Posts Tagged ‘A3’


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.

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The rise of fuel prices in Los Angeles and the rest of the country has been a boon for the makers of  Xanax and a pain in the wallet for all drivers.  At this point, almost every grade of gasoline or diesel is $4.00/gallon or higher.

Americans seem to have collective amnesia after The Great Gas Panic of 2008.  Remember when gas was nearing $5/gallon around LA?  I do, but apparently most don’t. Throughout 2009 and 2010, sales of hulking trucks and SUVs that, at best, returned fuel economy in the high teens, were on the rise again.  In fact, during 2010, residual values of big, heavy, gas-guzzlers increased significantly because there was such high demand.  That may be coming to an end.  The  new Gas Panic of 2011 has arrived and it threatens to derail our already fragile economy.

2011 Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the United States.

As usual, the top-selling vehicle for 2010 was the Ford F-series pickup truck. Ford sold a staggering 528,349 units – great news for Ford. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the Chevy Silverado pickup truck was the number two selling vehicle in 2010 with 370,135 units.  If you add the sales of GMC’s Sierra (Silverado’s spawn) of 129,794 units, total GM light truck sales totaled 499,929 units.  Wow – you sure don’t see that in LA metro where it seems like almost every other car is a Toyota, Honda, Mercedes or BMW.  Where I live in West Hollywood, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Prius.

Even as recently as February 2011, the top selling vehicles in the US market were:

As usual, we can’t get enough of the big, bloated trucks. But is that about to change?

There was a short period during the 2008 Gas Panic when the Ford F-series truck was knocked from the top position by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord; but that was short-lived as gas prices receded when the Wall Street-driven speculative oil futures bubble burst.

This time around, the price hikes are fueled by fears of uprisings in oil-producing countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  There is no oil shortage – for now.  However, as events in those regions unfold, and the stability of oil production and supply becomes ever more precarious, the high oil prices may stick around for a longer time.  Assuming our “friends” in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates hang on to their kingdoms and autocratic authoritarian governments, eventually oil prices will stabilize at a lower level and gas prices will recede again.  If those regimes fall, all bets are off.  It looks like high prices at the pump are here to stay for a while.

There are many more great fuel-efficient cars on the market today than there were in 2008.  However, there are very few choices in the luxury category if you want something that gets better than 25 mpg.  It seems like if a luxury hybrid attains 22 mpg, it’s cause for celebration.   But I think there is a larger market for affordable, luxury (or near luxury) cars that can top 35 mpg.

While Toyota’s Lexus division beats every other manufacturer with the sheer volume of hybrids, only the RX 450h, a fancy Toyota Highlander, offers a significant bump in fuel economy(>30%) over its gas-only cousin, albeit at a $4,560 premium. The new CT 200h is a gussied up, less fuel efficient, Prius.  The HS 250h is a Toyota Adventis from Europe with the Camry Hybrid drivetrain.  The GS 450h and LS 600h L have no Toyota analog, but neither have stellar fuel economy (see below).  As things currently stand today, the CT 200h is the (near) luxury fuel economy champion.

2011 Lexus CT 200h

A close up of the interior panels of the 2011 Lexus CT 200h.

The new Infiniti M Hybrid, rolling into showrooms in April, is quite nice; however with an entry level price of $53,700 you pay a lot to chase its 32 mpg.

2012 Infiniti M35 Hybrid

The Lincoln MKZ is merely a rebadged Ford Fusion, and while it’s nice, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $6,000. I’d pick the Ford over the Lincoln.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The German luxury brands – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche – all offer a hybrid or clean diesel, but mostly for big, heavy, expensive SUVs whose fuel economy sucked to begin with. So an increase of 15-20% seems great when you’re talking about a dismal 16 mpg in the city.  Now you can get 18 mpg in town with a diesel or 20 mpg with a hybrid. Whoop de doo.

2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid starts at $95,000.

2011 Lexus LS600h L starts at $111,350 and gets a whopping 19/25 city/hwy.

Here’s a short list of luxury hybrids and advanced clean diesels. Most of them are so expensive that any bump in fuel economy is probably meaningless to the driver.  If you are going to pay over $110,000 for the Lexus LS 600h L, do you really care about its fuel economy? If you drop $95,000 on the base Porsche Panamera S Hybrid (it’s at least $115, with options), do you care that it gets better fuel economy or do you just want the bragging rights when you toss the key fob to the valet at the SoHo House?  Most of the luxury hybrid (or advanced diesel) SUVs are sold in low volume to people in L.A. with money to burn (or someone else’s money) who want a big SUV with “green” bragging rights.  Such is life in Hollywood.

  1. Lexus CT 200h 43/40 City/Hwy FWD
  2. Lexus HS 250h 35/34 FWD
  3. Lexus RX 450h 32/28 FWD
  4. Lexus GS 450h 22/25 RWD
  5. Lexus LS 600h L 19/23 AWD
  6. Infiniti M35 Hybrid 27/32 RWD
  7. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 41/36 FWD
  8. Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 20/23 RWD
  9. BMW X6 ActiveHybrid 17/19 AWD (this is a hybrid?)
  10. BMW 335d Advanced Diesel 23/36 RWD
  11. BMW X5 xDrive35d Advanced Diesel 19/26 AWD
  12. Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 18/25 AWD
  13. Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid SUV 20/24 AWD
  14. Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 17/21 AWD
  15. Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec Diesel SUV 18/24 AWD
  16. Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid 19/25 RWD
  17. Porsche Panamera S Hybrid (TBD, but estimated around 33 mpg) RWD
  18. Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid 20/24 AWD
  19. Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Clean Diesel 17/25 AWD
  20. A3 Sportsback 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel 30/42 FWD

Of all the Germans, only the BMW 335d and Audi A3 2.0 TDI offer a significant leap in fuel economy over their gas-powered cousins. Both use advanced clean diesel technology.

