2018 Audi A3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Premium Plus
Everything you’ve heard is true. The traditional car market is hurting while SUVs are taking over. After losing 12.3 percent of its sales volume during 2016, Audi’s A3 deliveries dropped another 34.3 percent during 2017, the car’s two-year regression totaling 42.4 percent.
Yet the A3 is not alone, with every one of its competitors experiencing declining sales. In fact, at 20,733 units last year it remains number one in the subcompact luxury car segment, slightly edging out the Mercedes-Benz CLA that saw sales fall to 20,669 units, and miles ahead of the BMW 2 Series that only managed 11,737, just a sniff ahead of the 11,731 Acura ILX sedans sold last year. There are others, but the Lexus CT (4,690) and Buick Verano (4,277) are dying and therefore hardly worth a mention, while the mostly electric BMW i3 (6,276) and all-electric M-B B-Class (744), the latter being the only small luxury car to see sales gains, aren’t really in the same league unless we start pulling A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid sales out of the mix.
To be clear, along with the most popular A3 Sedan, Audi produces the A3 Sportback e-tron PHEV and the A3 Cabriolet, while the A3 Sedan is also available with sportier S3 and RS 3 upgrades. Being that I haven’t driven any of these alternative versions in 2018 guise I’ll keep this review focused solely on the A3 Sedan, which once again found its way into my hands in mid-grade 2.0 TFSI Quattro Premium Plus trim.
Looking back to sales numbers, the A3’s drop in popularity came after receiving a significant mid-cycle upgrade for the 2017 model year, which was introduced partway through 2016. We can hardly blame the changes for a less interested customer base, but rather this low-slung sport sedan is merely the victim of market forces. In comparison, the Audi Q3 subcompact SUV, which hasn’t received as much attention in recent years, saw its sales grow by 56 percent over the same two-year period.
As it is, the A3 Sedan continues into 2018 unchanged, with its “horseshoe” grille still slightly larger and more angled than the one the 2017 model replaced, the now standard HID headlamps slimmer with more sharply scalloped lower edges than the more conservative outgoing lenses, and its standard LED taillights still dazzling when lit up at night, while the refreshed A3 Sedan’s sharply detailed lower front and rear fascias continue forward unchanged as well.
Last year’s redesigned standard and optional alloy wheels needed no fix either, my tester’s being a stunning set of machine-finished twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloys that looked as if they’d been upgraded to a sportier trim, but such wasn’t the case at all.
Really, despite standing out like a fully dressed premium four-door, my 2018 A3 Sedan 2.0 TFSI Quattro Premium Plus tester was simply Audi’s least expensive model in its standard mid-range trim, nothing special. Or at least it was nothing special for an Audi. The German brand’s bold, sporty styling has helped sales steadily grow year over year since 2010. Specifically, U.S. market Audi sales grew 7.7 percent last year, making 2017 the luxury brand’s strongest growth since 2014 that saw its sales expand by 11.1 percent over the previous year’s record, while previous years include 2013 with a 15.1 percent increase over 2012, 2012 with 13.4 percent growth, 2011 with an 18.5 percent increase, 2010 with 15.7 percent growth, and 2009 with a 22.8 percent increase over the brand’s financial crisis year woes. That nine-year period witnessed Audi USA sales grow by more than 173.8 percent, all because of making smart decisions like the A3 Sedan (plus the Q3, Q5, and Q7).
The four-ringed brand’s winning formula has long included some of the most appealing cabins in the industry, and the new A3 Sedan only improves on the outgoing model. It’s all about tastefully applied high quality materials—an ample supply of real aluminum trim always part of the package.
The fully configurable Audi Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch TFT primary instrument package was added to top-line Prestige trim as part of last year’s update, while the car maintained its already well-received MMI infotainment system that continues to power up out of the dash-top to the oohs and ahs of passengers, so Audi is ahead of its rivals in one instance and about mid-pack with the other.
