Model: 2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro
Exterior color: Brilliant Black
Interior color: Black
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 33 mpg highway, 24 mpg city
Dealer: Audi Chattanooga
Price (as tested): $33,900
It's Audi's corporate strategy to "become the leading brand worldwide in the premium car segment."
To reach that lofty goal by its target year, 2020, Audi must carve out added market share among luxury buyers and also entice more high-end Honda, Ford and Toyota shoppers to take a look at its products.
Audi, which is introducing its third-generation 2015 A3 sedan this week, is not alone in this push. Mercedes-Benz has its new CLA-class sedan and BMW its 2-series coupes. These vehicles, which all base in the $30,000 ballpark, are meant to be entry-level cars for first-time luxury brand buyers or empty-nest-runabouts for downsizing baby boomers.
Greg Pope, sales manager of Audi Chattanooga, says that Audi's internal marketing report predicts that about 60 percent of A3 buyers will be male and a whopping 85-percent will from households without children (or at least without children living at home, in the case of older buyers).
The Chattanooga Audi store marked the formal introduction of the A3 last week with a special showcase event, and we were invited for an early-bird sneak peek at the car. The A3 is available in a 1.8-liter (180 horsepower) version and also a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive (Quattro) variant which makes 220 horsepower. Prices range from about $29,000 up to $43,000 for the upcoming S3, which will have a 300-horsepower high-performance engine. A turbo-diesel (TDI) is also in the pipeline, and should arrive in dealerships later this year.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The A3 compact sedan is about the same size as the A4 was a generation ago. With each redesign, though, the A4 has gotten a bit bigger. Still, Audi wants to capture the same luxury vibe apparent in the A4 in the new A3, which offers such whiz-bang options as 4G LTE service which can turn a car into WiFi hot-spot capable of handling up to eight mobile devices simultaneously. (Goodbye, costly DVD systems, hello on-the-go video streaming.)
Audi's excellent MMI touch system controls the navigation system, Internet connectivity, satellite radio and Bluetooth from a dial on the center stack. On high-end A3 models, the dial has a circular touch-pad on top that can even read your hand-writing if you decide to ask for directions using your fingertip as a writing instrument.
Visually, the A3 has the same clean, uncluttered lines as its bigger stablemates, and Audi signature design cues such as sexy LED running lights. Basically, its an 85-percent scale A4 with shorter overhangs, a blunt rear quarter and dramatic fascia with Audi's iconic four-ring emblem. A horizontal line (Audi calls it the Tornado line) under the windows ties together the sedan, from headlights to taillights.
Our test car was a Brilliant Black A3 with the larger 2.0 liter engine and all-wheel-drive - a nice option for our mountain roads. With a sticker price $33,900, our tester had most of the goodies you'd want, minus some of the pricier electronic bells and whistles.
Inside, the A3 designers have taken a minimalist approach to the cabin, which is most evident in a spartan dash dominated by large, circular climate control vents. Audis are intentionally designed without a lot of visual clutter, and have very few dials and switches. Two premium features, leather seating surfaces and a panoramic sunroof, are standard on the A3.
On our test drive along Highway 153, the high-revving 2-liter turbocharged engine wasted no time ladling out power. Car and Driver estimates the 2.0T A3's zero-to-60 mph time at a brisk 5.9 seconds. In traffic, our tester displayed nimble reflexes and its electromechanical steering is precise and well-balanced.
The wrap-around dash adds a sporty element to the cockpit, and the cabin-forward design plants the driver right over the road. Seats are firm with plenty of lateral support for sailing around corners. Our tester comes with 17-inch alloy wheels with grippy all-season tires. While the 1.8-liter engine in the base A3 is probably adequate for most drivers, stepping up the the 2.0-liter powerplant with AWD seems a smart choice for the money.
There's a reason Audi is one of the fastest-growing luxury brands. Today's younger buyers haven't inherited their luxury tastes from their parents' generation.
Successful Millennials are more likely to define luxury as a combination of electronics prowess and driving fun. And the A3 provides an on-ramp to a highway lined with both those virtues.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.