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Can Audi’s A3 cure the summertime blues?

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Jul 20, 2015

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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Is this the cure for the summertime blues? (John Grafman)

Story and photography by John Grafman Summer is here, and it sucks! I like the sun, the beach, the cool coastal weather, and all the rest that goes with it. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. More to the point, it’s damn near impossible to explore what this car is made of, as tens of thousands are escaping the Valley along the very same canyon passes. Even the lesser known roads have a few stragglers. Worse yet, Audi is teasing me with this A3 Sedan 2.0T Quattro S. Oh, they are so cruel! Now, the Monroney for this car looks fairly normal. The sticker doesn’t really show anything so unusual that would make my heart skip a beat. Even the base price of $29,900, and slightly over $41K optioned-up, isn’t causing us to blink. In fact, one of the few points of interest that sticks out is more on the technology side than performance (more on that later) or pricing. The Audi A3 has dumped the wagon in favor of the four-door sedan, or at least in the USA (editor’s note the wagon returns in 2016). The A3 sedan seems to be a tad larger than before, almost taking over for the A4 in this segment, allowing the A4 to go a bit more upscale. Nevertheless, the relatively smaller exterior size makes driving in everyday activities a breeze. My feeling, and that of many others, Audi is an upper tier OEM. So, who would want anything less than the best? Well, don’t judge a book by its cover, or an Audi on its badging. This is very close to nirvana on a budget. Taking a lesson from our supercharged era of politics and damage control, I’ll do a very un-Nixon like thing and confess right from the start. The Audi A3 does a have a few faults. Don’t blame me; I’m just the messenger.

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2015 Audi A3 Sedan 2.0T Quattro S (John Grafman)

This German/Hungarian product is a fun drive, but it’s just a bit shy when it comes to uber-pleasing interior materials. Sure, this isn’t the top of the line A8, but some of the hard plastic pieces, while not in the most offensive of areas, feels just one or two-steps removed from a VW. Also, the leather seating surfaces are not exactly premium. For that matter, not only is the material not what we’d expect, but even the seat design contours are rather flat and dull, and lacking in zest. The front buckets don’t really give the impression that these are in fact the optional sport seats. For many of the common operations, such as audio modes, channels and volume, the steering wheel has easy to use controls, and the small display between in the center gage cluster is effective without being overly complicated. On the tech side Audi offers the MMI Navigation Plus Package with the Audi MMI Touch. As in other Audi cars, the MMI allows operation of most systems from a few buttons and knob on the center console. First the MMI in general is a better solution than touch screens in that the driver’s arm doesn’t need to float in space while trying to operate controls on a screen. Similar to a touch screen, one does need to look at the display. However, the driver doesn’t need to reorient his or her hand to the screen, as would be the case in a touchscreen, whenever the driver needs to redirect his or her attention to the roadway and then back again. The Audi MMI Touch allows one to scrawl a letter on the top surface of the MMI controller knob with a finger, say in the address book, to find a name. This lets the system to jump to last names that start with that letter. While that sounds good, and it is, it then does something odd. It resorts the list based on first names. Grrrr. It’s maddening. If the system is finding a name based on a last name, stick with it. Conversely, if it searches by a first name, stick to that. Don’t try to mix and match. Is Audi trying to test the patience and focus of drivers? The pop-up screen that emerges from the dash is both interesting and pointless. Design an effective place in the dash for the screen or don’t have it. Audi in a roundabout way is saying that the look of the instrument panel is clean and beautiful, and we don’t want to foul that up. So Audi does its best to tuck the screen away. But, the owner only enjoys that esthetic when the car isn’t running. Yes, that’s messed up.

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The A3 wears its Audi lineage well (John Grafman)

Additionally, it’s not like thieves are otherwise going to break into the car to steal a small and otherwise useless monitor. Plus, this will be one more mechanical item to break at some point down the line. But, to get overwhelmed by those issues is really missing the goodness of the A3. This sedan is striking and bowls over anyone that loves to drive. The range of standard fare features on this is pretty comprehensive, including an audio system that includes Sirius, an auxiliary input, an SD card reader, and has Bluetooth capabilities for the audio and phone. Other no cost features are the brilliant Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and taillights. This Audi A3 combines the functionality of a four-door that can fairly comfortably accommodate four adults, and it’s small enough to be sporty. Sure, there’s plenty of larger cars that can handle semi-twisty roads fine, but stick them on narrow canyons in Malibu and the pleasure fades quickly. The Audi A3 is more than happy to chase down every upcoming corner like a hound dog going after a rabbit or escaped convict. This car can hunt! On paper the A3 might seem under-gunned with just a 2.O-liter turbo in the front, however a few minutes behind the wheel and the perception is totally eradicated. In fact, the A3 is a truly wonderful match-up where the power and weight of the engine fit the size and purpose of the product. The 220 horsepower inline four-cylinder pumps out a robust 258 lb-ft. of torque. This is perfect for hilly transitions, and efficient for typical commuting. This could be even more efficient if it wasn’t mated to just a 6-speed S-Tronic transmission, rather than having an 8-speed. But, this Audi is plenty smooth, and it’s easier to shuffle through the transmission when in the manual mode by virtue of having fewer gears to contend with.

