraded 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen system does look tempting. A navigation system and Audi's crisp, 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display are worthwhile options to spend on.
J.D. Power's most recent predicted reliability rating for the A3 - based on the 2019 model - is just two-and-a-half stars out of five, positioning the A3 as below average. The rather disappointing rating isn't a surprise considering that the A3 range (including the cabriolet and hatchback) has seen 15 recalls over the last few years.
Between 2015 and 2018, recalls included potential fuel leakage issues, airbags deploying improperly, side marker light failures, gearbox malfunctions, faulty head restraints in the event of an accident, and ECU calibration problems. A recent 2019 recall involved a passenger airbag that may not activate in the event of a crash, affecting A3 sedans manufactured between 2015 and 2019.
Audi provides segment-standard coverage of the A3 range with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a four-year/50,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Roadside assistance is offered for four years with unlimited miles.
The industry-recognized Top Safety Pick rating is issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for only those models which have achieved exemplary levels of overall safety. The 2019 Audi A3 sedan was the recipient of this award, indicating that this is an extremely safe car. However, the award only applies to the Premium Plus when equipped with the full LED headlights. The Audi's sterling safety reputation is further bolstered by a five-star overall safety rating for the 2020 model, from the NHTSA.
The Audi A3's strong safety record is largely thanks to a wide array of active and passive safety features. All models have eight airbags, a rain and light sensor for the windshield wipers and headlights, and cruise control with coast, resume and accelerate functions. Audi's pre sense system is also standard and can detect an impending collision. When it does, the driver will be alerted via visual and audible signals, and the car will prepare for a possible crash by pre-emptive measures such as closing the sunroof and pre-charging the braking system.
Standard on the Premium Plus and available on the Premium is Audi side assist, which detects vehicles before executing a lane change, rear cross-traffic assist, and a parking system with front and rear acoustic sensors.
As a piece of engineering, the Audi A3 sedan is a cracking effort from the German marque. The potent turbocharged engine, slick dual-clutch transmission, and well-sorted dynamics make the A3 a joy to pilot on a daily basis. Refinement and build quality are also superb and enhance the feel-good factor that one expects when upgrading from a more run-of-the-mill compact sedan. It's as a family car that the A3 falls short. Even if only kids will be occupying the cramped back seat, there's no way around the limited trunk capacity. The competition is also strong, with the svelte BMW 2 Series coupe offering superior driving dynamics and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class being the much newer product. A slightly sketchy reliability reputation also raises a few question marks. Still, the A3 is a polished, satisfying junior executive that still sits close to the top of its class even at the end of its lifespan.
The range begins with the A3 Sport 40 TFSI Premium at an MSRP of $33,300. Next is the Sport 40 TFSI Premium Plus which costs $36,300. Both of these models feature front-wheel-drive. Next up is the S line 45 TFSI quattro Premium at an MSRP of $36,500, and finally, the range-topping model is the S line 45 TFSI quattro Premium Plus at $39,500. All prices exclude taxes, title, other options, dealer charges, and a $995 destination fee.
For 2020, the A3 range is available in a choice of two trim levels. The first of these is the Premium, which now comes standard with 18-inch wheels, Black optic exterior trim, Audi drive select, Audi advanced key, a color driver information system, Aluminum Mistral inlays, and an immobilizer/alarm with motion sensor. Other key features include Xenon-plus headlights with LED daytime running lights, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats with driver power adjustment, Audi pre sense front, and a backup camera. The Premium trim can be coupled with a 184 hp 2.0-liter turbo and front-wheel-drive, or a 228 hp 2.0-liter turbo and all-wheel quattro, which is named the Sport and S line respectively.
The higher-spec Premium Plus includes the Premium's features and adds a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, an interior storage package with rear USB ports, high-beam assist, power-adjustment for the front passenger seat, and Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic assist. The Premium Plus is also available as either the lower-powered 2.0-liter Sport and front-wheel-drive, or the more powerful S line 2.0-liter turbo with quattro.
Opt for the S line quattro, and you'll also get an S line exterior kit with S line badges, aluminum door sills with S rhombus and sportier 18-inch wheels.
Audi has put together a few distinct packages to add even more luxury and tech to the A3. Newly available for 2020 is the Side and Rear Cross Traffic Assist package - it's standard on the Premium Plus but optional on the Premium. The package includes three driver assistance features: Audi side assist, rear cross-traffic assist, and the Audi parking system with front and rear acoustic sensors. There's also a new Final Edition package, which adds leather sports seats with contrast stitching (in either Black or Magma Red), Audi Beam ring for the door puddle lights, and a three-spoke, multi-function steering wheel featuring a flat-bottom design and shift paddles.
A Driver Assistance Package, Premium Plus Package, and Navigation Package are also available. The latter adds not only MMI Navigation Plus but also Audi's excellent virtual cockpit.
All of the A3 models make a decent case for themselves, but the two variants in the middle of the range are both tempting for different reasons. The A3 Sport 40 TFSI in the Premium Plus trim has all the features you could need, and now also includes the 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. If performance and sporty appeal are more important to you than a long features list, then consider the S line 45 TFSI quattro in the Premium trim. Priced just $200 apart, they each offer a slightly different A3 experience. Pushed to choose one, we'd go for the S line 45 TFSI with its more powerful engine, the quattro system, and the sporty trim items that come with the S line trim.
The A-Class sedan is the most direct competitor to the A3 sedan. Both are smaller, more affordable counterparts to the bigger and more established C-Class and A4. There's a bit more variety and depth in the A3 range, with the A-Class only available with a 188 hp turbo-four in the A220 - this model matches the 40 TFSI but falls short of the 45 TSFI's performance. The Mercedes' MBUX infotainment system is now well ahead of the A3's equivalent, and in general the A-Class has the snazzier - but not necessarily better - interior design. Both cars have limited space at the back and small trunks, the Mercedes' being a very tiny 8.6 cubic feet in capacity. Dynamically, there's not much in it, with both riding comfortably and maintaining their composure through the corners. The lighter Mercedes is, however, the more economical of the two. At this stage in their respective life cycles, the A-Class is the more appealing junior executive, unless you require the extra power of the S line A3.
For a similar price as a fully-loaded A3, you can get yourself into one of the lower-specification A4 models. The heavily revised A4 is an accomplished mid-size sedan that feels like a significant step up from the A3. For one, the A4 is a much larger sedan, and this is immediately apparent in the interior; both the rear seat and the trunk capacity are far more accommodating than in the compact A3. The 2020 A4 also benefits from Audi's new infotainment system. As smart as the A3's interior is, the A4 trumps it with a fresher design and superior materials. Quite simply, the A4 is a better can than the current A3, and there are fewer compromises to be made with Audi's larger executive sedan.