First Drive: 2015 Audi A3

First Drive: 2015 Audi A3

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SEATTLE, WA, March 19, 2014 – While it has little issues holding its own as a premium luxury brand, Audi kind of had an identity crisis when it came to being thought of as “affordable”. With the pending release of its newly redesigned A3 sedan, you can soon get an Audi for just under the $30k mark. Initially, there will be two models available, a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter TFSI that’s front-wheel-drive only as well as a 220-horsepower 2.0-liter TFSI model with Quattro priced at $29,900 and $32,900 respectively.

The engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a “normal”, “sport” and manual mode to it. The car definitely is tuned to be the most fun to drive in “sport” mode as the shift points are far more aggressive and do a better job of keeping the driver in the “power band”. To get paddle shifters you’ll need to step up to the Premium model and get them as an extra add-on.

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Around the summertime of this year, there will be a Cabriolet and later this fall, Audi will release a 3.0-liter S3 version with 290hp and Quattro which will be closer to the $40,000 mark. Additionally, there are plans to roll out a sportback e-tron gas/hybrid and a TDI clean diesel.

Audi offers two upgrade packages over the baseline, these include the Premium Package that upgrades the wheels to some swanky-looking 18-inch 10-spoke beauties, an aluminum interior package and keyless entry for an additional $2,550. In order to get all of the available “bells and whistles”, however, you’ll need to opt for the Prestige Package which includes everything in the Premium but offers a S-Line exterior kit, driver assistance package, the Bang & Olufsen sound system, MMI navigation, Audi Connect, Convenience package and full LED headlights for a scale-tipping $8,450 dollars.

At a recent press event, Audi invited members of the media to take the A3 for a lengthy drive up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. These roads not only made out to be a formidable testing area because of how twisty the roads are – but they also made yours truly here feel a bit “green” after a few hours and it wasn’t because of being surrounded by beautiful Redwood trees, either.

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What really makes this car intriguing and more than just another “fancy compact sedan” is the technology that has gone into it. Audi partnered with quite a number of tech companies such as Google, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Bang and Olufsen as well as AT&T.

NVIDIA’s Tegra Mobile Processor powers the MMI system that’s a part of the Prestige package. NVIDIA processors are now in over 4.5 million cars on the road and thanks to Audi, that number continues to grow. The Tegra is powerful, puts out low heat and in the new A3 is upgradable via software upgrades and uses a nifty card-slot design which means Audi will have an easy time running more powerful Tegra chips in future automobiles without having to reengineer the system it resides in. No word yet as to whether or not owners of the A3 will be able to get dealer-installed hardware upgrades yet. No question, that someone, somewhere will figure out how to overclock it or perform other modifications to it.

The sound quality of the Bang & Olufsen audio system is very good but still nowhere close to the fidelity of the Fender audio system in some Volkswagen cars or the Infinity systems in certain KIAs. B&O had a rep at the press event, giving demos inside one of the cars and the system does have good sound staging for 2-channel audio, however, when watching a 5.1 DVD, the center channel gets a bit “lost” in the whole mix.

Qualcomm provides the on-board modem while AT&T provides the world’s first 4GLTE connectivity for a car. With this technology, one can setup the car as a “hot spot” and connect wireless devices to it. What doesn’t really make too much sense is why wouldn’t someone simply setup their smartphone as a hotspot to achieve the same thing?

Audi has been using Google Earth for a few years now and the A3s implementation of it is very good. Thanks to the NVIDIA Tegra chip, the maps are extremely fluid, load fast and really do present a superior alternative to the mostly drab-looking NAV maps in most of today’s cars.

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Interior materials feel appropriate giving the price point of the A3 with plenty of leather and soft surfaces. What may be a rather polarizing point, however, is the rather retro-looking dash with the round vents. It’ll definitely be a love or hate thing – here’s to betting most people will dig it. While the seats are rather comfortable on a long drive, they could do a better job of providing lateral support around twisting roads. Leg room up front is more than ample, not so much for rear passengers but Audi has made the best of it with a design on the back of the front seats which help accommodate the legs of rear passengers. Remember, this is a compact sedan so there should be no surprises here.

What matters most with any Audi – and most cars for that matter – is how it drives. I’m pleased to report that even with all-season radial tires, this car handles like it’s nearly on rails. Myself and another editor, drove the car rather hard around many twisty roads and didn’t really pay any attention to those “suggested speed” signs as we entered into the corners. The suspension is easily the best-dampened one I’ve driven in any car in this class. It’s firm, yet gentle enough to not make you feel as if you’re getting beat-up. To the contrary, you can drive this car for hours and still not feel tired at all.

The configuration to go for at this time, is easily the 2.0 – it’s only a few thousand dollars more and delivers a much better driving experience for those who enjoy being a bit more heavy on the accelerator pedal. In fact, it’ll be interesting to watch how the sales of the 1.8-liter do compared to the 2.0 – for my money, the 1.8 isn’t even an option, all things considered. If you can afford $29,900 for the front-wheel-drive 1.8, you may as well go for the 2.0 with all-wheel drive – it’s a no brainer.

In the end, the revamped A3 is an exciting car to watch as it helps usher in the brand to a whole new demographic by starting off below $30k. Add in all the additional configurations that Audi has planned this year and it should no doubt be a very successful platform.

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