2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

Audi’s all-new “entry level” 2015 A3 is a sweet little car that comes with a pretty big price tag.  Sure, it starts at $29,900, but that can easily soar past $40,000.  My tester, an A3 2.0 quattro in Prestige trim started at $41,350. Add the $800 Sports package and $895 destination and it hits an eye-popping $43,045.  You can spend more – $550 for metallic colors or $1,400 for an Advanced Technology Package that includes active lane assist, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control – which takes it to a wince-inducing $44,995.  Now you shouldn’t be surprised that the 2015 Audi A4 2.0 quattro Prestige starts at $45,895; but the top price of an A3 is already deep into A4 territory – a sobering thought when ticking option boxes.

Now if you can get past the price, let me explain a few things.

Volkswagen Group's MQB Platform

Volkswagen Group’s MQB Platform

2015 VW Golf GTI

2015 VW Golf GTI

The all-new 2015 Audi A3 is basically a Volkswagen Golf wearing a smart Armani suit.  The 2015 A3 and 2015 VW Golf are the first two vehicles in the U.S. market built on VW’s much-anticipated, multi-billion euro platform called MQB, which stands for Modularer Querbaukasten, translating from German to “Modular Transversal Toolkit.”  It’s a big deal because it’s supposed to underpin hundreds of new models across VW’s vast multi-brand empire for years to come.  From the beginning, it’s able to support front- and all-wheel drive architecture as well as hybrid and pure electric powertrains (such as the e-Golf).

Audi A3 2.0T quattro badge

Audi A3 2.0T quattro badge

The base front drive A3 has VW’s 1.8L direct-injected turbo 4-cylinder engine making 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. I drove it, hated it, and immediately asked to drive the model with the 2.0L direct-injected turbo 4 making 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque – the same sweet (slightly less powerful) engine in the 2015 VW Golf GTI.  Mated to the only transmission offered – a 6-speed S-Tronic dual clutchautomatic – it’s a firecracker. Fast, direct, fun to drive and supremely sure-footed with Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel drive system.

Dual-clutch transmissions can be a clunky affair, but the VW group has sorted these things out well for many years. That said, the creep forward at stop is pronounced and it’s not as buttery smooth at the ZF 8-speed automatic used by BMW in most of its products and upper-tier Audis. But it’s easily as good as the 7-speed dual clutch Mercedes uses in the CLA250, the direct competitor to the A3.

2015 Audi A3 looks good from all angles.

2015 Audi A3 looks good from all angles.

The instruments panel of the A3 is a model of clarity and it looks terrific at night. Note the average MPG readout from the standard multifunction trip computer.

The instruments panel of the A3 is a model of clarity and it looks terrific at night. Note the average MPG readout from the standard multifunction trip computer. Note the retro analog trip odometer reset “0.0” on top of the steering column. Fast and easy! 

The EPA rates the 2.0L quattro setup at 24 mpg city, 33 highway and 27 combined. My tester’s computer showed 20.6 mpg on a combination of about 40% highway and 60% city driving.  It sucks down premium unleaded.

The A3's headlights remind me of something from Angry Birds. A signature Audi look.

The A3’s headlights remind me of something from Angry Birds. A signature Audi look.

The window and side mirror controls are from the VW  parts bin, but they are high quality and the chrome surrounds add a nice touch.

The window and side mirror controls are from the VW parts bin, but they are high quality and the chrome surrounds add a nice touch.

Just about everything in the A3 is executed well. From the signature Angry Bird-inspired LED running lights to the sharply creased sheet metal, this little car looks good from every angle.  The A3 appropriately telegraphs Audi’s DNA and nothing about it screams that it’s a rebadged VW (because it isn’t). It may share the MQB platform and the drivetrain, but what you see is pure Audi.

