Audi: Navigation ahead of curve
I don't think anyone would accuse me of electronic geekery. I'm about as addicted to the automotive sons of smartphone as I am to antifreeze on the rocks. But I must say that the optional navigation system I encountered in the spanking new 2015 Audi A3 left me a bit slack-jawed.
More precisely, I'm talking about the picture destination feature on Audi's MMI Navigation Plus system. Based on Google Maps, the system employs the GPS data saved on a photograph you take with a smartphone to navigate the car to the precise location of the photographed scene.
My wife imported pictures of three houses in our area from her smartphone. The navigation system then flawlessly led us to all three.
As nifty amenities such as the optional navi might suggest, Audi is making a serious effort to become the dominant player in the burgeoning segment occupied by the entry-level compact luxury sedan.
The German automaker thinks compact luxury vehicle sales could quadruple, and it wants to arrive early - and in force. As a consequence, the just-arrived A3 sedan is to be joined by a bushel of variations: a convertible, a hatchback, a crossover, a diesel model, a plug-in hybrid, and a performance-minded S3 version.
It is no accident that the first A3 out of the chute is a sedan. Audi first fielded an A3 model here in 2006. It was a hatchback at a time when the American aversion to hatches was in full flower. It didn't sell many copies.
This new A3 strikes me as a pretty decent value. It starts at $29,900, and includes, even in base form, leather seats, a generous sunroof, and a slick infotainment screen that rises out of the center of the dash when you start the engine.
The A3 is available in two drivetrain flavors: the base front-drive model powered by a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower turbocharged four, and the 2-liter, 220-horse version ($32,900) equipped with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Both are fitted with six-speed automatic gearboxes.
Since I tested only the 2-liter car, I'm hardly in a position to compare the two models. But, it is obvious that the 2-liter car, with its 50 horsepower advantage, is a lot quicker (published reports have it getting from 0 to 60 in about 1.5 seconds less than the 1.8's 7.3 seconds). Also, the AWD system gives it a big advantage in the snow.
Interestingly enough, the 2-liter car, while more powerful, nearly 200 pounds heavier, and equipped with AWD, actually gets better gas mileage ratings than the 1.8. The 1.8 has EPAs of 23 city and 33 highway, while the 2.0 is 24 and 33.
Replete with Audi design language, the new A3 styling is at once handsome, lean, and functional. It has that German knack for blending stylishness and civility. While its kinship to other Audis, notably the A4, is unmistakable, it is nicely individuated. I particularly like the line that rises from behind the center of the front wheel to the top of the rear bumper. It creates the illusion that the car is leaning forward.
Like the car's body, which was finished in Glacier White Metallic (a $550 option) the A3's interior was comely and precisely assembled. Its fresh design was realized with high-quality materials. The only interior sour note: I had barely enough legroom in the back seat and my head was up against the headliner.
Quiet and comfortable, the A3 proved a pleasure to drive. It was fast, very composed in the corners, braked well, and steered well. Like all electric steering systems, the A3's didn't offer a lot of road feel. But it was responsive, precise and well-weighted.
2015 Audi A3 2.0T
Base price: $32,900.
As tested: $37,195.
Standard equipment: 2-liter turbocharged engine, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, and amenities such as a sunroof, leather, 12-way power driver's seat, xenon headlights.
Options: Include a $1,900 navigation system, special paint, a cold-weather package, and aluminum interior accents.
Fuel economy: 24 city and 33 highway (premium fuel).
Engine performance: Lively.
Styling: Clearly Audi.
Ride comfort: Nice.
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.