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- Highs Spirited handling, perky turbocharged engines, classic Audi luxury.
- Lows Cramped cabin, most driver-assistance features are optional, design is showing its age.
- Verdict The A3 is everything we like about Audis distilled into a small package.
The A3 might be the German brand's smallest sedan, but that doesn't mean buyers are shortchanged for luxury or driving enjoyment. Based on the same platform that underpins the Volkswagen Golf, the A3 offers peppy acceleration, spunky handling, and rock-solid build quality. It inherits much of its styling from elsewhere in the Audi portfolio, starting with the trapezoidal grille that it shares with the rest of the lineup. Technology plays a key role in the A3's cabin, which includes an optional digital gauge cluster and a motorized pop-up infotainment screen. Even so, the A3 is showing its age as more modern rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz A-class are coming to market with more modern styling and features; we expect the 2020 model year to be the last for this generation of the A3.
What's New for 2020?
Front-wheel-drive 2020 A3 models now carry the Sport moniker, while Quattro all-wheel-drive models are badged as S Line. Both models are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; the engine makes 184 horsepower in Sport models and 228 in the S Line. Premium models now come with 18-inch wheels, a driver-selectable driving-mode system, keyless entry with push-button start, ambient interior lighting, a color driver-information screen between the gauges, new aluminum trim, and black exterior trim. Stepping up to a Premium Plus model brings in a Bang & Olufsen audio system, automatic high-beam headlamps, rear-seat USB charging ports, and an interior storage package. Audi has introduced the Final Edition package—which leads us to believe that this generation A3 is nearing the end of the road—which adds leather sport bucket seats, puddle lights that project the Audi logo on the ground outside the front doors when they are opened, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles. The drop-top A3 cabriolet is dead.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We think the front-wheel-drive Sport Premium Plus model strikes the best balance of performance and features. Sure, its 184-hp four-cylinder isn't as powerful as the one in the S Line model, but it's more fuel efficient and still plenty peppy. Plus, the Premium Plus trim adds more features that luxury buyers will find welcome, such as the aforementioned 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and automatic high-beam headlamps. Going all out for the top-of-the-line S Line Premium Plus puts the A3's price too close to the larger and more modern A4 sedan.
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Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The A3's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is offered in two potencies—184 or 228 horsepower—and is smooth and refined. The higher-powered version rocketed an all-wheel-drive 2017 A3 sedan from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds at our test track back when its horsepower rating was 220. Steering is precise, the ride composed, and optional Quattro all-wheel drive provides all-weather assurance. Looking for more? Check out the A3's high-performance siblings: the S3 boasts 292 horsepower and the wild RS3 has a 400-hp inline-five under its hood.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Front-wheel-drive Sport models are the most fuel efficient A3s with ratings of 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. Adding all-wheel drive to the mix drops those estimates to 22, 30, and 25 mpg respectively. We'd wager these estimates are conservative, though, since an all-wheel-drive model delivered 34 mpg on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test route. All-wheel-drive versions of the A3's two biggest rivals—the BMW 230i xDrive and the Mercedes-Benz A220 4Matic—both delivered 35 mpg in the same test.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Inside, the A3's cabin is as stylish and as well-assembled as its larger Audi siblings, but interior passenger space is tight, even by compact-car standards. Even though it's smaller and older than the larger A4 and A6 sedans, you don't feel shortchanged for luxury inside the A3's cabin. The spunky little sedan blends influence from Audi's sports cars—the TT and the R8—with prominent round air vents on the dashboard and an optional digital gauge display. The A3's trunk is roomy enough—we fit five carry-on suitcases in there—and the rear seats fold down to accommodate bulkier items. Finding places to fit smaller items throughout the cabin is more challenging, especially in the A3's center console, which is short on storage space.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Innovative technology is featured heavily; all models come with a 7.0-inch infotainment display that pops up from its hiding place inside the dashboard when the A3 is turned on. It's controlled by a rotary knob on the center console and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability; a 4G LTE–powered Wi-Fi hotspot is optional. A nine-speaker audio system is standard and will likely satisfy most users, but audiophiles will be more interested in the optional 705-watt Bang & Olufsen system that somehow crams 14 speakers into the A3's compact interior.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Overall Safety Rating (NHTSA)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the A3 a five-star rating and the 2019 model qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's second-highest honor: Top Safety Pick. Audi offers plenty of driver-assistance features, although most are extra-cost options. Automated emergency braking and forward-collision warning are both standard, but conveniences such as adaptive cruise control, a self-parking feature, and automatic high-beam headlamps are optional. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with forward-collision warning
- Available blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert
- Available adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlamps
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
All Audis share the same four-year/50,000-mile warranty. BMW and Acura, however, both offer more value here. The 2-series comes with three whole years of maintenance included and the Acura ILX offers powertrain coverage that stretches six years or 70,000 miles.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance