2017 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI Quattro
I like using sales numbers to illustrate such points, because numbers don’t lie. They don’t always tell the entire story either, but they’re as black and white as the digital page I’m writing this review on, and if the various leaders in charge of those yet unnamed luxury brands don’t pay attention to those sales numbers, their jobs will likely get cut short sooner than later. The two winners in the U.S. entry-level luxury class are Audi and Mercedes-Benz, the former with its bestselling A3 and the latter with its CLA.
First, why are these two models the top performers in their class? That answer will be obvious to those who follow the market, they’re well executed four-door sedans, or at least the four-door coupe-like CLA comes very close to being a sedan. It didn’t take long for the A3 Sedan to catapult into sales leadership with its first full year of availability (2015) seeing sales of 35,984 units and last year still first with 31,538. Validating the four-door sedan argument yet more are the A3’s sales when it only came in a five-door wagon/hatch body style, its numbers just 7,205 units for 2012, 6,561 for 2011, and 6,558 for 2010. The category’s second-place star is the CLA that achieved 29,643 sales throughout calendar year 2015 and 25,792 in 2016, a respectable showing just the same.
I can already hear some people saying, “But Trev, the Acura ILX is a four-door sedan and it only sold 18,531 units in 2015, and 14,597 last year?” First, despite being a very good entry-level car thanks to its close association to the also very good Honda Civic, the ILX has long suffered from a “too close to a Civic” image, which has only grown worse now that the top-line Civic Touring is arguably a more appealing premium-like car, but despite this the ILX was still the third bestselling entry-level model over the last three years, whereas way back in 2013 it was number one in what was then a fledgling segment.
The most respected premium challenger to not yet completely figure out the North American entry luxury market is BMW with just 15,519 2 Series Coupes and Cabriolets sold last year (the M2, my favorite in the entire segment, does a good job of building image though), while Lexus, with just 8,903 hybridized CTs sold throughout 2016, and just 17,673 units for that model’s dual-year height of 2014 and 2012 (which is really too few to make the Japanese brand’s image any greener), gets a participation award.
On that note, the real losers in this race to win over entry luxury buyers are those brands with nothing to offer at all, although some, like JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) and Infiniti, are choosing to address this issue solely within the burgeoning subcompact luxury SUV segment, while it should be noted that BMW not only has a strong seller in the latter category, but is also making waves with its new i3 EV that found 7,625 buyers last year, and does very well with its near-luxury Mini Cooper, verified by 39,239 sold into the subcompact (near) luxury category alone over the same 12 months. Still, can you imagine how well a four-door-with-a-trunk 1 Series would do in our market? To make a short story long, the A3 is a major success because it’s a four-door sedan, and a particularly handsome, well-executed one to boot.
As noted the A3 Sedan only arrived on the North American scene in late-2013 after first being shown at the New York auto show earlier that year. It was slightly wider and lower than the A3 Sportback it replaced, a model that continued forward into the new redesign in other markets yet only returns to our shores in plug-in hybrid E-Tron form. With a claimed electric-only range of 30 miles it’s a PHEV I’d really like some seat time in.
That car, plus the A3 Sedan and sportier S3 Sedan, were given a mild albeit effective mid-cycle update for 2017, and I really like the results. As mentioned the A3 Sedan has been a looker since day one (as was the five-door), but the new model adds an edginess missing from the more organic, flowing lines of the outgoing car. As has been the case with all of Audi’s recent updates, the A3’s “horseshoe” grille grows slightly and straightens its angles for a more chiseled look, while its now standard HID headlamps are slimmer with sharply scalloped lower edges. The front lower fascia and rear bumper are modestly reworked too, whereas the new standard LED taillights are stunning when they light up at night. Of course, new standard and optional alloy wheels underpin the upgrades, as do an assortment of new colors. While the 2017 model doesn’t exactly break new ground, it breathes some fresh air into the A3 design while aligning it with the rest of Audi’s updated car lineup.
