Sometimes, one of the most instructive exercises for those of us who review top-end sports and luxury automobiles is experiencing a marque’s more modest offerings. And the new Audi A3 Cabriolet and S3 Sedan speak volumes about how the German manufacturer treats its entry-level customers.
We recently took the all-new 2015 A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic (quite a mouthful) for a quick jaunt to Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., about 135 miles from Los Angeles. Equipped with a 1.8-liter, 170 hp, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed S tronic automatic transmission, the compact A3 Cab is a front-wheel-drive drop-top that gets good mileage—about 28 mpg average—and offers a sporty road feel with ample comfort in a very appealing and shapely little package. While the base price is $35,600, our Shiraz Red metallic example topped $45,500, optioned as it was with the $8,450 Prestige Model accessory package that included 18-inch wheels, Bang & Olufsen sound, and a host of electronic niceties for which Audi leads the charge. (The beautiful chestnut-brown leather interior comes standard.) The black fabric roof is a thick, insulated affair, making the car a true cabriolet according to the proper German definition.
The little A3 Cabriolet swallowed up freeway miles like a bigger, longer car—though it did lack for luggage space, as the trunk was occupied by the convertible apparatus, in an effort to retain as much rear-passenger legroom as possible (which the car does admirably). Altogether competent and built with a fit-and-finish precision absent in many automobiles priced much higher, this Audi demonstrates the carmaker’s commitment to one level of quality across its model spectrum.
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Rolling into the Rancho Valencia Resort, we parked next to a phalanx of Audis, including the 2015 S3 Sedan 2.0T Quattro S tronic picked out specially for our drive home. Base priced at $41,100, it was optioned with Navigation and Performance Packages, rolling out the door on some very low-profile 19-inch tires at a very reasonable $46,645. Finished in Sepang Blue pearl-effect paint, a stunning finish sprayed to perfection by an Audi robot, the S3 is the quintessential definition of “compact.” The new car’s taut, beautifully proportioned shape is unique to this model; it exploits Audi’s gaping trademark grille and features a sharply creased waistline and subtly flared rear flanks that suggest very athletic underpinnings.
A quartet of tips exit the lower valance, and the exhaust they terminate is equipped with active valves that open with the selection of the Dynamic drive setting on the center console, giving the S3 a distinctive bark in the upper rev range. (Other settings include Individual, Comfort, and Auto.) Dynamic indeed: The turbocharged 2-liter snaps off gear changes at the flick of a paddle (or automatically, through the 6-speed S tronic transmission), with 292 hp delivered to all four wheels. While front-wheel drive offers a fine solution for most drivers in a variety of demanding climates, Audi all-wheel drive will spoil a driver for anything else.
Audi’s new A3 and S3 four-doors are welcome compact solutions in a world that seems to be expanding in size and gaining pounds with each new model year. Audi’s own A4 has grown too big for some tastes, as have BMW’s now substantive 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s “C-Class is the new E-Class” sedans. Drivers looking for a small, fun-to-drive, and beautifully made sport sedan for less than $50,000 would have a very difficult time doing better than one of these two models. (audiusa.com)