2015 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Premium first drive review: Old size, new number

2015 Audi A3 2.0TFSI Premium

2015 Audi A3 2.0TFSI Premium

The 2015 Audi A3 asks the question, why do auto manufacturers increase the size of ever succeeding model generations? Probably—to quote Hillary, what difference does it make now, because as Sir Edmund Hillary said, because it’s there. At least it would be if Everest were lower, longer and wider.

That’s what it is with the 2015 Audi A3. As we pointed out at the reveal before the New York International Auto Show last spring, the Audi A4 sedan had grown in size and cost, leaving a hole in the Audi line in the American market. Just down-market from the Audi A4 was the four-doors-and-a-hatch Audi A3 that made European buyers happy—and we liked it in gas and diesel version—but left hatch-averse Americans polar vortex-cold. Overall, Yanks didn’t want an A3 with a hatch.

2015 Audi A3 interior

The 2015 Audi A3 interior is identifiable by the pop-up multi-information display screen. (click to enlarge)

However, Audi’s North American management saw a place under the current Audi A4 to slide a new A3 sedan, an A3 configuration which hadn’t existed anywhere until then, and build it expressly for the U.S. market. Indeed, the new A3 sedan measured almost exactly the same in all major dimensions as the A4 of ten years ago, but 11 inches shorter than the current Audi A4. My, how you had grown while we weren’t looking.

Much has changed, of course, though as Audi project designer Dany Garand pointed out, the 2015 Audi A3 is not a coupe but a true sedan, with “three-box” design—with hood, cabin and trunk elements—rather than the popular four-door coupe styling, no doubt to distinguish it from the hatchback model that preceded it.

2015 Audi A3 multi-information display

The 2015 Audi A3 multi-information display screen rises from the center dash top. (click to enlarge)

Not that the sedan is staid. At the recent media introduction of the 2015 Audi A3, Garrand noted that the new sedan had the Bauhaus design school-inspired styling of Audis in general, but that Bauhaus needn’t be cold. Indeed, sex appeal was possible. The A3 follows the Audi styling dictate that the proportions of a car must be one-third cabin over two-thirds body. But the A3, however, places much of the visual weight at the back vehicle, in its haunches, according to Garand, intended to provide a subliminal impression of a cat ready to spring.

The tension of the design is heightened by a crease along the lower part of the door, designed to catch light, and with its rake, gives the car a subtle wedge impression and keeps the car from being static design. Even the angle of the cutline for the rear edge of the back door leans forward in a way to convey a sense of motion.

The new platform allows the front wheels to be moved forward by an inch and a half, yielding better weight distribution and a more balanced appearance, but new Audi A3 is more than just a pretty face. The chassis has made much greater use of aluminum and ultra-high strength steel than the old A4. The front suspension is MacPherson strut with a four-link setup at the rear, with the struts mounted in an aluminum subframe while the rear has a steel crossmember with the shocks and springs mounted separately.

2015 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI engine

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI engine complements the car’s compact chassis. (click to enlarge)

The 2015 Audi A3 will be available at release with a base 1.8-liter direct-injection turbo four and Audi’s 2.0-liter with turbocharging and direct injection.  The former is rated at 170 horsepower and the bigger engine makes 220 horses peak though with a wide spread, and an even wider rpm range for the 258 lb-ft max torque starting below 2000 rpm, the same engine we recently drove with our test of the 2014 Audi A5.

We had the opportunity to drive the A3 with both engines and the difference is more than 50 horsepower would suggest. Although the 1.8-liter is rated at the same output as the same-sized engine of fifteen years ago, it has better fuel economy and emissions, as well as a better feel from a broader torque band than the earlier engine.

But the 2.0-liter has real punch in the new A3 and a much throatier sound than the 1.8. It’s worth the added price for anyone with driving performance. No doubt there will eventually be an S and RS version, but at significantly higher prices, and a TDI diesel as well. The 2.0-liter won’t disappoint, however, for anyone who isn’t auditioning for the next Need for Speed movie.

2015 Audi A3 daytime running light

The 2015 Audi A3 shows yet another configuration for daytime running lights. (click to enlarge)

We were surprised, however, by the road noise, though no doubt that was a function largely of the coarse roads we were driving on. The interior, though anything but crude, was rather spare and in a couple of places cheap, particularly the “shin pad” along the center console. Not that your shin would notice, but it’s plastic hard to the touch, and odd place to save a few euros.

Speaking of which, the Audi A3 sedan is assembled in Hungary. It’s a small world after all…though without the singing dolls.

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