Audi’s winning formula has long included some of the nicest interiors in its models’ respective segments, and the A3 is no exception. Tasteful minimalism has long been the brand’s approach, along with high quality materials that often incorporate plenty of genuine aluminum trim. Critical in today’s luxury market are driver configurable full color TFT gauge clusters and leading edge infotainment systems packed with features and apps, so thankfully the updated 2017 A3 benefits from Audi’s latest brand-wide electronic upgrades.
First off those stepping up to top-tier Prestige trim get Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit, a 12.3-inch digital TFT display that replaces the conventional analog gauge cluster and offers several driver modulated configurations, the most eye-popping being the beautifully detailed navigation setting that adds a colorful array of active maps to the central multi-information display area, plus you can make the map (or any other feature) larger and the primary gauges smaller at the touch of a button, depending on need and desire. This is state-of-the-art stuff, and Audi does it more effectively than any rival.
I like that the standard infotainment display still powers up out of the dash top, its 7.0-inch screen large enough for my needs, especially in a subcompact sedan, its colors, contrast and clarity also excellent, while it can be stowed away if you’d rather enjoy less distraction while taking in real-world sights or driving at night. The upgraded MMI Radio operating system is now designed to mimic smartphones if you connect via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while the standard interface is also very easy to use and filled with features. I especially like the dynamic guideline assisted rearview camera that splits its screen to show active graphics of how close you’re getting to surrounding objects, coloring them orange when nearing and then red when you’re getting dangerously close to scratching the A3’s lovely paintwork. Other MMI functions are controlled via a large rotating dial on the lower console, plus surrounding metallic-surfaced buttons, the top of that controller allowing hand gestures in lieu of this non-touchscreen system’s inability to perform tablet-style pinch and swipe functions directly on the display panel. A new standard USB will also be music to Android users’ ears, although upper trims get Bluetooth streaming as well.
Speaking of features, Premium trim, which starts at $31,200 plus freight and dealers fees, includes new standard auto on/off xenon plus headlights with integrated LED DRLs, LED taillights, and aluminum doorsill treadplates, which were also optional last year, plus an electromechanical parking brake, micrometallic silver inlays, leather upholstery, a 12-way powered driver’s seat including four-way lumbar, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone auto HVAC, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a monochromatic multi-information system, Audi’s MMI infotainment, a rearview camera with active guidelines, 180-watt 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with an aux plug, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a large glass sunroof, a rear load-through system, 17-inch alloys on 225/45 all-seasons, and more. Its standard safety set includes the usual ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs with EBD and BA, plus traction and stability control, pre-sense basic crash response, plus the class average six airbags, good enough to earn it a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS and 5 stars from the NHTSA in standard trim. None of its subcompact luxury competitors can lay claim to the same.
You can upgrade from the base 186 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to a 220 horsepower version of the same engine for $3,000, which also increases torque from 221 lb-ft to 258 for a 0.8-second quicker sprint to 60 mph now taking just 5.8 seconds; the base car gets a significant 16-horsepower bump in power and an increase of 37 lb-ft of torque over last year’s model. Front-wheel drive and Quattro all-wheel drive are both available no matter the trim level, the former driving through Audi’s new seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission enhanced with auto start/stop to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy, whereas the upgraded power unit utilizes a similar transmission with six forward gears. It’s good for 24 mpg city, 31 highway and 27 combined on less expensive regular unleaded no less, which is very reasonable considering this model’s performance, while the A3’s standard fully independent suspension includes MacPherson struts with lower wishbones up front and a four-link setup in back, its responsive steering being speed-sensitive rack and pinion.
The A3’s mid-range Premium Plus trim, which starts at $34,450, increases the wheel and tire size to 18-inch alloys on 225/40s while adding bright aluminum window surrounds, Mistral aluminum inlays inside, yet more aluminum trim, a powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass, Audi’s MMI music interface featuring Bluetooth audio streaming, an additional SD card reader slot, and an extra USB charging port.
Prestige trim, at $40,150, adds LED headlights with auto cornering and auto high beams, new dynamic taillights, a proximity-sensing keyless remote, pushbutton ignition, the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster, navigation, a superb 705-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio upgrade, front and rear parking sensors, Audi side assist to warn from approaching rear traffic that might be in your blind spot, Audi active lane assist, Audi pre sense basic, and pre sense front, which now quality this top-line A3 for IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus status.