The same can be said about the inside.  Audi does about the best interiors in the auto business, although the competition has caught up over time. The A3’s interior looks terrific — from the tablet-style pop-up infotainment display to the turbine-inspired round vents, it’s a feast for the eyes.  Most of the surfaces you see and touch are good (not top) quality plastics and soft to the touch, but some hard plastic lurks, particularly in the door panels, below the arm rest, the seat backs and some lower fascia.

This particular model had all the bells and whistles. I particularly liked the Google Earth navigation maps and the 705 watt Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker surround sound.  Both were standard on the 2.0L Prestige.  Audi’s latest-generation MMI (multimedia interface) was easy to use with the center controller and dedicated buttons.  My iPhone 5S synced easily with the system and calls were clear.

The A3's full-color infotainment screen displays Google Earth beautifully and easily with its built-in 4G LTE connection.

The A3’s full-color infotainment screen displays Google Earth beautifully and easily with its built-in 4G LTE connection.

The wide angle backup camera works well, although if you're in a hurry, it takes a couple seconds to pop up and display.

The wide angle backup camera works well, although if you’re in a hurry, it takes a couple seconds to pop up and display.

Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) works well with the large center controller. The finger-writing recognition is too difficult while driving and good luck with the voice recognition.

Audi’s Multimedia Interface (MMI) works well with the large center controller. The finger-writing recognition is too difficult while driving and good luck with the voice recognition.

The power seat controls on the side of the front seats. I’d rather see the controls placed on door like Mercedes.

The power sports seats are comfortable but don’t have a memory function. They do, however, have a hand-adjustable thigh support – something my 6’1″ frame appreciates very much.  Unfortunately, the seat controls are so close to the door that you may have to open the door to adjust the seat!  And the damn seat belt doesn’t have a stop for the buckle so the buckle falls to the bottom of the belt every time you take it off. You have to jam your hand down to the tight crevice between the B-pillar, the seat and the floor – evoking flashbacks of 127 Hours – to find it each time you buckle up.  What were they thinking?

This car is loaded with all the bells and whistles: Full LED headlights and taillights, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, dual zone automatic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, back up camera with guide lines, full-color MMI display, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, real-time traffic and weather, HD radio, 4-G connection w/Wi-Fi hot spot, auto-dimming rear view and side mirrors, leather seating surfaces, power heated (but not cooled) seats, digital compass, panoramic sunroof, tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless entry and ignition, a dizzying array of safety features including countless airbags and air curtains and electronic nannies for braking, stability control and blind spot moniters.

Old-school physical controls and buttons are easy and fast to use.  Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Optional heated seats have 3 levels.

Old-school physical controls and buttons are easy and fast to use. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Optional heated seats have 3 levels.

The cup holders are too close to the HVAC controls. No Big Gulps here. Also the power port should be moved away from the cup holders. Bad placement.

The cup holders are too close to the HVAC controls. No Big Gulps here. Also the power port should be moved away from the cup holders. Bad placement.

And if you’re like me and you’ve experienced the intoxicating, magical capabilities of adaptive cruise control (now with advanced stop & go), then no new vehicle purchase could be complete without it. Simply tick the box for the Advanced Technology package – it only adds $20/month to the lease.

But you know what you can’t get on an A3 – no matter how much you pay? You can’t get a HomeLink garage controller so you have to clip an ugly remote to your visor.  HomeLink is available on a Mazda 3 or a Kia Forte, but not an Audi A3?

The physical volume control knob on the right is handy. The MMI controller is nicely machined and well weighted. Hard buttons clustered around the controller provide short cuts to the main functions - Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media.

The physical volume control knob on the right is handy. The MMI controller is nicely machined and well weighted. Hard buttons clustered around the controller provide short cuts to the main functions – Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media. Note the electronic parking brake button nicely tucked into the console. The S-Tronic transmission can be shifted in sports mode from the shift lever or paddles behind the steering wheel.