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The view from within (John Grafman)

The optional Select Drive switch is proof that good thing comes in small packages. This dash mounted flipper toggles the A3 into performance modes. This takes the Audi from mild to aggressive in a blink. This model does include the attractive, optional 3-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters. These are more than suitable in comparison to the manual, 6-speed, stick shift we reviewed in the A5. In manual mode, it would also be nice to have a larger readout indicating which gear the car is in. Sure, a snappier shift using the paddles would be a step up. However, as is, this Audi is plenty satisfying. While we’ve said it before in so many words, it is worth saying again, the Quattro all-wheel drive offers an experience unlike either front or rear-wheel drive cars. This is reason enough for pursuing challenging roads. The A3 indeed feels like a sophisticated machine, and is reflective of its pricier Audi siblings. The more expensive Audi A5 harnesses the energy from a 2.0T, and we found it just as amazing in that. That engine sings a nice note and the smoothness belies the minimal number of cylinders. Also, like the A5, enthusiastic drivers might find the steering could use more feel and a bit more weight. When piloting through one of the local, back canyons this A3 comes alive. It’s sort of like an offspring between a R8 and a Mini Cooper. Smart, balanced, confidence building, quick, and nimble. Certainly, this can be accredited, at least in part, to the suspension upgrade in the sport package, and the 19” titanium finished wheels with summer performance tires. The vented disc brakes in front (solid in the rear), electronic stability control, and ABS, and prudent behavior, are enough to keep us out of the weeds and guardrails. The optional A3 Premium Plus model also provides, among other features, the Audi advanced key that allows for keyless entry and push button starting without inserting a key into an ignition switch. It may not be cutting edge technology anymore, but it’s a must have these days to be considered even a near-luxury vehicle. One low-tech feature worth noting is the air vents in the dash panel. Surprisingly, the spherical shaped vents work outstanding, and enough for us to comment on. The integrated chromed ring on the perimeter spins for opening and closing of the vent. This is an artful and effective solution. The A3 does offer a variety of other virtues. But, it’s at the CicLAvia in Pasadena that the A3 shines unexpectedly. Flopping down the back seats, which fold forward in a 60/40 split, allows plenty of cargo space to handle a bicycle (providing the front wheel is removed). The A3 isn’t just some sexy supermodel that only looks good; this one can also wash the dishes too. This Audi wants to be part of the family, and offers functionality all the way around. After jaunts all over the City of Angels, the Valley, and the beaches, from Burbank to Trancas, it’s obvious life is better with this Audi. But, charging through the passes and challenging mountains is what the A3 lives for. Now, if only the traffic would cooperate. For more information about Audi products, go to audiusa.com

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2.0 liter, DOHC, Audi Valvelift system and turbo direct injection (John Grafman)

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: Audi A3 sedan 2.0T Quattro Price: $29,900 (base) $41,095 (as tested) EPA mileage estimates (miles per gallon): 24 city/33 highway/27 combined Engine type: 2.0 Liter, four cylinder, DOHC, Audi Valvelift system on exhaust valves, turbo direct injection, cast iron block, aluminum alloy head Horsepower: 220 @ 4,500 rpm Torque: 258 lb.-ft @ 01,600 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine, transverse mounted / all-wheel drive Transmission type: Six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission Suspension: Front: McPherson struts with lower A-arm with stabilizer bar Rear: Four-link with separate springs/shocks Wheels and tires: Front: 9” X 19” 5-arm wing design, titanium finish, 235/35/19 Summer tires Rear: 9” X 19” 5-arm wing design, titanium finish, 235/35/19 Summer tires Brakes: Front: ventilated rotors, 12.3” diameter Rear: Solid rotors, 10.7” diameter Overall length: 175.4” Overall width: 77.2” with mirrors Overall height: 55.7” Curb weight (lbs.): 3,362 Performance 0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds Top Speed: 130mph (limited)

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(John Grafman)

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