Audi A3 road test: Small, frugal and luxurious

2015 Audi A3 sedan

2015 Audi A3 sedan

Of course size matters but, when it comes to cars, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Consider the 2015 Audi A3 sedan, a new, small entry from the German manufacturer of highly regarded automobiles.

With the introduction of the newest A3 models, Audi joins a growing list of carmakers who seek to increase sales by going down market to find customers who want the cachet and content of a premium brand but not the price or the size of the mid-size and flagship models.

A hatchback A3 has been a bit player in the U.S. market for about 10  years, but the company is seeking to increase the A3 appeal by also making a sedan and a convertible available to hatchback-averse Americans.

Audi A3 instrument panel

Audi A3 instrument panel

The specific model provided for my inspection was the 2015 A3 Sedan TDI FWD S Tronic. In layman’s language it is a diesel-powered, front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan with a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

It is little in comparison to the current compact A4 and mid-size A6 Audi models, but it certainly is big enough for comfortable travel by up to four average-size adults. In fact, it is nearly the same size as the original A4 sedan that made its introduction in 1995.

The A3 is well-suited for an owner who makes frequent trips through the congested streets of a metropolitan area. But, it also offers luxurious comfort for those who want to use it for vacation travel.

What it is not is inexpensive. Yes, it costs significantly less than its bigger garage mates, with a starting price for a base gasoline-powered model under $30,000. But properly equipped, the price of that A3 will rise above $35,000. The test car topped out at $43,295, which is certainly not cheap. If you want the amenities of a premium product you are going to have to pay for them

Audi A3 front seats

Audi A3 front seats

While  a second, more expensive gasoline-powered model has standard all-wheel drive, the base car and the diesel-powered sedan are available only with front-wheel drive.

The 2-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine generates 150 horsepower and a more-than-ample 236 pound-feet of torque. Despite its pulling power, there is practically no hint of the dreaded torque steer that is common to many front-wheel-drive vehicles.

Audi claims a 0-60 mph time of about 8 seconds, but the A3 actually feels faster than that. The mid-range torque gives the sedan strong passing power in most situations.

In any case, stop-light racing is not what this car is all about. Its most impressive feature is its fuel mileage, estimated by the EPA at 31 mpg in the city, 43 on the highway and an overall average of 36 mpg. I did a bit better, averaging between 34 and 45 mpg on South Carolina’s low-country roads.

Audi A3 rear seat

Audi A3 rear seat

Optional steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters allowed manual control of the transmission, but, frankly, I’m not sure they really contribute much to driving pleasure. The diesel seems best suited to a purely automatic transmission.

The suspension (MacPherson struts in front and a torsion bar at the rear), four-wheel disc brakes and electromechanical power steering give the A3 excellent driving dynamics.

The Audi responds eagerly to the driver’s commands, does not lean in corners,  provides a reasonably smooth ride on the open road  and suffers almost none of the torque steer that can tug on the steering wheel in front-wheel-drive vehicles. Think of it as fun to drive and comfortable to ride in.

Cargo space behind the rear seat is limited to 12.3 cubic feet, but there is enough room in the trunk for the luggage of a couple on vacation. For other missions, the rear setbacks fold forward to increase the room for cargo.

Of course, to qualify as a premium vehicle the 2015 Audi A3 needs to do more than handle like a sports/luxury sedan, it needs a handsome exterior and a first-class cabin with a host of electronic amenities.

Audi A3 trunk

Audi A3 trunk

Styling is always a subjective matter, but if you like the A4 and A6 you will certainly like the A3. It essentially looks like a smaller version of those sedans.

Inside, as you would expect from Audi, the interior is swathed in premium materials, with comfortable leather seating and soft-touch materials throughout the cabin.

The littlest Audi comes standard with a full complement of seat belts and airbags, traction control, stability control and emergency brake assist.

Equipment in the $32,600 base price of the 2015 Audi A3 TDI includes a panoramic sunroof, Xen0n-plus headlights, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, 12-way adjustable power driver’s seat, 10-speaker sound system with available satellite radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, cruise control and a driver information center with trip computer.

The Prestige package ($8,450) includes 18-inch wheels, heated power front seats, S Line trim package, navigation with voice control, keyless entry and ignition, rear-view camera, 14-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system and Audi Connect, which includes a WiFi hotspot and Internet-based smart phone apps.

The Sport package ($800) include a sport suspension, front sport seats and a 3-spoke steering wheel with shift paddles.

Add glacier white metallic paint ($550) and the delivery charge ($895) and the total comes to the previously mentioned $43,295.

By selecting the base, gasoline powered A3 and limiting the options you can bring the suggested retail price down to a more affordable figure. But that kind of defeats the point of buying a premium vehicle, doesn’t it?

To read John Matras’ take on the diesel-powered 2015 A3 click here.

Turn page for a rundown on the Audi’s specifications.