With Volkswagen Golf roots, the Audi A3 competes with premium small sedans and hatchbacks, including the Acura ILX and the stylish new Mercedes-Benz CLA. At a glance, it’s hard to tell the A3 sedan from the Audi A4, even though it’s smaller and the A4 is freshly redesigned. This is the third generation of the A3, revealed at the 2013 New York auto show.
The 2017 Audi A3 gets significant changes. There’s a new grille for 2017 with aggressive front fascia and LED daytime running lights, and new standard Xenon or optional LED headlamps. The wheels and Audi MMI infotainment system are also new.
But the real upgrade for 2017 is a new engine: The former 1.8-liter four-cylinder is replaced with a 2.0-liter turbo with direct injection, making 220 horsepower. It’s linked to just one transmission, a paddle-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch automatic manual.
Front-wheel drive is standard, with Quattro all-wheel drive available.
The 2017 A3 comes as a sedan, hatchback, cabriolet, and plug-in hybrid five-door hatchback, as well as the more sporty and powerful S3 (296 hp) that’s remarkably balanced and offers good value.
The tidy A3 Cabriolet, using a power cloth top with glass window, doesn’t have a lot of rivals, other than the Buick Cascada that’s a bit bigger but not quite as polished.
The Audi S3 delivers a good performance value and is fun to drive, competing with the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG.
The plug-in hybrid is called the A3 e-tron Sportback, based on the European version of the A3. It’s an upscale rival to the Chevrolet Volt, although the Volt has a much farther electric range. The 204-horsepower e-tron uses a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine mated to an electric motor powered by an 8.8 kwh lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged in four hours, using a Bosch home charger that’s standard equipment. Although the e-tron is good for just 25 all-electric miles, as a hybrid using fuel it has a range of 500 miles.
Fuel mileage for the 2017 A3 sedan with all-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 24/31 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. The Cabriolet gets two fewer miles per gallon, while the front-wheel-drive A3 hasn’t been rated yet. Naturally, the e-tron Sportback gets the best mileage, at 34 mpg combined, or an EPA-rated 83 MPGe, using the full electric range.
In crash tests, the NHTSA gives the A3 five stars overall, with four stars for frontal collision and rollover; while the IIHS gives its highest rating, Top Safety Pick+.
There is no A3 diesel model. There used to be a TDI, but it was pulled from the market after Volkswagen/Audi got busted for cheating on emissions.
The 2017 Audi A3 comes in sedan, cabriolet, and hatchback versions, with a choice of powerplants, in Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trim levels.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, HD satellite radio, Xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, rain sensor for wipers, panoramic moonroof, and automatic emergency braking. An S-Line package adds special trim to Premium models.
Premium Plus adds heat to the front seats, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; while the Prestige adds a 705-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, LED headlamps with automatic dimming, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping, and navigation.
Rear side impact airbags are optional, along with WiFi hotspot capability.
A Sport Package firms up the suspension and adds bolstering to the front seats. The sports suspension, without the seats, can be a stand-alone option.
The A3’s trim proportions and clean lines help it look classy when compared to its rivals with uninspiring designs. The Cabriolet is especially cool, with its folding cloth top nicely incorporated into its stubby design, just 175 inches long.
The conservative cabin design is attractive, with a chunky steering wheel and simple horizontal dashboard that comes from the A3’s Volkswagen roots, and distinctive round vents. The 7.0-inch MMI infotainment screen rises from the top of the dashboard, as the system’s knobs and buttons are easy to reach on the center console, including a touchpad that recognizes handwriting. An optional high resolution LCD screen that replaces the conventional gauges and can be set up with Google satellite view or images of analog gauges.
The materials are nice, including leather standard or sport seats. But both seats have short cushions, and legroom is tight for tall drivers. With its small footprint, the A3 can’t be expected to have much interior room, but Audi hasn’t done a great job of getting the most out of the design. The rear is cramped, only suitable for short periods of time for adults. High road noise doesn’t help the comfort of passengers.
The hatchback offers a more versatile cargo area.
Flexible and refined, the zippy new turbocharged engine is a winner, whether with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The paddle-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission delivers ultra-rapid shifts, although sometimes clunks at low speeds.
The heavier Cabriolet is a bit less zippy, and there’s some slight shake over bad roads, but it’s still nicely composed.
The rigid Golf platform allows the A3 to use a fairly soft suspension without adversely affecting the above-average handling. The electric power steering is light but direct. The available sports suspension can be stiff over expansion strips, but the seats in the Sport Package have better bolstering help keep the driver in place.
The battery pack in the environmentally correct Sportback e-tron is mounted low, which helps bring down the center of gravity and help the handling. It weighs 500 more pounds than the sedan, but the hybrid engine/motor makes 258 pound-feet of torque, to keep it sprightly. An EV mode selects electric power for motoring at slow speeds.
The Audi A3 is a practical size and shape, especially the hatchback, but there’s not enough room in the rear for it to work. The powertrain is strong, with a new 2.0-liter turbo and 6-speed twin-clutch automatic, although the transmission can be faulted for its occasional clunking at slow speeds. The Sportback e-tron hybrid gets 34 miles per gallon, but you could get that in a car costing half as much.