Friday, August 7, 2015

Entry level Luxury? 2015 Audi A3

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 In the past, cars have usually followed the model of bigger is better, and small is cheap and certainly not desirable. However, Audi has again bucked that trend with the all-new 2015 Audi A3.

     Although there was a previous generation A3, its hatchback body style and overall design gave the impression of a really nice compact car done up in leather and fancy gadgets rather than that of an authentically luxurious machine worthy of a luxury car price. The 2015 A3, by comparison, aligns more closely with the American definition of a luxury car. Basically, the A3 sedan looks and feels like an A4 or maybe an A6 that get left in the dryer on super high heat. The same is true of the convertible A3, which looks alot like the A5. Much like the A5, the 2015 A3 convertible opts for a fabric roof over a folding medal roof. It may not look nearly as modern, but the cloth top lowers faster and takes up less space in the already cramped trunk.

     The 2015 Audi A3 comes as either a 4-door compact sedan with seating for 5, or a 2-door convertible with seating for 4. There is 1 main trim level, Premium, which can be enhanced with the Premium Plus, and Prestige option packages. Both the sedan and convertible can be had with 2 different 4 cylinder engines, either a 1.8 TFSI, or 2.0 TFSI. The sedan also gets the option of a 2.0 liter TDI diesel engine. Trim levels are pretty much the same with the sedan and convertible, with the obvious exception of the folding fabric top on the convertible.

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     The base Premium trim level comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers, cruise control, sunroof, an 8 way power drivers seat, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather seating surfaces, 60/40 split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, the MMI interface, and a 10-speaker sound system. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield nozzles. 18-inch alloy wheels and an iPod interface are offered as stand-alone options.

     The Premium plus adds all of those features plus keyless entry and ignition, dual zone a/c, and an 8 way power passenger seat. The Premium Plus Convenience Package adds power-folding side mirrors, auto dimming mirrors, and ambient interior lighting. Also for Premium Plus is the Driver Assistance Package that adds a blind spot monitoring system, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and an automated parking system.

     Optional on both Premium trims is a navigation system, which includes a larger display screen, and enhanced touch-activated controller, voice controls, and a color trip computer display. The Premium version automatically includes the iPod interface, while the Premium Plus gets the Audi connect.

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 The Prestige includes all of the above equipment and adds LED headlamps, an S-Line exterior appearance package, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. The Advance Technology package adds adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, and a forward collision warning and braking system.

     For Premium and Prestige A3's, a Sport Package adds front sport seats, steering wheel shift paddles, and Drive Select. A3 Sedans can also be equipped with rear side airbags.

     Every 2015 Audi A3 comes standard with a 6-speed automated manual transmission and comes with a choice of 4-cylinder engines, either a 1.8 TFSI, or a 2.0 TFSI. The A3 Sedan gets a third option, a 2.0 liter TDI. The numbers indicate displacement, while the letters indicate whether it's gas or diesel powered.

     The front wheel drive 1.8 TFSI produces 170 horsepower, and 200 lb.ft of the good stuff. Audi estimates that it will do the 0-60 mph run in 7.3 seconds. EPA numbers come in at 27 mpg combined for the sedan, and 28 mpg combined for the convertible.

     The 2.0 TFSI makes 220 horsepower, and 258 lb.ft of the good stuff, and comes standard with all wheel drive. In testing, the tester equipped like such did the 0-60 mph run in a scant 5.9 seconds. As a 4-door sedan, it gets pretty much the same numbers as the 1.8 TFSI, though the convertible is rated at a slightly lower 26 mpg combined.

     The TDI has a turbocharged 2.0 liter diesel engine good for 150 horsepower, and 236 lb.ft of torque, and is only an option on the sedan. In testing, the TDI A3 went 0-60 mph in a respectable 8.3 seconds, and EPA numbers are 36 mpg combined.

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     Every 2015 Audi A3 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front knee airbags, front side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and Audi Pre-Sense. Rear side airbags are optional on the sedan.

     Standard with the Prestige and optional on the Premium Plus is the already mentioned earlier Driver Assistance Package. Optional on the Prestige is the also mentioned earlier Advance Technology package.

     In government crash tests, the A3 Sedan was given 5 out of a possible 5 stars. In brake testing, a 2.0 TFSI with 17-inch wheels and all season tires came to a halt from 60 mph in 120 feet, a few feet better than average. An A3 TDI with grippier summer tires stopped in 105 feet, which is amazing.

     While the 2015 A3's exterior mirrors other Audi's, the interior establishes a new theme that leaves a better, longer lasting impression. Though some may prefer flashier cabins swathed in wood or metal, the A3 is arguably beautiful in its simplicity. Yet when you look deeper, you can begin to appreciate its top-shelf and intricate details like its ornate jet-engine inspired air vents, finely crafted switch gear and the fluid action of the MMI display as it rises from and lowers back into the dash.

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 Every A3 includes that screen, but its display size depends on whether or not you opt for navigation. So, too, does the rotary controller. Without nav, its just a knob. With it, there is a pad on top that allows you to write letters with your fingers when entering a destination. It's kinda cool, and yes, it does work, although you do need to write certain letters without lifting your finger. Regardless of the MMI version, however, controls for the stereo and other audio systems may take some time to get used to, but they do eventually become second nature.

     Space is likely to be an issue with the A3. The front seat is mounted a bit high, and lacks some lateral support, but a larger issue is the back seat. Though more spacious than the back seat of the Mercedes Benz CLA, headroom and legroom are limited. You will find more space in compact cars like the Honda Civic, let alone bigger entry level luxury sedans like the BMW 320i. The convertible is more likely to be short on legroom, so don't expect to put much back there aside from some extra luggage or a booster seat, however, that is more than likely to be a struggle.

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     For trunk space, almost any car will have more space, unless you have a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky. Even the larger sedan has to make do with a tiny 10 cubic foot trunk that struggles to fit a golf club bag, or a weekend's worth of luggage for 4 passengers.

     Compared with other small luxury vehicles, the 2015 Audi A3 feels more grown up: an honest to goodness luxury car instead of a fancy compact. With the standard 17-inch alloy wheels and all season tires, the ride is composed and comfortable, the cabin is quiet and the turbocharged engine provides a healthy wallop of low-end power that provides confidence whether around town, or on the highway. Awesome fuel economy helps as well.

     If you opt for the 18-inch summer tires, you might find that the ride is still livable on most roads, but sometimes harsh over major bumps and ruts. The summer tires also contribute to a louder cabin, as does the diesel engine, which is rattly when idling in traffic, but quiet once you get up to speed.

     Shockingly, the A3 doesn't feel especially sprightly when driving around town, mainly because the steering is a tad light at lower speeds. However, it perks up when driving through tight turns with more enthusiasm. This athletic character is even more noticeable when equipped with summer tires, which quicken the car's reactions to driver inputs. When equipped with the 2.0 TFSI and all wheel drive, the car can feel like a marathon runner in a cashier's clothing. Just because this is the smallest Audi doesn't mean that you are getting less of a luxury sport sedan.

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