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.