2011 BMW 335d sedan

BMW 335d rear trunk lid and badge.

I’ve driven the BMW 335d and it’s a fantastic car.   The 425 lb-ft of torque available at just 1750 rpm is intoxicating. The BMW 3-Series is the benchmark for all other sports sedans and the 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo diesel engine is the most powerful and sophisticated in-line six diesel in production today.  Put the two together, it’s magic.  But magic is pricey.  The 335d starts at $45,575, a whopping $3,525 premium over the excellent gas-powered 335i and a staggering $10,975 more than the entry level 328i. Yes, at 36 mpg, the 335d is 30% more efficient than the 328i, which is rated at 28 mpg — but at what price?  When you add the normal options like the Sport, Cold Weather, Convenience and Premium Packages, navigation, upgraded sound and satellite radio to the 335d, the price is over $57,000.  Almost any savings you get with the terrific fuel economy are negated by the extra cost of the diesel package.  Would it have killed BMW to bring in a less expensive, more fuel efficient diesel engine to the US market?

2011 Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sportsback

Having eliminated the big SUVs and ultra-expensive sedans, only the new Lexus CT 200h and the Audi A3 TDI offer a real-world, affordable mix of luxury and economy.  Both cars are front drive 5-door wagons. However, the Lexus uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive found in the current Prius while the Audi is using the Volkswagen Group’s 2.0 liter TDI engine found in the Golf and Jetta.  The A3 also uses the Golf platform, which is an excellent, dynamic platform that has spawned many derivatives.

2011 Audi A3 2.0 TDI rear

In 2010, the A3 TDI won the Green Car of the Year award from the Green Car Journal.  Of course, the 2011 GCOTY went to the Chevy Volt — everyone expected that; but the little Lexus could be a contender for 2012.  However, with so many new electrics and hybrids coming to market for 2012, the CT may get lost in the electrified hype.

The CT is 1.2 inches longer than the A3 and both are almost identical in height while the A3 is 9 inches wider.  The A3 has 19.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity (seats up) while the CT trails by 5 cubic feet.  The weight advantage goes to the CT which tips the scales at 3,130. The Audi has an extra 188 pounds.  When it comes to fuel economy, weight drags down the numbers.

The A3 2.0 TDI starts at $30,250, $1,130 more than the Lexus CT 200h at $29,120.  Fully-loaded, the Audi can bust the $40,000 mark — more than $3,000 over a fully-loaded CT.   On the fuel economy front, the CT beats the A3 handily if you just look at the EPA figures.  However, there is lots of anecdotal evidence from TDI devotees that on the highway, the A3 (and Volkswagen Golf) TDI approaches 50 mpg – a good 10 mpg  better than the Lexus.  If you do more highway driving, like I do, the A3 may be the winner.

2011 Lexus CT200h interior

2011 Audi A3 TDI Sportsback interior

The A3 has a 2.0 liter common rail turbo diesel (TDI) rated at 140 horsepower with 236 lb-ft of torque.  A six-speed S-tronic® dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard.  Of course, it sucks down more expensive diesel fuel.  The CT’s power comes from a 1.8-liter gasoline engine rated at 98 horsepower and an 80 horsepower electric motor.  Together, they produce 134 net horsepower.  Torque is rated at 152 lb-ft.  A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.  The Lexus needs only regular grade gasoline, so it has the fuel price advantage.  The A3 TDI does a respectable zero to 60 in 8.9 seconds while the CT clocks in at a leisurely 9.8 seconds.

Lexus is pitching the CT 200h as a “sporty hybrid” with its “Darker Side of Green” campaign, but it’s not going to match the A3 TDI for driving dynamics and sheer fun.  The A3’s platform is more agile and I like to think of it as wonderfully-tossable.  Its steering is sharper.  The German engineering ethos applied to the little Audi imbues it with that intangible feeling that it’s more than just a dressed-up Golf.  It feels as though it’s carved from a single billet of aluminum. It’s fun to drive and the TDI powertrain is deeply satisfying.

I haven’t driven the CT, but I have driven many Prii.  The new Prius is a well-made car; the plastics and fit and finish are better than the previous generation.  However, it still has that appliance vibe.  I’ve seen the Lexus CT in the flesh and it is definitely an upgrade from the Prius, particularly inside, but the styling between the Prius and CT is a toss up and if I had to pick, I’d prefer the Prius front styling with the hatchback of the CT.  The CT is 88 pounds heavier than the Prius and coupled with the reprogrammed “sports” drivetrain, it doesn’t get near the 50 mpg of the Prius.

Front of the 50 mpg 2011 Toyota Prius

Rear of the 2011 Lexus CT200h

For my money and driving fun (and yes, I’m a car-crazed enthusiast), I think the 2011 Audi A3 TDI packs the most luxury with exceptional fuel economy.   The Lexus is tempting, but it’s not the enthusiast’s choice.  With lackluster sales of the HS, GS and LS hybrids, Lexus hopes for more sales and younger buyers for its entry-level CT.

The A3 TDI is already a very popular car.  In 2009, Audi sold only 3,874 A3’s.  With the introduction of the A3 TDI for the 2010 model year, sales jumped 69% to 6,558 units of which 53%, or 3,480 units, were the TDI.  Audi sells every TDI it can get in the US, so be prepared for the dealer to tell you that they can’t find the A3 TDI that you want. Keep looking, it’s out there.