My previous 2016 A3 tester was trimmed out in Prestige trim and I must say it’s worth every penny of added cost just to get the upgraded gauge cluster, B&O stereo and safety features, but then again I’d be more than happy with this year’s Premium Plus tester thanks to its key upgrades. First off mine included the more potent powertrain with Quattro AWD for an as-tested price of $37,450, or at least it cost that much before adding options like $575 Glacier White metallic paint, the $3,000 Technology package that includes MMI Navigation plus, MMI Touch, an enhanced color primary gauge package, Audi side assist, and more.
Some features you might want to consider adding include two packages, the first being the $650 Sport package that consists of a sweet looking flat-bottomed steering wheel with a very nice set of alloy paddles, Audi Drive Select, and upgraded sport seats, plus it requires you to also add the $250 sport suspension that can be taken separately; and the $1,050 LED Lighting package that’s now standard with Prestige trim. Of note this last package isn’t available in base Premium trim.
Standalone features in all trims include a set of $350 rear side airbags, while Premium models get the option of two unique 17-inch wheel sets and $800 worth of 18-inch rims; both Premium Plus and Prestige trims make those same optional 18s available as standard kit while the former adds a set of no-cost optional 18s and both offer $800 19-inch twin-spoke alloys, that first require you to upgrade to the aforementioned sport suspension.
Everything mentioned comes in a car that’s extremely well made, with the segment’s usual fabric-wrapped pillars, ample soft-touch synthetic surfaces (other than the majority of each door panel that’s hard plastic, Audi only softening the door uppers, inserts and armrests), just the right amount of real aluminum trim, one of the nicest standard sport-style steering wheels in the industry, tightly spaced, high-quality, well-damped switchgear (although the lovely row of plastic toggle switches across the center stack are hollow and cheap feeling), a neatly trimmed dual-zone HVAC system that’s stylishly detailed with red and blue ringed dual dials edged in knurled metal, plus superbly supportive and comfortable front seats.
The rear outer seats were very comfortable too, with excellent lower back support, and they were more spacious than expected with about four inches ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was set for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame, as well as about three inches above my head, three inches next to my outside shoulder, and four-to-five beside to my outer hip, while the center armrest was nice and high for comfortable support. It includes a shallow carpeted tray under a padded lid, plus pop-out dual cupholders at front.
From the driver’s seat the nicely formed leather-wrapped steering wheel gets no paddles in this trim, the S line package needed for this, while there’s also no ability to swap through driving modes, such options also relegated to the car’s sportier upgrade. Instead, my A3 Premium Plus tester was nicely balanced between comfort and performance, Audi having set it up with a compliant ride that soaks up road imperfections better than most competitors, yet still delivers the brand’s characteristically sharp handling when pushed. The inclusion of Quattro means that such canyon carving can be done mid-winter too, especially appreciated on the way to the ski hill, as is the rear center pass-through that allows boards down the middle and kids (or friends) more comfortably seated to each side, and no squabbling about getting a window seat.
Additionally, the A3 gets a surprisingly large trunk measuring 15.0 cubic feet, and it’s not only equipped with that just-noted center pass-through, but also 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks to expand usability even further. The cargo area includes a nicely carpeted load floor and sidewalls plus polished metal tie-down rings, but no aluminum sill protector as with some of the brand’s pricier models. Still, the rugged hard plastic alternative is probably more practical anyway.
Yes, the A3 has all bases covered. From practicality to performance it’s a very livable four-door that’s a blast to drive, plenty comfortable, well featured and as safe as this class gets. It’s one thing for an automaker to build the right type of car for a given market, Audi smart enough to offer a four-door sedan, but quite another to produce one as well designed as this A3. Mercedes aside, its competitors had better wake up and smell the kaffee, コーヒー, joe, kaffe, cuppa, etcetera, as Audi is doing a much better job with its entry-level product and is therefore reaping the rewards. You’d be well served to follow the majority of entry-level luxury buyers and opt for this sporty little premium sedan.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press