Test Drive: 2015 Audi A3

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Before I had the chance to get behind the wheel of the newly redesigned 2015 Audi A3, I had been tooling around in Audi’s top-line model, the A8. In making the swap, I expected to feel a bit of a let down. After all, there’s a reason for the roughly $50,000 price difference between the two, right?

Well, yes. There is. But the new A3 is good, so good that I didn’t feel much disappointment in trading for it. And this is what Audi, and other manufacturers, shoot for with their entry premium models: to create brand loyalists by making entry-level models so appealing that buyers will want to progress through the lineup, rather than hop to a competing brand.  Get ‘em in with the A3, then the A4, the A6, until they reach the pinnacle of the lineup, the stellar A8. Then, maybe they’ll consider Audi when looking for an SUV or sports car as well.

I drove the more powerful of the two new A3 models: the A3 2.0 quattro with a 220-horsepower engine, which starts at $32,900, and it was a pure joy to drive.

_F9R8466-Edit__midFrom a design standpoint, it is undeniably Audi, with a coupe-like profile and the signature Audi grille upfront, with character lines on the sides that avoid the slab-sided look of more generic sedans. The interior is clean and uncluttered, with a monochromatic look accented by aluminum inlays and window surrounds. Leather seating is standard, and there is nary a hard plastic surface to be found. Even with the sloping roofline, back seat headroom is adequate for even adult passengers. It has ample passenger room, but still maintains a compact, sporty profile.

Technophiles will rejoice in the fact that Audi has really stepped up their game, with the first-ever available in-vehicle 4G LTE data connection, which is used to deliver Audi connect® services to the driver. These include navigation with Google Earth (when so equipped), online traffic information, access to more than 7000 internet broadcast stations, and more. This new, enhanced version of Audi connect includes read aloud Facebook and Twitter alerts, text-to-speech function for e-mail and a dictation function for text messages (SMS). A mobile app increases connectivity with smartphones, allowing passengers to view high-def videos and even conduct video conference calls from the vehicle. For those for whom audio is of primary concern, a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system is an option on the A3.

The controls for Audi’s MMI (multi-media interface) are fairly intuitive, and are operated via a mouse like controller on the center console, which is much simpler, and much less distracting, than having to tap at touch-screen buttons or navigate myriad menus to find what you need.

While technology features and amenities are nice, driving dynamics are what really count. Here, the A3 really excels. Both engines are paired with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. The two-liter engine in our test model delivered impressive off-the-line acceleration, getting up to highway speeds quickly and without hesitation. Handling is superb; the A3 surefootedly snakes through traffic and down winding roads. It’s about as much fun as you can have behind the wheel of a $30,000 vehicle — and even many that sell for much more. The cabin is nearly library-quiet, insolated nicely from road and engine noise.

Audi was recently named the Best Value Luxury Brand in America by the car experts at Vincentric. Accordingly, the A3 is well-equipped for an entry-level model, including technology features and upgraded interior materials as standard equipment. All-wheel drive, dual-zone climate control and panorama glass sunroof are also standard. For those wanting more amenities, keyless entry and design enhancements are included with the Premium Plus package ($2550), and the aforementioned technology and audio upgrades are included in the Prestige package ($8450). My only quibble with the equipment is that a back-up camera is not standard, which it probably should be on a vehicle in this class.

However, the new A3 recently received the highest possible safety rating, Top Safety Pick +, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And, it achieves an impressive 24 mpg city, 33 highway, and 27 combined.

With an attractive price point, excellent drive dynamics, and advanced technology features, the new A3 should attract buyers who might not have previously considered the brand, but who would rather drive an Audi than an optioned-out Civic or Camry.

The new A3 sedan will arrive at dealerships in April, and Arizona Foothills will host the launch party. Over the next 16 months, look for cabriolet, TDI clean diesel, performance-oriented S3, and e-tron plug-in hybrid versions of the A3.

The new 2015 A3 sedan starts at $29,900 for the 170-horsepower 1.8 model and $32,900 for the 2.0 tested here. Optioned with the MMI Navigation plus system, cold weather and aluminum style packages, our test model priced out at $36,645.

Audi North Scottsdale will be officially unveiling the new model on April 3rd at the A3 Launch Party at the Westin Kierland Resort. While the hot VIP event is invitation only, a select number of AZFoothills.com readers will be chosen to attend! To get your name in the drawing e-mail rsvp@azfoothills.com with the subject “A3 Launch” by March 31! You can read more about the swanky soiree here.

Valley residents can also participate in the exciting unveiling of the luxurious A3 by taking a test drive April 4th through the 6th at the Audi North Scottsdale location.

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