Have you ever met a kid who was the very definition of an “old soul?” One of those kids who voluntarily wore a three-piece suit to school in the seventh grade, and learned how to manage a stock portfolio in his spare time instead of playing video games and eating dirt like the rest of the kids? The Audi A3 is that kid. The premium-compact class is full of cars that let staid marques like Mercedes and Lexus embrace the inner child a little bit. It’s Mini’s fault; the happy-go-lucky Brit all but started this market segment, and most of the premium compacts have followed its example by being a cut above, but not afraid to be a little silly.

Not so, the A3 sedan. Oh, sure, the hatchback that entered its second generation in 2012 is a fun little piece, but the sedan, just arrived this year, is a very sober and serious matter indeed. It’s not that this car doesn’t have a sense of humor—it’s that it doesn’t see the point in having one. I spent a week driving the Audi A3 TDI, and learned how a responsible premium compact sees the world.

Continue reading to learn more about the Audi A3 TDI.

Exterior

2015 Audi A3 TDI - Driven Exterior
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2015 Audi A3 TDI - Driven Exterior
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2015 Audi A3 TDI - Driven Exterior
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It’s not necessarily a bad thing, being responsible in a room full of class clowns. This is the story of the grasshopper and the ant: once playtime is over, who’s prepared when real life comes crashing in?

The A3 sedan doesn’t just look like a car; it looks like a good investment.

As much as I love the Mini Cooper, I’ve got to admit that its reliability ratings would make me hesitate before making one my transportation. The A3 sedan is the diametric opposite of the Mini Cooper, diminutive and dignified.

It looks like an A4 that shrank in the wash, and gives off a solid air that suggests it’ll be around for a long time to come. The A3 sedan doesn’t just look like a car; it looks like a good investment. Audi’s big “singleframe” grille is up front, flanked by LED-accented headlights and neatly starched side creases that carry through to the rear of the car.

Though it shares no body panels with the A4, the A3 is close to impossible to distinguish. I’m a dedicated car spotter and I admit I’ve mistaken A3 sedans for A4s three times since the car debuted.

Interior

2015 Audi A3 Sedan Interior
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Note: Different Audi A3 Sedan interior shown.
The interior’s an equally serious affair, scaling Audi’s conservative yet handsome family styling down to a subcompact level without losing the sense of quality.

It'll seat four without undue discomfort, thanks to extremely comfortable seats and generous interior space.

A three-spoke wheel frames electroluminescent gauges, and includes controls for the Multi-Media Interface system. Round air vents provide a look that’s subtly retro. There’s even a version of Audi’s signature retractable navigation and information screen. It took me a few drives to realize just how small the A3 is; it’s so elegantly appointed that my brain just defaulted to assuming it was a bigger car.

Perhaps there’s something to that, though; a check of the measuring tape says that the A4 is less than an inch wider than the A3 in terms of interior shoulder room. It’ll seat four without undue discomfort, thanks to extremely comfortable seats and generous interior space.

A panoramic sunroof is standard, as are dual-zone climate controls and leather upholstery. The A3 sedan’s got better sound deadening than the hatch, so it’s quieter inside as well. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an A4 at first blush. The A3 also likes to wear its big brothers’ stuff, like any overachieving youngster, and so it’s available with the MMI touch interface and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Drivetrain

2015 Audi A3 TDI - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior
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The A3 is available with a range of four-cylinder engines, as well as a gas-electric hybrid and a diesel. I drove the A3 TDI, which is arguably the most like a sensible three-piece suit of the entire powertrain family. The 2.0 liter clean-diesel engine rumbles out 150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

The diesel engine gives up a bit of low-end acceleration, but exchanges it for smooth freeway manners and impressive fuel economy. There’s barely a hint of additional noise or roughness, either; a modern diesel just doesn’t sound that much different from a gasoline engine these days. Driving the A3 TDI is a distinctively nondramatic experience, with the car nonchalantly providing as much power as you want or need. It actually tended to be a bit dull; I told the car where to go and it went there.

"Push the A3 hard and a bit of its neutral Teutonic demeanor will crack, revealing a confident grin"

Push the A3 hard and a bit of its neutral Teutonic demeanor will crack, revealing a confident grin, but otherwise it’s content be as expressive as a fresh Botox injection site. The power’s transferred to the road by a six-speed automatic transmission. Combining a very small car with a diesel engine is a good recipe for excellent fuel economy, and the A3 TDI delivers nicely, with freeway efficiency rated solidly in the 43-mpg range.

The A3 TDI is at its best on the freeway, unlike many smaller cars. Around town, the drivetrain is responsive and competent to the point of seamlessness. This car is an accomplished subordinate, unobtrusive and trustworthy. Utterly so: it’s hard not to feel like, if I were to exceed the speed limit, the A3 would call the teacher and tell on me. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts in the front and a twist-beam rear—one of the few reminders that the A3 is a subcompact at heart. Between the electronic power steering and excellent damping and wheel control, however, the ride echoes that of its bigger brothers. It’s small enough to nip through traffic with ease.

Audi has made a point of making nearly all of its high-tech toys available on the A3. That includes driver aids like the Side Assist blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control with full start-stop and a park-assist system with a backup camera. Just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it has to be less well-equipped, after all. That’s the mantra of the premium compact.

Prices

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The A3 sits in a comfortable spot in the premium-compact market. Pricing starts just far enough under $30,000 that Audi can say there’s an A3 starting below $30,000—$29,900 for the A3 1.8T. The slightly speedier 2.0T comes in at $33,200, while the TDI undercuts that slightly with an MSRP of $32,600. Part of that difference is all-wheel drive: uncommonly for Audi, the A3 TDI and A3 1.8T are only available with front-wheel drive.

Competition

Mercedes CLA-Class

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The CLA-Class hit the premium-compact market like Mercedes hoped it would; as a game-changer. The expressive and handsome CLA offers everything that the Mercedes badge implies—smooth operation, competent handling, world-class aesthetics and a general feeling of “something special”—at a relatively competitive price. It’s succeeding at its mission of bringing new buyers into the Mercedes fold.

Read our full review here.

Buick Verano

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The lone American entrant in the premium-compact class is a Buick. Underscoring the fact that American small cars have gotten much better over the years, the Verano’s quiet and comfortable, lower-priced than the European competition and available with a 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder.

Read our full review here.

Acura ILX

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The ILX isn’t Acura’s best effort, but this reskinned Civic offers the marque’s signature video-game styling and a smooth powertrain, along with adept handling and the same excellent fuel economy as the Civic.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

2015 Audi A3 TDI - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior
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Compared to other premium compacts, including its own stablemate the A3 five-door, the A3 sedan is actually rather dull. It’s a highly competent, excellently styled and appointed vehicle, but it’s not intended to be the life of the party. As a more efficient luxury car or a means to get into an Audi without spending $50,000, it’s the way to go.

  • Leave it
    • Strong family look leaves it somewhat invisible
    • Heavily-optioned models can get pricey
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