The other German entry-level sports sedan

The Audi A3 has only been around in its current form since 2015, having been refreshed after its third-generation introduction in 2012. Next year, for the 2017 model year, the A3 will receive a sharpened look inside and out, along with Audi’s new Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster. Nestled between the commotion is this 2016 model year A3 – fitted with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and quattro AWD. We decided to check out the A3 sedan before the winds of change swept its way.

The A3 rides on Volkswagen’s MQB platform, shared with the VW Golf and A3 Sportback. It holds its four-cylinder powerplant transversely between its front fenders, yet somehow offers impressive neutrality when driving through the corners. Its interior is clean and modern, having been mildly refreshed for 2015. And despite the new exterior look looming on the horizon, the A3 remains a fresh and stylish.

My tester came loaded with the Prestige package, an $8,850 option that brings a slew of features that range from larger wheels and LED headlights to heated front seats, navigation, and several active safety features like adaptive cruise control an active lane assist. Optional atop of that are the 18-inch “five-arm wing” wheels and summer tires, and the Sport package, which adds front sport seats, Audi drive mode select, the three-spoke steering wheel, and sport suspension.

Needless to say, my tester came packed to the gills. It’s price was inflated as well, cresting the $45,000 mark after the destination charge was added. Nevertheless, let’s check out the 2016 Audi A3.

Continue reading for the full review

  • 2016 Audi A3 – Driven
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    220
  • MPG(Cty):
    24
  • MPG(Hwy):
    33
  • Torque @ RPM:
    258
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    5.4 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    129 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, AWD
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    8/10

Exterior

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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The A3 is a handsome car with plenty of sharp details to look at. The six-sided front grille carries the chrome Audi rings with pride, held in place with black, horizontal slats. The LED headlights, an option, give the car a high-tech look, especially at night. The daytime running lights are also LED – a trend Audi started years ago that is now seen on just about every new vehicle out there.

All told, the A3 looks the part of an entry-level luxury sedan

The sharpness continues with attractive bodylines that run the length of the car. Accent lines run over the wheel arches and along the door bottoms, rising up towards the taillights as it gets closer to the rear. Somewhat tall greenhouse is hidden by blacked out B- and C-pillars, along with the glass roof.

Around back, a strong accent line runs along the top of the deck lid giving the appearance of a spoiler. Down below a black valance holds the twin, chrome-tipped tailpipes in place. The optional 19-inch, five-spoke wheels look beautiful with their grey-painted pockets and machine-faced fronts. Continental summer tires give the A3 extra grip for spirited driving.

All told, the A3 looks the part of an entry-level luxury sedan. It’s easy to imagine a young doctor and fresh-faced middle manager driving the A3 from the suburbs to his well-paying job downtown.

Interior

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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Pull the handle on the A3, swinging the font door wide, and you’ll be greeted with a simplistic yet well-appointed cabin full of hidden tech. Behind the wheel, the driver is greeted with two analog gauges and a small information screen. Though 2016 is the last year for the traditional gauges, they work well and sweep beautifully at startup with their red needles. Steering wheel controls modulate the diver information screen, which gives vital information on the car’s parameters.

It might not be the most user-friendly infotainment system on the market, but it does a decent job

When the Star/Stop push-button is depressed, the A3 comes to life and the main infotainment screen rises from the dash. The system’s controls are located on the center console, as with most Audi products. It might not be the most user-friendly infotainment system on the market, but it does a decent job. What’s more, data entry is extremely easy thanks to the touch pad on the main control knob. You can simply write letters and numbers into the navigation system rather than plinking through Audi’s non-QWERTY keyboard.

The HVAC controls down below are extremely simple to operate. Dual zone temperature controls keep front passengers happy, as do three-way heated seats. Best of all are the four main air vents. They are a pleasure to operate and offer immaculate detailing to look at. That’s especially true with the chrome rings around the vents. This rings turns 90 degrees, turning each vent on and off. At the end of their rotation is the most satisfying of “clicks,” making it one of my favorite interior details.

Smallish cup holders are placed under the HVAC system and prevent large “Americanized’ cups from fitting. The door pockets don’t offer additional cup holders, so if you’re getting that drink to go, make it a medium.

Front seat comfort is good, with the optional sport seats providing good support and plenty of adjustment. The armrests are a little low for my tastes, but I quickly adjusted. The steering wheel feels great in the hands and its paddle shifters are a pleasure to operate. I do wish, however, the paddles were metal rather than chintzy plastic.

Rear seat passengers have a decent amount of room for this class of car, though you’d never mistake this for an A8. Comfort is good though, thanks to a good rake on the seatbacks and a cushy center armrest.

Drivetrain

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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Powering the A3 is Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder. It makes a respectable 220 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at only 1,600 rpm. That diesel-like torque is felt throughout its powerband, or at least until the turbo starts really feeding the engine at speeds above 3,500 rpm. The engine surprisingly utilizes an iron block, though the cylinder head is aluminum. It does feature direct fuel injection, making the four-pot seem more 21st century.

The engine is mated to Audi’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which fires off respectably quick shifts. That’s especially true when Dynamic mode is engaged, making shifts happen more quickly while holding gears longer. The throttle is also made more sensitive, giving the driver a better sensation of power. Dynamic mode is a part of Audi’s drive mode select system. The electronics allow the driver to manual switch between Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, and Individual. These modes change not only the throttle response and transmission’s shift patterns, but also adjust the weight of the steering feel.

