The 2018 Audi A3 is the smallest and least costly model the brand's lineup, available in three body styles and offering a potent 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But its tiny rear seat and trunk may be deal breakers for some, with the A4 and Q5 serving as better options.
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2018 Audi A3 Overview
What's New for 2018
Minor equipment changes mark the 2018 A3; the current-generation model is now in its fourth year. All models now have heated front seats and two USB ports. Blind-spot monitoring is standard with the mid-trim Premium Plus.
Choosing Your Audi A3
Audi offers the 2018 A3 in three grades: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. The sedan and the soft-top convertible models have standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. Sedan cargo space comes in at 12.3 cubic feet, but the convertible is much slimmer, measuring just 9.9 cubic feet.
The A3 comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, regardless of body style or trim. In front-wheel drive models, this engine produces 186 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. In models equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive, Audi boosts output to 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive models have a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while all-wheel drive models lose a cog and have a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. All-wheel drive adds $3,000 to each grade in the sedan and the convertible.
Most options come within specific grades, but there are notable exceptions. For example, the A3 Premium sedan has $900 Convenience (keyless entry and start, Audi music interface, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto) and $650 Sport (sport front seats, Audi drive select, and a sport steering wheel with shift paddles) packages, and charges $500 for heated front seats, $350 for rear side airbags, and $250 for a sporty suspension.
Premium Plus models offer a $3,000 Technology Package (Audi Connect, navigation, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a Audi Virtual Cockpit) a $1,050 LED Lighting Package (LED headlights and taillights), and a $950 Bang and Olufsen sound system. Similar package choices come with the convertible.
Audi also offers an A3 E-Tron Sportback that adds a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a versatile five-door body. This model is listed separately.
Audi’s legendary quattro all-wheel drive system is hard to pass up, a $3,000 option that adds more sure-footed handling and extra power. We'd strongly recommend adding Audi Virtual Cockpit, but you can probably get by without going for the whole-hog Prestige.
2018 Audi A3 Review
Go to Home Depot, and the friendly folks in the lumber department will cut your timber of choice into any size you please. At Audi, the story is much the same: the friendly folks in the sales department will sell you a sedan in any size you please. Such is the nature of the brand's design language, which lengthens rather than changes as you scale the pricing ladder. For the diminutive Audi A3 sedan (and cabriolet), this is a boon, offering buyers the style of the premium models but without their size and sticker-shock.
The beauty of the A3 is that it gives buyers an opportunity to pledge allegiance to the Audi dynasty without spending a royal sum. That statement is best exemplified by the mid-level Premium Plus, which provides additional sport-inspired exterior trim, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, rear cross-traffic alert and keyless entry.
Tack on Quattro all-wheel drive – both because an Audi isn't really an Audi without Quattro and it increases the engine's output from 186 horsepower/221 pound-feet of torque to 220 hp and 258 lb-ft – for $3,000, and then plan on dropping another $3,200 for the Technology Package. If you're on a budget and need to choose between these two, go with the latter. It adds Audi's fantastic Virtual Cockpit, which replaces the traditional gauges with a reconfigurable 12.3-inch display. Not only is it beautiful, but it's extremely functional, to the point that you don't even need to consult the pop-up center display. This pricey package also adds a Bang and Olufsen audio system, navigation, and the Audi Connect telematics system.
- Model: 2018 Audi A3 Premium Plus
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder
- Output: 220 horsepower / 258 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
- MPG: 26 City / 35 Highway / 29 Combined
- Options: Quattro all-wheel drive ($3,000), Technology Package ($3,200, Audi Virtual Cockpit, navigation, Bang and Olufsen audio, Audi Connect), rear passenger side-mounted airbags ($350)
- Base Price: $36,175 (includes $975 destination charge)
- Best Value Price: $42,725
Like nearly all cars in this price range (regardless of segment or prestige), the engine doing the dirty work is a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. It powers every variant, be it front- or all-wheel drive, cabriolet or sedan. The Quattro models do, however, boast a higher state tune, putting out 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, versus 186 and 221 for the front-driver. The former will do 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds, while the latter does the same sprint in 6.6 seconds.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission comes with either six or seven cogs, depending on how many wheels are being driven by the engine. With front-wheel drive, seven speeds abound, while opting for Quattro means six gears instead. Regardless of which transmission is equipped, shifts are fast and smooth in nearly all situations, which we've come to expect from the Volkswagen Group's dual-clutch gearboxes.
Though the A3 is compact, it doesn’t ride like the econoboxes it shares dimensions with. It is comfortable and serene on the road, managing to mask the inherent lack of ride quality typical of small, short-wheelbase cars. However, the littlest A-sedan does show its lineage in the way of road noise, and also suffers from handling that protests rather than acquiesces when pushed into a corner.
Like all Audis, the A3’s design is understated, and matches nearly tit-for-tat the lines of the more prestigious sedans in the lineup. It’s not too surprising that Audi downsized its design language so completely to its smallest offering, as the little bugger wears it well. No detail looks foolish or out of place, and we may even be so bold to say that the A3 might wear the familial styling best. The cabriolet isn’t exempt from this praise, either. With just two doors and and a folding canvas roof, it comes off as a handsome little urban warrior to run some errands while soaking up some sun.
Inside, the conservative-classy trend continues. A pop-up infotainment screen hides inside the dash when not in use, and in that position the dash exudes a vibe of minimalistic tastefulness that is typical Audi. The aesthetic appeal isn’t hampered by quality, either - the buttons and knobs all have a substantial feel that belies the A3’s position as the entry-level Audi. Where its compact status makes itself apparent, though, is in roominess, or rather, the lack of it. The car has tiny dimensions, measuring just 175.5 inches from grill badge to exhaust outlet. Cramming a three-box sedan into that footprint means space is at a premium, as rear-seat adult passengers will painfully discover during their first time caged in the penalty-box back seat.
Up front, at least, there’s enough space that drivers shouldn’t have to worry about comfort or claustrophobia. The seats there are comfortable and supportive, as well as 12-way power adjustable (even on the base model). If a higher dose of sport is on the shopping list, the $900 Sport Package brings a flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters and sport seats, and can be complemented by the $250 sport suspension.
The Best and Worst Things
The A3’s greatest asset lies in its ability to convey that unmistakable Audi profile without looking dorky. In doing so, it manages to maintain an air of sophistication that oftentimes gets lost on teeny luxury cars, and will probably fool some unwitting neighbors or coworkers into thinking you bought an A4 or maybe even an A6.
However, there’s nothing sophisticated about the tiny backseat and clumsy handling when driven spiritedly, two traits that underscore the plebeian roots from which the A3 has sprung from.
Buyers who are single or otherwise rarely carry passengers and cargo will find themselves at home in the handsome, understated A3.
Anyone with a family will be constantly frustrated with the lack of space for people and cargo.
The Bottom Line
Audi has come a long way in the last couple decades, and the overall competence of the A3 underscores that improvement. Small in stature but large in nearly everything else, this tiny sedan or cabrio makes for an excellent upscale commuter that delivers style and quality. Without a doubt, the A3 proves that there’s nothing wrong – and maybe everything right – with being a cut-to-size version of Audi’s larger sedan portfolio.
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