When gas prices jumped a few years ago, a new breed of luxury car immediately came to the forefront of automotive buyers. Dubbed the “compact luxury car” these vehicles promised to offer their owners a long list of equipment, performance, and luxury in a decidedly smaller package. The 2016 Audi A3 aims to stand out against rivals such as the BMW 2-Series and the Mercedes CLA in this hotly contested segment, but has its push for sales diluted the very traits that have defined recent Audi models?
The exterior styling of our Monsoon Gray Metallic tester is a compelling mixture of new cues as well as familiar traits from its bigger corporate sibling the A4. The front fascia for example is on the aggressive side and features slick Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights as well as a bold front grille with a prominent Audi logo front and center. The side profile also features solid proportions and looks sharp. However, the styling does stumble when it comes to the rear fascia which looks a bit too stubby and has alittle too much rear overhang for our tastes. The LED tail lights do make up for this to a degree, and have a distinctive presence at night. Our tester also featured optional 18-inch 10-spoke alloy design wheels that helped amp up its sporty intentions even further. This allows the A3 to power ahead of the Mercedes CLA250 in a styling comparison, though the little Audi will face stiffer competition from the decidedly more aggressive looking BMW 2 Series in that regard.
The interior of the A3 also features plenty of luxury and even does a good job hiding its entry level roots. While the commodious amounts of textured rubber may seem cheap in a car like this, it still feels a lot better than the textured hard plastic that has come to define some domestic entries. The layout of buttons and switches is ergonomically sound and the touch screen for the optional MMI Plus infotainment system delivered crisp images and equally quick inputs to various menus and features. The screen can also be stored away at the push of a button which is good for both style and security. Front legroom in our tester was good with the optional sport seats doing an excellent job providing generous amounts of upper and lower back support. The backseat area however is tight for adults with little head and legroom. This point was emphasized best by my mother who had enough of the back seat after a quick jaunt to church.
The bulk of my frustration however was with the Audi Music Interface. The system comes equipped with two cables that feature lightning adaptors, but since the system was designed exclusively for Apple iphones, my Android equipped Samsung S6 was forced to sit out, and rely on the factory Bluetooth feature to formally connect with the stereo.
On the flipside, my favorite interior feature was the built in text reader for text messages as well as various items in the Audi Connect service. While the digital narrator sounds more like an old 80’s computer than Siri, and tended to be too literal with some word and number pronunciations. It was still entertaining hearing the system read the description for a recent museum exhibition on hippie modernism.
Performance for the A3 comes from two four cylinder engines with base A3’s featuring a 1.8 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that is good for 170 horsepower. Higher grade cars like our tester feature the familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder that is good for a healthy 220 horsepower and a stout 258 lb-ft of torque. Normally 220 horsepower would usually not translate to stellar performance, but the A3 makes great use of every bit of it thanks in part to its six speed S-tronic dual clutch automatic transmission which is paired with Audi’s familiar Quattro all-wheel drive system. While it is unfortunate that there is no shift it yourself alternative in the A3, the DSG does make a solid case for itself thanks to its crisp shifts, as well as its built in sport mode. This transmission also helped our tester post a 5.8 0 to 60 time which is quite good for an entry in its class.
This mode can also be paired with Audi’s Drive Select technology that features three distinct driving modes – Comfort, Dynamic, and Auto. Each mode brings a different character to the A3 while a separate Individual mode allows buyers to tailor the overall experience to their tastes. Our tester had strong acceleration and a playful character when it came to its loud exhaust note as well as its solid handling manners.
With all of these good traits, it was a pity that the steering system proved to be the lone wart in this otherwise enjoyable bowl of oatmeal with steering feel straddling the edge between being too numb and outright dead, with very little road feel being delivered to the driver. Putting the system in dynamic mode does mediate some of the numbness, but it could still use a bit more weight to help it truly home in on the sweet spot that many performance oriented drivers crave.
Pricing for the 2016 Audi A3 starts at $30,900 for the base 1.8 T Premium model which would place it within firing distance of the CLA250 and the BMW 228i in terms of overall base price. Our 2.0 liter tester had a base price of $34,200, but that figure quickly ballooned to a lofty $41,900 thanks to the addition of optional equipment. This included the Technology Package as well as the A3 Premium Plus package which cost $2,700 each, and were collectively responsible for a third of the equipment in the car.
This figure is also on par with rivals, but it also has the unfortunate side effect of opening the car up to unintentional competition with the 2017 Audi A4 which has the same $34,900 base price, and also the same $41,900 sticker for a front-wheel drive Premium Plus model. To avoid this, we recommend skipping both of the fore-mentioned packages, and instead go for the $800 Sport Package to fully benefit from the sport tuned suspension and the more supportive front sport seats that come with it.
Overall the 2016 Audi A3 has what it takes to standout in this fiercely competitive segment. While it will not quite match the levels of prestige offered by its bigger brand mate the A4, it is still a compelling purchase for buyers that crave a compact that can deliver potent all-wheel drive performance without sacrificing luxury and the virtues that have come to define modern Audi offerings.