Cars like the Audi A3 never really ignite the fire in enthusiasts’ hearts. As good as the Audi A3 has always been as a premium, comfortable, daily driver, it’s never really been any interesting to drive. In fact, it’s always been pretty bland. However, Audi claimed that it fixed such blandness with the new model, citing chassis and steering improvements over the previous generation.

I wasn’t personally on hand for the press launch of the A3. Our contributor Chuck Vossler went, though, and he had surprisingly positive things to say about it. Which encouraged me to test the new Audi A3 for a week and so I did, curious to see if Audi had genuinely improved on its smallest, least interesting sedan.

My Test Car

Audi sent me what is likely the best example of the sort of A3 most customers will buy; an Audi A3 2.0T Quattro with the Premium Plus package. The latter is the middle-spec trim level, in between the base “Premium” and top-end “Prestige” trim lines. It brings such features like adaptive cruise control, a memory driver’s seat, wireless phone charging, Audi’s advanced key (keyless entry), and a garage door opener. Nothing crazy but the sort of options most customers don’t want to live without anymore.

My car wore a very handsome, if a bit boring, Manhattan Gray paint with a lovely Santos Brown interior. It also had the Interior Style Package, which added Agate fine birch wood trim and extra LED interior lighting. The former is superb looking but there was so very little of it, only a tiny slab on the dashboard. Most of the interior was trimmed in fingerprint-laden piano black, which doesn’t look very premium.

It also had the Technology Package equipped, which brought the 12.3″ Virtual Cockpit screen, a Bang & Olufsen speaker system, and MMI Navigation Plus with Traffic Sign Recognition. All in, my test car wore a sticker price of $44,440.

Sitting in my driveway, the Audi A3 looked great; handsome, sharp, premium, and modern. It looks like the sort of premium car a mid-tier executive of my age would drive because that’s exactly what it is. At just under $45,000, it’s just expensive enough that the average American can’t afford it but entry-level-to-mid-tier executives can and that’s exactly the vibe it gives off. It’s stylish but not overly so.

Inside, material quality is lovely, the design is modern, and ergonomics are excellent. Although, it’s a bit boring to look at at. However, on the whole, I was happy to spend a week inside the A3; its seats are comfortable (though not very supportive for spirited driving), its tech is great and easy to use, and it features physical buttons for the climate controls, doing away with other modern Audis’ touchscreen climate controls. The only minor annoyance was the volume control, which is a touch-sensitive pad that’s annoying to use. Thankfully, steering wheel controls take care of that.

Powertrain and Performance

What sort of powertrain do you get for $45,000? A 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, paired to a 48-volt mild-hybrid setup. That engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch “S-Tronic” gearbox, which is the only option. The A3 comes standard with front-wheel drive but, being a Quattro model, my test car was all-wheel drive. Though, it’s a front-biased Haldex all-wheel drive system, not a proper Quattro setup.

Power is more than sufficient, as it always felt punchy during my week. In fact, the little A3 can get up to lose-your-license speeds quicker than you might think, given its power figures. It’s a properly brisk little car. Upshifts are also snappy, as they should be, given they’re made by a dual-clutch auto. However, manual-mode downshifts are appallingly slow. Seriously, pull the left paddle and you can count two Mississippis before it shifts down a cog. It’s frankly unacceptable in a $45,000 car with a dual-clutch transmission.

When you really hustle it, Audi claims the Quattro-equipped A3 can hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds but it honestly feels quicker than that. What’s impressive is that it combines that decently quick performance with a combined 31 mpg rating and I absolutely believe it. When the car was dropped off, it said I had 515 miles on the tank. After a week of enthusiast-level driving, it said 490 miles on the tank. I averaged just under 30 mpg during that week, too.

Better Handling Than I Expected

The previous-gen Audi A3 was about as excited to drive as a Swedish detective film is to watch. This new car though is genuinely decent. It’s no hot-hatch and a Volkswagen GTI would embarrass it but it’s more fun that any of its competitors, such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe.

Steering is light but weights up nicely off center and has surprising accuracy. The front end bites hard enough and it feels genuinely sharp. Again, it’s no GTI or Veloster N but it’s a fun little car to chuck around.

If there’s one complaint about its driving dynamics it’d be with the ride. My test car didn’t come with adaptive dampers and the ride was a tad too firm for daily driving while also being a bit too sloppy for spirited driving. Too much vertical movement and not enough damping made my A3 test car feel a bit uneasy over patchy pavement and too much roll led to it feeling floppy in the corners. It’s not terrible but it needs Audi’s adaptive dampers.

Can’t Wait for the S3

More than anything else, the Audi A3 left me feeling optimistic about higher-performance models. I’m glad the standard A3 is much better than before; with better driving dynamics, a better powertrain, and a nicer interior; but I’m mostly optimistic about the Audi S3 and the RS3. The latter of which I know will be great because all RS3s are great but the former is a car that isn’t.

With this new Audi A3 being as good as it is, it leaves me feeling hopeful that the Audi S3 will be even better.

[Source: QuattroDaily]