Why just a middling classification for A3 infotainment? The 7.0-inch display’s diameter probably makes it a bit small in today’s bigger is better tablet-infused world, although it was certainly large enough for my requirements, and despite providing bright, beautiful colors, deep and rich contrast, crystal clarity and stimulating graphics, its lack of touch-capacitive control keeps it from earning top marks. Then again, the screen earns big points for its disappearing act, or rather the ability to eliminate its own distracting presence during night drives by hiding away in the same nook that brings it to life on startup.
Audi recently upgraded the MMI Radio’s operating system to accept Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, but being that I use an Android-based phone and don’t like the latter system I found the standard interface more pleasing to look at and plenty easy to navigate through, and I’m not just talking about route guidance.
GPS in mind, Audi lets buyers of mid-range $35,200 A3 Sedan Premium Plus trimmed models upgrade with a $3,200 Technology package, which adds MMI Navigation plus to the center display, as well as MMI Touch to the lower console, the aforementioned Audi Virtual Cockpit, and lastly a Bang & Olufsen audio system, but such wasn’t the case with my tester.
I should be clear that my Premium Plus trimmed A3 Sedan was actually upgraded with Quattro all-wheel drive, so the starting price was pushed up to $38,200 before freight and fees, and I should also let you know that the base 2018 A3 Sedan Premium starts at just $31,950, while the top-tier Prestige hits the road at $40,700 in FWD guise or $43,700 with AWD.
The $3,000 difference from front-drive to the all-wheel Quattro drivetrain includes more than just rear-wheel motivation, by the way, the upgrade also featuring 34 more horsepower from 186 to 220 ponies, 37 additional lb-ft of torque from 221 to 258 foot pounds, and one less forward gear, from the FWD car’s brilliant seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automated gearbox to the slightly less flashy yet still very good six-speed S tronic automatic transmission.
Efficiency fans may also chagrin at the Quattro-equipped car’s lack of idle start/stop that helps to reduce the base model’s claimed fuel economy to just 26 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway and 29 combined to a less miserly yet still thrifty 24, 31 and 27 respectively, but frowns turn to a smiles when factoring in the more formidable model’s 0.8-second gain from standstill to 60 mph, the FWD model performing the feat in a respectable 6.6 seconds compared to the Quattro’s much more entertaining 5.8 seconds.
Both A3 trims benefit from highly responsive speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering and a wonderfully nimble fully independent chassis, the latter consisting of MacPherson struts with lower wishbones up front and a four-link suspension with separate springs and dampers in back, the setup combining for easy manageability and a nice comfortable ride through town, superb maneuverability on fast-paced windy back roads, and total stability at highway speeds up to 130 mph, but take note the Quattro system’s rear-drive mechanicals eat up trunk space, reducing available cargo capacity by 2.2 cubic feet to just 10.0 cubic feet.
At least Audi finishes the A3 Sedan’s trunk off nicely with a carpeted floor, sidewalls and under-lid, plus chromed tie-down rings at each corner, while it provides 60/40-split rear seatbacks to expand on its usefulness, with a handy center pass-through for placing longer cargo like skis down the middle so that a duo of rear passengers can enjoy the more comfortable window seats. Also notable, the rear seat folding mechanisms feel much better made than average, while along with a spare tire Audi has organized some small cubbies below the cargo floor for stowing items like work gloves and rags, or possibly a little tool kit.
I should point out the A3 Sedan’s rear seating area is fairly roomy for this subcompact luxury class, with my five-foot-eight medium-build frame still a healthy six inches from rubbing knees against the backside of the driver’s seat after setting up the latter for my near-average height, plus there was still plenty of room for my feet while wearing clunky leather boots. The A3 also provided more than a few inches of air space next to my hips and shoulders, but rear headroom was somewhat compromised with only an inch or so above my crown, and it should be noted that my torso is shorter than average for my height, so therefore someone five-foot-ten with a normally proportioned body would probably find the A3 Sedan a bit cramped in back.
