Audi A3 vs. Lexus IS 200t

By

Contributing Editor

A veteran auto journalist and editor of Tirekicking Today, Jim has contributed countless reviews and articles to such publications as autoMedia, New Car Test Drive, and Kelley Blue Book, as well as J.D. Power, cars.com, Consumer Guide, and the Chicago Tribune. He began by writing about antique/classic cars and how-to tasks, before turning to new and used vehicles. Most of his 30 published books have dealt with auto history, along with six children’s titles. His most recent book is the Tirekicking Used Car Buyer’s Guide.


, Contributing Editor - March 2, 2016

Audi has offered an A3 before, but the current version debuted for 2015 as a four-door sedan. Since then, the lineup has expanded to include a convertible and a plug-in hybrid hatchback. Two turbocharged four-cylinder engines are offered: 1.8-liter with front-drive, and 2-liter with all-wheel drive.

Redesigned for 2014 on a longer wheelbase, Lexus’s smallest sedan is in its third generation. Three engines are available, including a new turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder in the IS 200t. Offered only with rear-wheel drive, that version gets an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available with V6 models. Any IS can be fitted with an F Sport package.

See a side-by-side comparison of the A3 & IS 200t »

What the Audi A3 Gets Right

Agile handling has been an Audi hallmark for a long time now, and the A3 follows that tradition with its quick, well-weighted steering. Refinement is another well-known Audi attribute. Audi’s MMI control/display interface ranks among the best, too. Both engines score highly in efficiency, EPA-rated at 33 mpg in highway driving, versus 23 or 24 mpg for urban duties.

Performance is on the milder side with the 1.8-liter turbo engine, making the 220-horsepower 2-liter engine the wiser choice. Both engines mate with a six-speed dual-clutch automated-manual transmission. No version of the A3 quite qualifies as an authentic luxury car, but that’s no surprise for a subcompact. On a practical note, the back seat is considerably tinier than passengers are likely to appreciate. Expect some road and wind noise on the highway, too.

What the Lexus IS 200t Gets Right

Boldly styled and greatly improved inside, compared to its predecessor, the current Lexus IS is a pleasant capable premium compact sedan. Regardless of engine, however, it falls short of several German-maker competitors. Performance of the IS 200t with its new turbocharged four-cylinder engine is sufficiently strong, with 0-60 mph acceleration possible in just under 7 seconds.

Unfortunately, there’s a drawback to the four-cylinder. Right at the moment when a hefty burst of acceleration is needed, a momentary—but significant—delay might occur, stemming from the turbocharger and transmission. Though gentle as a rule, the ride can grow harsher as road surface changes. Passenger comfort isn’t top-notch. Reaching the back seat may demand contortions, and a low roofline makes the driver’s seat less accessible. Front seats are on the tight side, too.

Can Audi’s smallest sedan overpower the Lexus compact?

Lexus produces a number of compelling models, but the third-generation IS, especially in IS 200t form, has a few demerits that push it behind the subcompact, most affordable Audi.

Our Verdict: Audi A3

Despite a couple of imperfections, the A3 gets our vote—though not exactly by a knockout. Because of the scandal at Volkswagen, Audi’s parent, sales of the diesel-engine A3 have been suspended.

See Your Audi A3 Price »

See Your Lexus IS 200t Price »

Side-by-side comparison of features, pricing, photos and more!

, Contributing Editor

A veteran auto journalist and editor of Tirekicking Today, Jim has contributed countless reviews and articles to such publications as autoMedia, New Car Test Drive, and Kelley Blue Book, as well as J.D. Power, cars.com, Consumer Guide, and the Chicago Tribune. He began by writing about antique/classic cars and how-to tasks, before turning to new and used vehicles. Most of his 30 published books have dealt with auto history, along with six children’s titles. His most recent book is the Tirekicking Used Car Buyer’s Guide.