Luxury brands build their reputations around their biggest and most expensive cars, which is why vehicles like this — the new, compact A3 from Audi — can sometimes be disappointing.
Fortunately, this one feels like it has more in common with the fancier end of the Audi lineup than its sub-$30,000 sticker would suggest. The way the knobs and buttons click, the way the suspension soaks up bumps and the way the soft, smooth leather feels under your fingertips all combine to give you the impression that this is a premium car, not one designed to meet an arbitrary price point.
And that’s rare in this class.
Compared to the giant, full-size, hyper-expensive German luxury cars that make you feel like Caligula — drunk with power and excess — their smaller cousins all too often come across as wannabes. They cut out the essence of their brand’s soul to make themselves affordable to the masses.
In this new A3, though, you get a better sense of Audi-ness throughout it after a redesign for the 2015 model year.
The styling looks very similar to the sophisticated A8, just shrunk down to smaller dimensions, and the turbocharged performance is as sparkling as a front-wheel-drive sports sedan can be.
In fact, I bet the average person couldn’t tell a big difference between the $29,900 A3, the $43,100 A6 or the $75,100 A8 when passing on the highway. They’ve all got similar sleek, modern, oh-so-chic lines that Audi’s designers have perfected in recent years.
This all-new 2015 A3 is available with two different turbocharged engines: 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter versions.
While the 2.0-liter engine sounds delicious with 220 horsepower, my test car came with the smaller engine that makes 170 horses. Still, it felt more than adequate, often chirping the tires by accident at stoplights thanks to the ample torque it generates.
Another plus is the A3’s standard dual-clutch, six-speed automatic transmission. It offers the instant response of a manual transmission with the ease of an automatic, which results in one of the very best transmissions I’ve ever driven. It’s phenomenal.
The way this car shifts is a hard thing to describe, but if you take one of these on a test drive, you’ll want to make sure you play around with the transmission to get a good feel for it. To me, it shifts far faster and more cleanly than most automatics do, and that’s by design.
While the look and feel of this car is pure Audi, the one thing you miss out on — at least at the base level — is a high level of gadgets. My $34,000 test vehicle didn’t come with a rear-view camera, for example, something that’s becoming commonplace on many cars, trucks and SUVs alike these days.
On the flip side, the bones of this new A3 feel so much better than most compact cars in its price range that it still comes across as somewhat of a bargain. The stiff-feeling chassis, excellent sound insulation and supple suspension dampening make it feel like a $40,000-$50,000 luxury car, only with smaller overall dimensions.
As a whole, the A3 is all about one thing: getting big-car swagger while carrying a small-car price. And it does that exceptionally well.