There comes a time in every person’s life when they realize they can’t do the same things they once could. It’s a little harder to stay up late, those jeans you’ve had for years are a bit tight, and you can’t quite run as fast or as far as you used to. Chances are, if you’ve had any of these life experiences, you’re outside the target market for Audi’s new entry-level sedan. But that doesn’t matter because you can have one either way. What does matter is that this is exactly how the Audi A4 must be feeling right now.
A decade ago, the A4 was where the A3 is today. Available either as FWD or with quattro and powered by either a 1.8T or 2.0T, it was Audi’s entry-level sedan. Digging up some old technical information, the 2005 A4 and 2014 A3 are even similar in size. The A4 was 3.6” longer overall with only a 0.5” longer wheelbase compared to the 2015 A3. Interestingly, the A3 is an inch wider than the decade-old A4. Times have changed. Buyers want more comfort, more technology, more space, and more choices. That means with every generation, cars get bigger, heavier, more complex, and more expensive. After several decades of growth, the A4 (and its BMW and Mercedes competitors) was no longer sized or priced to fit the entry-level market. Enter the new A3 sedan.
The previous A3, build on the PQ35 platform shared with vehicles like the Mk5 and Mk6 VW Golf and Jetta, was only available as a 5-door hatchback in the US. Build on the new MQB platform that will also underpin the Mk7 VW Golf and Jetta, this new A3 launches initially as a sedan. But don’t just write it off as an expensive Jetta GLI. While the A3 and the Jetta both have six-speed dual-clutch transmissions, the powertrain is familiar to the A4. This 2.0L turbo makes 220 hp and 258 lb-ft torque and routes power through Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system.
We’ve driven the current generation A4, and despite the low-end torque, it feels large and over-encumbered. The A3 enjoys a little more than a 200 pound weight advantage versus its big brother. Combined with the snappier S-tronic DSG gearbox, it feels sprightlier and more nimble than the A4. The new platform is stiffer, providing a solid foundation for the McPherson front and four-link rear suspension. The A3 has a superb road feel complimented by its responsive steering. As adult as the A3 can act, it has an equal vigor and playfulness. Unlike the Jetta 1.8T, you can and will have fun behind the wheel of this car. The combination of excellent balance and quattro grip give the driver confidence. It could use a set of paddles behind the chiseled steering wheel, however.
Outside and in, the A3 is smartly styled. The design is utilitarian, bordering on minimalist. It doesn’t try as hard to be flashy as the Mercedes CLA. Set on simple 17” 5-spoke alloy wheels and optioned with the added brightwork from the Aluminum Style Package, it drew praise all week. Our Scuba Blue tester stood out from the monochrome German populous. Not everyone warmed to the combination with chestnut brown seats, however. The simplified MMI interface and center stack provide easy and intuitive controls. We also approve of Audi’s MMI screen solution in place of Mercedes’ “stick on” screen. There’s plenty of room up front, though the passenger footwell is a bit narrow. Storage space is also minimal, which is a common problem with most European sedans.
With an as-tested price under $38,000, the A3 offers year-round ability and efficiency. There’s plenty of space and enough features in our tester to satisfy the daily drive. We can’t go back in time, but history often repeats itself. Audi has done that here, taking its cues from the original A4. The peppy engine and fantastic gearbox combine to provide some driver enjoyment. The new styling and composed ride show the A3’s maturity. It’s a package that makes you question whether or not you actually need an A4.
|2014 Audi A3 Premium 2.0 TFSI
|Scuba Blue metallic||$550|
|MMI Navigation Plus (without Audi Connect)||$1,900|
|Cold Weather package||$500|
|Aluminum Style Package||$450|
|Audi music interface with iPod integration||$350|
|As Tested MSRP||$37,545|