Driving the A3 is a breeze.  The electric power steering is fast and tight even though it lacks some of the feedback you might get from now-antiquated  hydraulic units.  It darts in and out of traffic with ease.  The body is rock solid so quick maneuvers don’t feel like the mass is moving in the opposite direction.  The turbo spools up quickly leaving little room turbo lag (except at very low speeds) as the engine pulls and revvs happily to the red line.  Quattro cements the little car firmly in place, so the high winds we experience in the desert don’t blow it away or pull it dramatically off track.

The A3 is easy to park and the turning radius is very tight. The parking sensors and backup camera are very handy but sometimes the cross-path and other warning noises can get annoying. I’ve been heard shouting at the car to shut up, but that’s just me.

The front of the A3 sports Audi's logo: the Four Rings of Auto Union. Extra credit if you can name each ring.

The front of the A3 sports Audi’s logo: the Four Rings of Auto Union. Extra credit if you can name each ring.

Overall it’s a terrific driver’s car, more engaging and better rendered than the Mercedes CLA250. I also think that its lines will age better.

Another small but annoying feature is this key.  The VW group has been using the same large, clunky key for more than a decade. With keyless ignition, it's unnecessarily bulky in my pocket. It's the same key I had on my 2005 A6. Time for a change.

Another small but annoying feature is this key. The VW group has been using the same large, clunky key for more than a decade. With keyless ignition, it’s unnecessarily bulky in my pocket. It’s the same key I had on my 2005 A6. Time for a change.

All this gets me back to the price of a prestigious German badge. You can get far more for your money from a non-luxury or near-luxury brand. For example, the all-new 2015 Acura TLX, a bigger car, about the size of an A4, starts at $30,995. A fully-loaded TXL with a 3.5L 290 hp V6 engine, 9-speed automatic transmission, SH-AWD and the top Advance Package that includes far more luxury features and advanced technology than the A3 or A4 – is $45,595.

The average transaction price of an A3 is probably closer to $36,000 (not coincidentally the about same as the base A4). That’s still $4,000 more than a top-spec VW Golf GTI and enough for a base A4.

Is it worth the the steep premium to drive a small car with the four interlocking rings of Auto Union proudly affixed front and back? You do get a better standard warranty – 4 years/50,000 miles – and sales/service at an Audi dealer is probably much better than a non-luxury brand.  For most people, it all comes down to the deal.  As long as the lease payments are low enough, people naturally gravitate to the fancy German label. So far, the A3 has been a huge hit for Audi and it’s the main reason Audi’s sales are up dramatically so far this year.  I bet your local Audi dealer could find a terrific A3 deal for you too!

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T quattro.

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T quattro.

Chat  —  Posted: September 1, 2014 in Audi, Automobile Manufacturers
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For as long as most people can remember, a Chrysler  mid-size sedan has been the darling of rental fleets. Coarse powertrains, cheap plastics, uninspiring  and sometimes harrowing driving dynamics are what you’ve come to expect from a Chrysler Group product at the airport rental counter.  Around Los Angeles, if you saw a Dodge Avenger or Chrysler Sebring, it was much more likely to have a bar code taped to a side window than a license plate frame from a dealer. The expectations were set pretty low by our friends in Auburn Hills.

When Fiat was given a stake in Chrysler during the 2009 bankruptcy, one of the promised products was a competitive mid-size sedan.  Fast forward to 2014 and Fiat has purchased 100% control of Chrysler. The new group was renamed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, incorporated in the Netherlands with a tax (dodge) domicile in the U.K.  Arrivederci, Turin. See you later, Auburn Hills – but don’t worry, FCA will be listed later this year on the NYSE and the Milan Stock Exchange.

2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200

The 2015 Chrysler 200 fulfills the promise of a mid-size sedan, competitive with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima or Ford Fusion.  It’s built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on a platform donated from sister company Alfa Romeo, running either Fiat’s thrifty 2.4L I-4 Tigershark Multiair II (184 hp, 173 lb-ft of torque) good for up to 36 mph or Chrysler’s outstanding 3.6L Penastar V6 (295 hp, 262 lb-ft torque) good for up to 31 mpg. Either engine is mated solely to a 9-speed automatic transmission manufactured under license from Germany’s ZF.