Of course, other than the need to move around the cabin to take notes I spent the majority of my time in the A3 Sedan’s driver seat, which proved easy to set up thanks to exceptionally good ergonomics, and was therefore wonderfully comfortable and ideally positioned for optimal control. Backing out of my parking spot I immediately appreciated the dynamic guideline-assisted rearview camera system that relegates a third of the MMI display to active overhead graphics, which highlighted my car’s proximity to surrounding objects via colors that corresponded with the front and rear parking sensor’s audible beeps, hazard orange changing to bright red when coming dangerously close to scratching the A3’s lovely paintwork.
My tester was finished in Ibis White, one of two standard colors that also include Brilliant Black, while Audi offers a septet of $575 metallic enhancements, with Cosmos Blue Metallic being the most interesting—the rest are white, silver and gray shades, plus vibrant Tango Red Metallic, while myriad $3,900 exclusive colors are available as well.
Now that I’m talking features, on top of everything already mentioned, base Premium trim includes 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, an electromechanical parking brake, leather upholstery, powered front seats with four-way power lumbar, heatable front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, 7.0-inch MMI infotainment, 180-watt 10-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with an aux plug, satellite and HD radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity, Audi’s MMI music interface featuring Bluetooth audio streaming, two SD card reader slots, and two USB charging ports, the rearview camera with active guidelines mentioned earlier, fore and aft parking sensors, a large glass sunroof, an alarm, and more.
On the safety front the A3 gets the expected ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes with EBD and BA, plus traction and stability control, Pre-sense Basic crash response, and six airbags, which is good enough for five stars from the NHTSA in standard trim and Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS when its $850 LED Lighting package is added. Within the A3’s subcompact luxury class only BMW’s 2 Series achieves the latter IIHS rating, and being a two-door coupe or convertible it doesn’t directly compete.
Upgrading to Premium Plus trim provides the aforementioned 18-inch alloys, brighter aluminum window surrounds, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, unique Mistral aluminum interior inlays, more aluminum trim, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass (that should really be standard in this class), Audi side assist to warn from approaching rear traffic, the Audi smartphone interface including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and more.
I should point out the A3 Sedan’s aluminum cabin trim is exquisitely finished, especially around the shifter and MMI controls, the latter including a large rotating dial surrounded by aluminized buttons. The circular controller provides a matte black surface on top capable of finger gestures in lieu of the tablet-style touchscreen missing from the dash, which means that any tap, pinch and swipe functions need to be performed on this small surface.
Options with Premium Plus trim include the aforementioned Technology and LED Lighting packages, plus a $650 Sport package that adds a flat-bottom steering wheel with paddles, sport seats, and Audi Drive Select with Comfort, Auto, Dynamic (sport) and Individual modes, which when chosen necessitates the addition of a $250 sport suspension. You can also upgrade the wheels to 19 inches for $800, and add rear side-thorax airbags for $350.
I’d be tempted to go for the Sport package if this were my personal ride, and it would be difficult not to spend a little more to move up to Prestige trim as well, which makes everything mentioned (other than the Sport package, sport suspension and rear side-thorax airbags) standard, including all the LED Lighting and Technology package features, plus it adds unique S line styling, auto cornering headlight capability, power-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, LED ambient cabin lighting, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, Audi pre-sense front, Audi side assist with Rear cross traffic assist, High Beam Assist, and more.
With pricing between $32k and $45k, plus features to justify any extra expense, the A3 Sedan remains a good value in its subcompact luxury car class, delivering exactly what budget-oriented premium sport sedan buyers want, and looks fabulous no matter the trim. Unfortunately it’s not an SUV, so its sales are slowing despite being such a good car. Still, for those who appreciate the performance and efficiency benefits of a lower and lighter car in comparison to a taller and heavier SUV, the A3 Sedan is a good choice.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press