Danny Chang's review of car designs

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First Impressions: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI FWD S tronic

Good torque from the fuel efficient TDI power plant
Stylish and high quality interior
Stylish exterior design
Tight rear seat leg room
Hidden windshield wipers
Price point

Learning from the last time it brought the 5-door A3 to the US, Audi is selling the sedan and the cabriolet versions of the new A3 first to American car buyers who have a strange dislike for hatchbacks and wagons. It is rumored that Audi will bring the 5-door version as a plug-in hybrid some time later in 2015. At first glance, the A3 is hard to distinguish from the now-grown up A4 and the mid-size A6. The same Audi design language applies fairly well to the compact size of this car. The A3 has its own unique LED daytime running lights that’s more aggressive and sinister looking than those on the A4 and A6, and its taillights are also sportier looking. In this age where all cars plump up with each generation, the A3 is actually similar in size to the original Audi A4 sold from 1994. We drove the new TDI version of the A3 that’s available only in FWD, an advanced clean diesel engine that’s shared with the VW Gold TDI. While we longed for the Quattro system during the snow-filled week in the Mid-Atlantic when we had the A3, the FWD tester with all season tires handled the slippery, icy, salty road just fine. The A3 is equipped with the A3 Prestige Model package, which comes with 18” 10-spoke-design wheels, all season tires, heated power front seats, power folding and heated exterior mirrors, S line exterior, MMI navigation with voice and touch controls, Bang & Olufsen sound system, among other niceties. It also had the sport package that came with sport seats in the front, Audi drive select and sport suspensions. Our favorite feature of the sport seats? Extendable driver seat cushion for those of us with longer legs and need more support behind the knees.

Driving Impressions
The 2.0 liter TDI turbocharged I4 engine pumps out 150 HP (@3,500 RPM) and 236 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,750 RPM, which means the A3 TDI is quick off its feet, only slightly slower to 60 MPH than the 2.0L gasoline engine variant. You can make out the distinct sounds of a diesel engine ever so slightly. The tester was never short on power, even at highway speeds when passing up other cars on the 495. Did we mention it’s also fuel efficient? The TDI is rated 31 MPG city and 43 highway for a combined 36 MPG. The ride is smooth and tight with the sport suspension, and steering feel from the electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering system was aptly heavy for a sport sedan feel.  As mentioned above, the week when we drove the A3 saw a huge snow storm in the Mid-Atlantic region, somewhat limiting our ability to push the A3 to its limit on the icy / salty / snowy roadways around the metropolitan DC area. We did observe, however, that the FWD TDI with ESC(Electronic Stability Control) on all-season tires behaved competently under these conditions and all four corners were planted firmly on the pavement with no tire slippage. Overall the A3 felt buttoned up, safe and disciplined. Very proper, like a well-behaved teenager who could do more damage if s/he wanted to.

Exterior Impressions
Audi designers are somewhat conservative, I mean, why mess with an extremely successful formula? The well-defined family design language coupled with distinctive LED running lights have served the brand well in recent years as it put sales pressure on BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Audi’s is the most conservative among the three German makers and one could argue, the most sophisticated and disciplined design language. It just appears very Germanic, buttoned down and sophisticated. Although the new A3 is definitely the sportiest of the Audi sedan line-up (more aggressive than the grown-up A4, the aging A6, and the flagship A8), it could still easily be mistaken for an A4 to the untrained eye. This is not a bad thing since you wouldn’t want to be seen as driving the “cheapo” Audi that set you back more than $40k. We don’t have major complaints about the exterior design, except that we wished the front axle-to-A pillar ratio could be even longer to give the car a better stance. VW’s new MQB platform/program (on which the A3 is based and shared with the Mk7 Golf) offered Audi the flexibility to move the front axle forward a few inches to give this FWD car better stance but we wish they could have done more. 

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior is another winner from Audi. The design language is sophisticated. We’re big fans of the screen that rises out of the dashboard and kind of floats on it like a laptop screen. You can get that in a Mazda these days, but in the Audi it just looks so futuristic. The MMI navigation system with the touch pad is a joy to use. Audi’s is one of the best ways to interact with the controls, leaving your right hand near the gear shift where it feels more natural. You can enter text by writing letters on the touch pad, which is now integrated into the control dial to free up space. Four key buttons/levers are easily navigable by feel and are intuitive for interacting with the screen after you spend a little time getting to know them better. Volume control for the sound system is also right next to the gear shift on the center console so you don’t have to fumble around on the dash where there are a million other buttons like in other cars. The materials on the dash and the doors feel expensive to the touch, and the buttons feel (and some are) machined and the feedback feels precise. The panoramic sunroof opens up the space in the cabin. With a child car seat in the back the A3 feels a bit cramped, and rear legroom leaves something to be desired in this age where we’re used to ever bigger cars. Our only major (and petty) issue with the interior is that we found it hard to find a good spot to put our iPhone 6, which is a tad too bulky for the center console storage cubby.


In this price range (a standard A3 starts at just over $30k and the tester TDI Prestige comes in at $43,295), the Audi A3 faces numerous competitors. BMW has its new 2-series (coupe only in the US), Mercedes has its new CLA-class (the oxymoronic 4-door coupe), and even more spacious competitors such as the Infiniti Q50, BMW 3-series that overlap in the same price range. The Audi is unique in offering a diesel engine and gets the best MPG out of the class, but the turbo gasoline units in the Bimmers and Mercedes also get impressive MPGs and a gallon of premium unleaded gasoline these days tends to be cheaper than diesel. But the low-end torquey goodness of the TDI is hard to beat. And we’re suckers for good ergonomics and well-designed interiors, so the Audi A3 TDI is a favorite of ours in the compact luxury sedan segment.

[Original review 2015; edited version on http://www.ebay.com/motors/blog/]

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