I took a quick test drive in a 200C with the 3.6L Pentastar V6. It’s the same engine in my 2012 Dodge Charger; however, it’s more lively in a smaller, lighter car with front drive. That said, I couldn’t stop comparing the front drive 200 to my much heavier and larger Charger.  I didn’t miss the size or weight, but I definitely missed the linear neutrality of rear-wheel drive. Such is my cross to bear.

2015 Chrysler 200S

2015 Chrysler 200S

The 200 inspires lazy driving. With 9 gears, under normal driving, you have no clue what gear you’re in unless you look at the dash read out. When you mash the go pedal down, it jumps to life and quickly overtakes anyone dawdling along in traffic, but then you settle back to a relatively uninvolved driver interface.  I didn’t detect much torque steer, but then again, the electric power steering didn’t provide much road feedback.  I did, however, hear more road noise than I expected, on par with the noisier Mazda 6 I drove earlier this year.

You can opt for a panoramic glass sunroof. It makes for a light and airy interior.

You can opt for a dual pane panoramic glass sunroof $1,495. It makes for a light and airy interior.

The front of the 200S is modern if not exactly distinct.

The front of the 200S is modern if not exactly distinctive.

The suspension is definitely not sports-tuned. To that end, it soaked up the a rough patch of road with ease. Hard turns weren’t its strong suit either – but it’s not supposed to be a sports sedan.  I got the sense that it would make daily commuting and long drives a comfortable affair.

Visibility was generally decent, but I found the A-pillar to be rather long and thick which is a byproduct of the steeply raked windshield.  The fastback coupe-like silhouette makes larger rear blind spots, very much like a Ford Fusion. But I guess that’s what things like blind-spot monitors are for, right?

The gear selector is a large rotary knob on the center console. Other Chrysler Group products as diverse as a Ram 1500 pickup truck and the new Jeep Cherokee use the  same setup. It’s in a good location, but I doesn’t provide any noticeable indentations or stops between Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. That makes fast flicking between drive and reverse difficult when you’re in a hurry to do maneuvers like a 3-point turn or parallel parking on a busy street. It’s annoying.

The rotary gear selector looks good and feels like a nicely-weighted, machined knob. It just doesn't "rock" well between gears.

The rotary gear selector looks good and feels like a nicely-weighted, machined knob. It just doesn’t “rock” well between gears.

But where the Chrysler 200 shines is its lovely new interior. Each new product under Fiat’s ownership have demonstrated quantum leaps in quality and ergonomics from previous generations and this 2nd Gen Chrysler 200 is no exception.

The plastics are far better than the econo-box junk Chrysler previously churned out. Soft touch materials are in the right places. Harder plastics are reserved for areas you don’t see or touch.

This is a detail of the interior door trim/pull handle. The memory power seats are an upgrade to the top-of-the-line 200C.  The simulated open pore wood trim is nicely done.

This is a detail of the interior door trim/pull handle. The memory power seats are an upgrade to the top-of-the-line 200C. The simulated matte open pore wood trim is nicely done.

There are plenty of hard-wired buttons, knobs and switchgear in addition to Chrysler’s excellent U-Connect touch-screen infotainment system. It’s nice to have easy to reach controls for volume, changing channels and climate control functions in addition to redundant controls on the multifunction steering wheel and the 8.4″ touch screen.

The cockpit of the Chrysler 200 is a nice place to spend time.

The cockpit of the Chrysler 200 is a nice place to spend time. Note the tasteful blend of a large touch-screen and physical controls.

Garmin still supplies the navigation system, but the graphics have matured and are much clearer and better rendered than before. I didn’t try the voice recognition system. The one in my 2012 Dodge is useless. Hopefully the new generation is much better.