Around town, the A3 2.0T achieves 24 mpg, while the combined average is 27 mpg.

Mated behind the six-speed is Audi’s famed quattro AWD system. It works to give the A3 the most traction possible in a variety of situations. While it’s certainly not meant at a 4WD system, it does provide vastly improved traction in wet and snowy conditions, along with better grip in the dry during spirited drives. It also eliminates any trace of torque steer when exiting hard from a corner.

Despite the engine’s peppy nature, it manages to achieve an EPA-estimated 33 mpg on the highway. Around town, the A3 2.0T achieves 24 mpg, while the combined average is 27 mpg. That’s not terrible by any means. The turbo four does require premium fuel, however, so refueling will be more costly.

Driving Impressions

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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Behind the wheel, the A3 feels incredibly balanced and well suited for canyon carving. It’s steering is nicely weighted, especially in Dynamic mode, and road feel is conveyed fairly well through the wheel. The engine’s 258 pound-feet of torque is magical off the line, hitting peak torque at only 1,600 rpm. Once the turbo spools up and the variable valve timing switches to its more aggressive tune, the engine breathes hard, pulling the car forward with a surprising force. It’s no R8 – or even the TTS for that matter – but the A3 does a great job of being a luxury sports sedan.

It’s no R8 – or even the TTS for that matter – but the A3 does a great job of being a luxury sports sedan.

Outward visibility is good thanks to large-ish side mirrors with blind spot monitoring. The backup camera provides a good view rearward, along with adaptive guidance lines. These aspects help tremendously with driver confidence and the perceived nimbleness of the car.

Pushing the A3 hard results in a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. If you were to find yourself on the Autobahn in a U.S.-spec A3, 129 mph would be V-max thanks to a limiter.

Pricing

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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The A3 is Audi’s entry-level sedan and carries a reasonable staring price of $30,900 to reflect that. But like with any modern vehicle, options can quickly escalate, adding significantly to the bottom line. In this case, the most basic option is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder over the 1.8-liter. This brings the price to $34,200.

My tester then came packing the $8,850 Prestige package, the $800 19-inch, five-spoke wheels, and the $800 Sport package. Add to that the $925 destination charge, and the total comes to $45,575.

Now the Prestige package might seem overly priced, but it does offer quite a number of features. They include heated power front seats, power-folding and heated side mirrors, auto-dimming driver side exterior mirror, Audi’s advanced key, aluminum window surrounds, S line exterior, LED interior lighting, Audi’s MMI navigation with voice control, Band & Olufsen sound system, and LED headlights. Mixed in are safety features like Audi adaptive cruise control with stop & go functionality, active lane assist, and Audi’s pre sense system.

Competition

BMW 328i xDrive

2016 BMW 3 Series High Resolution Exterior
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The BMW 3 Series has long bee the benchmark of the entry-level premium performance sedans, but some say modern examples have lost its way. Still, the 3 Series continues to offers outstanding performance mixed with luxury, all wrapped in a German package that’s appealing to the eye. Competing directly against the A3 2.0T is the 328i xDrive. It offers 240 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque routed through an AWD system. The BMW foregoes a dual-clutch in favor of a traditional auto gearbox, albeit one with eight forward gears. Sixty mph comes in just 5.3 seconds, besting the Audi by only a tenth of a second.

We haven’t driven the 328i xDrive, so we can’t comment on its driving dynamics, but if it follows its hype, the Audi must bring its A-game to the fight. The Audi does have the BMW beat on pricing, however. The 328i xDrive starts at $41,295 and can easily be optioned beyond the $55,000 mark – well above the A3’s top price.

Read our full review on the BMW 3 Series here.

Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA
- image 669722

Mercedes enters the party with the CLA-Class – its entry-level coupe-like sedan built on a FWD chassis. Owners can opt for AWD with the 4Matic, and that’s what we’d do here for a fair fight. The CLA250’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque – making it the third car in this comparison with that torque rating. The CLA isn’t exactly the hottest performer Mercedes has ever built, though it does hold its own.

Pricing for the CLA250 4Matic starts at $34,050, but can quickly surpass $50,000 in price with all the option boxes checked. This makes the Audi seem like a rather good deal, though many will gravitate towards the CLA’s bold appearance more than the Audi’s far more subtle look.

Read our full review on the Mercedes CLA here.

Conclusion

2016 Audi A3 – Driven
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The A3 certainly has its hands full with stout competition from BMW and Mercedes, but its strong performance, handsome looks, and high level of features for the dollar make it impossible to ignore. While the 2016 A3 offers these things, the heavily updated 2017 model furthers Audi’s grasp of the class. Its classy new exterior design and Virtual Cockpit inside give the A3 some unexpected love. After all, the current A3’s looks are only two years old.

Audi’s brand reputation has definitely shifted from that quirky automaker that ran rally back in the 1980s to its highly sophisticated image of today. The changes come in 2017 will further that, but for now, the 2016 A3 continues to offers a smart package for those wanting an entry level luxury sports sedan with all-weather grip.

  • Leave it
    • Being refreshed for 2017
    • MMI system has small learning curve
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