The Audi A3 is a small premium sedan or convertible that’s built on the platform of the Volkswagen Golf. For three generations, the A3 has offered good looks, high quality, and good value with top safety scores and thorough standard equipment.
Nearing the end of its life in its current form, the A3 gets few changes this year. The Premium Plus gets standard LED headlights and taillights, and wireless smartphone charging; the Prestige gets those things plus active parking assist.
One big change for 2019 is the discontinuation of the e-tron Sportback plug-in hybrid. But that doesn’t mean Audi is shying away from electric technology; it now sells the battery-electric E-tron SUV.
The base powertrain for the front-wheel-drive A3 is awesome. It’s a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder engine which makes 186 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. With available all-wheel drive, the same engine makes 220 hp and 258 lb-ft, mated to a 6-speed dual-clutch with paddle shifters.
The front-wheel-drive A3 sedan gets 26 mpg city, 35 highway, 29 combined, while the Cabriolet gets one less combined mile per gallon. The AWD sedan and Cabriolet get 27 and 25 combined mpg respectively. That’s all on regular fuel.
Many cars see their safety scores decline at the end of their generation, but not the A3. With standard automatic emergency braking, the 2019 A3 gets five stars overall from the NHTSA, and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with top â€œGoodâ€ scores in all the crash tests, with â€œAcceptableâ€ for the headlights and child seat anchors.
The 2019 Audi A3 models are Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige, available as a sedan and Cabriolet.
Standard equipment on the A3 Premium (about $33,000) includes dual-zone climate control, xenon headlights, panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, 12-way power front seats, Bluetooth, and automatic emergency braking. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and keyless ignition are available in a $900 package.
The A3 Premium Plus (about $36,000) adds styling add-ons, 18-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, and split-folding rear seats. The $3,000 Technology Package adds Audi Connect functionality and a Virtual Cockpit display. The optional safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and LED headlights with automatic high beams.
The A3 Prestige (about $42,000) adds the options on Premium Plus, as well as a beautiful 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo.
All-wheel drive costs $2,700 to $3,000 more. The Cabriolet raises the price by about $6,400.
All models offer a $900 Sport Package that adds a sport suspension, sport seats, Audi Drive Select modes, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters.
The A3 has aged well because it’s a clean and tidy design. The trapezoidal grille and front fascia have grown larger and more aggressive with the times. The LED daytime running lights look cool, even cooler with the optional angular LED headlights. Large front intakes and 18-inch wheels, standard on Premium Plus and Prestige trim but $800 on Premium, make the A3 look a lot sportier.
The Cabriolet is a bit smaller, at just 175 inches, and the power cloth top with glass window looks really good.
The cabin is conservative but attractive, with a thick steering wheel and horizontal dashboard with big round vents. It has a minimalist feel, more like the Audi TT than the Audi A4. A seven-inch MMI screen pops up (and down) from the dash, with controls on the center console, including a touchpad that recognizes handwriting.
An optional high-resolution screen replaces the conventional gauges and can be set up with Google satellite view or images of analog gauges. The available 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit is impressively functional, using a wide TFT screen for navigation or speed or dials, by driver selection.
The fit and finish is tight, and the quality of materials is high, with a sea of soft-touch plastics, shiny metal switchgear, and soft standard leather seats or available sport seats. The sport seats have short cushions, and legroom is tight for tall drivers.
Audi has gotten a lot out of the A3’s small size, but the cabin still feels compact, especially in the back seat and in trunk space.
Audi A3 drivers can keep the price down with the base powertrain bringing 186 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque with front-wheel drive. But with all-wheel drive, the A3 gets superior handling, all-weather traction, and 220 horsepower with 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s simply a better car.
The front-wheel-drive A3 offers competent handling and decent power for those who choose it. The A3 has light but direct steering and a compliant suspension, so it’s good in corners and on straight roads. Because the chassis is rigid, the A3 gets away with a fairly soft suspension without ruining the handling.
The suspension in the Sport Package can be stiff over bumps and expansion strips, but the extra bolstering in the seats effectively compensates. The heavier Cabriolet is a bit less zippy, and there’s some slight shake over bad roads, but it’s still nicely composed.
Despite its size the A3 is fairly heavy at almost 3,400 pounds, which steals some nimbleness and speed, with the 186-horsepower engine. But it’s always smooth, especially at high speed. The Volkswagen/Audi 2.0-liter turbocharged engine has been around a long time, and continuous improvement makes it anything but old. It’s flexible and refined, and remains a winner.
The 2019 Audi A3 has a small footprint, but punches above its class with its strong powertrain, classy looks, excellent handling, and good fuel economy.
by Sam Moses, with driving impressions from TheCarConnection