The clever center console has cup holders that slide back to reveal a cave, complete with USB port, for your phone, tablet or other assorted stuff. Of course, there is also some room in the armrest, which also adjusts – a nice touch whether  you’re tall or small.

The 2015 200 sports a slick new center console.

The 2015 200 sports a slick new center console. Note the electronic parking brake next to the gear selector.

The 200 also offers the latest array of nearly autonomous safety features. Opt for the $1,295 Safety Tech package (on the 200C) and you get the latest generation of Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go. The car will stop itself completely and then resume following the car in front when traffic moves again.  Advanced Brake Assist in concert with Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning uses both radar and cameras to detect an imminent collision and applies extra braking force to automatically completely stop the car. Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection are more advanced and work in concert.  Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist looks for lane drift with stereo cameras and can nudge the car back into its lane. Parallel and Perpendicular Park Assist do exactly what’s advertised. And to round off the package (a true bargain) Chrysler throws in rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams.  Remember, this is all for $1,295!

The democratization of technology is moving faster than anyone predicted.  The Chrysler 200, properly equipped, is nearly capable of autonomous driving. It’s just a few thousand lines of software code and a couple sensors away from driving itself.

The back seat wasn’t particularly spacious and the swooping roof line made getting in back somewhat difficult for my 6’1″ frame.  I seem to fit better in back of an Accord or Camry, then again, I rarely ride in the back of my own cars. The scooped out left/right rear seats made the theoretical center 5th seat only good for a small child.

2015 Chrysler 200 Back Seat

2015 Chrysler 200 Back Seat. The rear wheel wells cut into the door opening making it a bit harder to get in.

The sporty seats in the 200S are surfaced with perforated leather. You can option them with seat coolers as well as heaters.  Great for hot weather in Southern California and those cold winter mornings.

The sporty seats in the 200S are surfaced with perforated leather. You can option them with seat coolers as well as heaters. Great for hot weather in Southern California and those cold winter mornings.

The exterior styling of the Chrysler 200 looks like a cross between a Ford Fusion and a Hyundai Sonata. While I think it’s pleasing to the eye, I also think it’s so derivative that it doesn’t stand out in the crowd like the sexy Mazda 6.  I think a more emotional or futuristic design would have helped to attract new customers.

There is one feature that could set the 200 apart from the competition.  In the crowded mid-size segment, all-wheel drive is a rarity.  The Subaru Legacy has the company’s symmetrical all-wheel drive as standard equipment and Ford offers an AWD option on the Fusion.  Chrysler offers AWD on either the 200S or 200C, but only in conjunction with the V6.

Note the AWD badge on back of this 200S.

Note the AWD badge on back of this 200S.

Chrysler wants you to forget everything you thought about its former entries in the mid-size market. The 2015 200/C/S is a competitive entry worthy of consideration with the heavy hitters (Camry, Accord, Sonata, Altima, Fusion, Optima) and even an alternative to a niche vehicle like the Subaru Legacy.

You can never have enough safety features these days. Air bags are everywhere - which is pretty much a given in today's hyper-competitive mid-size family car segment.

You can never have enough safety features these days. Air bags are everywhere – which is pretty much a given in today’s hyper-competitive mid-size family car segment.

As we say in Hollywood when it comes to award season: For Your Consideration. The new 200 is worth a look and maybe even a few awards.

The 2015 Chrysler 200S in Vivid Blue Pearl Coat and on the right, the 200C in Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat.  Ready for a close up. Ready for your consideration.

The 2015 Chrysler 200S in Vivid Blue Pearl Coat and, on the right, the 200C in Granite Crystal Metallic Clear Coat. Ready for a close up. Ready for your consideration.

2015 Chrysler 200 Trim Levels (add $995 destination charge to any level):

  • 200 LX from $21,700
  • 200 Limited from $23,255
  • 200S from $24,495
  • 200C from $25,995

Chat  —  Posted: June 28, 2014 in Chrysler
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