The cars we loved.
The compact luxury segment is really heating up in the United States. After years of seeing small cars as penalty boxes, American’s are slowly changing their perceptions about small cars. We even can tolerate the ideal of a small hatchback, as the VW Golf and versions of the Focus and Mazda3 would attest.
While the Japanese brands have been reaching upmarket, the German’s are trying their hand at introducing their formally Europe only lower end products in America. While some version of the Audi A3 has existed for more than two generations in Europe the latest version of the car go a complete makeover in part to suit American perceptions about what makes a luxury car.
In the case of the A3 that meant a sedan only bodystyle as it’s mainline car type for the States. A A3 Cabriolet is also available and shows the potential of a two door A3, but Audi is focusing on the four door sedan mostly. Other variants of the A3 like the 5 door hatch called the Sportback were held back, despite the form factor’s growing popularity in America.
The A3 is pleasant enough to look at. Audi made a conscious effort to make it’s styling resemble the larger A4 to the point of making it easy to confuse the two if they were not next to each other in a parking lot. The strong family resemblance to the A4 and the rest of the Audi family continues with the angry arched brow look of the LED lights. Audi’s done a great job of bringing its trademark look to a smaller package.
Being that the A3 shares it’s basic underpinnings with the VW Golf/GTI and Audi TT allows Audi to cut some costs, but those savings are not immediately apparent to the casual driver. For instance, the interior is laid out well and simple with an array of high quality materials with either wood or brushed aluminum accents.
The A3 is front wheel drive unless the buyer opts for a all-wheel drive Quattro model. All four wheels are more likely to be moving upmarket “Prestige” trim versions of the car with the 2.0 turbo engine. That four cylinder makes a health 220 hp. The smaller 1.8, also a turbo produces 170. That puts the A3 on equal pairing with similar cars like the BMW 2-Series and Mercedes CLA-Class. The A3 is as large as the original A4 of 1994.
As for fuel consumption, a factor luxury car buyers might consider important in this class, the larger engine version of the car is the most efficient oddly by 1 mpg over the 1.8 with a 22 city and 33 highway. This number assumes premium fuel, unlike the Mazda3 2.5 which can achieve 40 mpg while still making 184 hp. Audi should at least match the efficiency and power of competitors like these in it’s 1.8 version. The A3 used a six speed dual clutch automatic with a manual mode. It’s the only transmission available. A more power sport oriented S3 variant will likely arrive with a full 6 speed manual.
The A3 offers an interesting proposition to the small car buyer who may not care about the presumed cache of driving a German brand. If a car like the Mazda3 were compared to the A3, you might find that the two are nearly evenly match for features. They even have similar interiors with LCD screens that appear stuck on the dash in the same manner.
Audi knows that the stay ahead of ascending competition from the likes of Mazda, it has to offer slightly more performance, if not in road manners certainly in gadgets. The A3 2.0 and Mazda3 2.5 offer similar performance on the road although the Mazda would struggle to match the A3’s 0 to 60 time or around 6 seconds.
On the inside the A3’s gadget advantage it’s a bit more clear cut as it offers Bang & Olufsen surround sound and 4G LTE internet connectivity (the car is a hotspot!) all controlled through a display that benefits from a fast NVIDIA graphics processor for less lag when loading maps and such. The Audi’s geek tach factor alone might be enough to sway young hotshot developers and tech types – this is what Audi is counting on. Who the car appeals to is just as important as how it stacks up against the competition.
If the A3 is anything like other Audi of late, it’s biggest liability could be in it’s overall quality and ownership experience. It’s not uncommon to see a late model Audi with one of its LED’s out. While that’s a minor flaw, it might be indicative of the brand’s quality overall. Granted cars like these are likely to be leased and after two years, discarded for another. It’s the poor second or third owner who’s left with the cars flaws. J.D. Powers and Consumer reports would seem to suggest that Audi has good quality, but not at the top of it’s segment.
Audi and German brands in particular have not made the gains that their Japanese, Korean and even American rivals have. A quick look at the asking prices of off lease or cars older than 5 years would suggest that the resale value topps out sooner than the average Lexus of the same vintage. Audi’s in general seem to retain less of their value compared to similar German cars from BMW and Mercedes.
A3’s bound for America are made in Ingolstadt, Germany. German heritage in the case of the A3 means exceptional design and technology with some measure of efficiency. More and more those attributes are becoming the norms for players in the hotly contested compact class, but without the high cost of ownership usually associated with European cars. This is where Audi can distance itself from Mazda or Acura (not to mention BMW or Mercedes) while maintaining whatever snob appeal the Audi brand has left.