A test drive of the 2023 Audi A3 without activating Sport mode, just doesn’t tell the story of Audi’s smallest sedan
Table of Contents
A History of A3 Firsts
2023 A3 Updates
A3 Model Line Pricing
A3 40 Performance
Ride and Handling
Audi A3 40 Fuel Economy
Back Seats and Trunk Space
Why Buy the Audi A3?
The Audi A3 shows its true colors — Red — in the performance modes of its 201-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed S tronic transmission.
A test drive without activating Sport mode, or even the Dynamic performance setting, just doesn’t tell the story of this smallest Audi sedan. It can be a sleeper until prodded by the amped-up attitude of red in the gauge display.
By opting for this entry-level A3, the owner straps into a legitimate subcompact sport sedan without glam or gimmickry. It is the first touch point for this storied A3 family, which might be overlooked by the 306-hp Audi S3 or the 401-hp Audi RS 3.
Among the A3 standout features are the smartly designed interior, Audi’s shrewd engineering, a mild-hybrid engine, and the fact that this small sedan still has a spare tire! It’s a temporary spare with the jacking equipment, but with the broad electrification of vehicles, a spare tire is being deleted to make room for the battery pack and to save weight. The exception is larger vehicles and those intended for off-road travel.
A History of Audi A3 Firsts
The Audi A3 made its U.S. debut in 2005 as a 2006 model. It was one of the first modern luxury-class subcompact sedans.
Redesigned for the 2015 model year, the A3 was one of Audi’s biggest marketing launches. Much of the fanfare was about its advanced technologies, which Audi calls industry “firsts.” Among its enhancements were:
- First in-vehicle LTE connectivity (Long Term Evolution) with Wi-Fi;
- The first Audi model to use the modular infotainment platform, MIB;
- First integrated social networking applications and Picture Book Navigation;
- And in 2014, the A3 won the award for World Car of the Year.
2023 Audi A3 Updates
After its complete redesign and re-engineering for the 2022 model year, the 2023 A3 and S3 models have just a few packaging adjustments.
Full LED headlights and stitched door armrests in leatherette are now standard for the 2023 A3 40.
The A3’s Premium Plus trim adds LED interior lighting-plus package and an Agate gray fine grain birch wood inlay. Adaptive cruise control is available through Function on Demand for the base Premium trim.
For the A3 40, the 18-inch 5-spoke Y design wheels with a bi-color finish and all-season tires are now included in the Black optic sport package. And wireless phone charging has been added to the Convenience package for the A3 and S3.
Audi A3 Model Line Pricing
The entry 2023 Audi A3 40 is available in front-wheel drive or quattro all-wheel drive. All A3 models have a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated-manual transmission with performance modes. A3 starting prices range from about $36,000 for the front drive Premium trim to $43,145 for the Prestige Plus quattro, today’s tester. Including Atoll Blue paint ($595) and the Black Optic sport package, $1,550, the tester came to $43,740. All MSRPs include the $1,095 freight charge from Ingolstadt, Germany.
The main subcompact sedan competitors in size and price to the Audi A3 are the 2023 BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe four-door ($36,600) and the 2023 Mercedes-Benz A-Class ($36,095). Other potential competitors are the 2023 Acura Integra ($32,000) and 2023 Cadillac CT4 ($35,790).
Audi A3 Premium Plus Features
Standard A3 Premium Plus technologies include:
- Advanced key with push-button ignition;
- Adaptive cruise assist with lane guidance;
- Side assist with rear cross-traffic assist;
- Active lane assist with emergency assist;
- Parking system with park assist.
Convenience features on the A3 Premium Plus include leather-trimmed upholstery, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, eight-way power (heated) front seats, driver’s seat memory presets, power folding and heated side mirrors, full HED headlights, garage-door opener. (See the longer list in the specs box at the end of the story.)
The A3 Black optic sport package adds:
- 18-inch 5-spoke Y design wheels with a bi-color finish;
- Pirelli all-season tires;
- Black exterior trim;
- Sport suspension lowers the ride height by a little more than half an inch, or 15mm.
Audi S3 and RS 3 Pricing
The Audi S3 starts at almost $47,000, with standard quattro AWD. With a few options, the price settles in at $56,000.
The RS 3 Quattro starts at almost $60,000. With desirable options, including the Black optic plus package ($750), Dynamic plus package ($5,000), RS sport exhaust system with black tips ($1,000), and Design selection interior ($1,500), the sticker grows to $69,000.
The Audi warranty of four years or 50,000 miles is for bumper-to-bumper coverage, with roadside assistance. The free first-scheduled maintenance is no longer offered. But Audi offers more comprehensive Care Select packages, starting at $999 for the A3.
Find current Audi A3 pricing here and special offers here.
Audi A3 Styling
Small can be spectacular in the A3 — but it might not appear so in its exterior styling. Its bold face instantly identifies the A3 as an Audi, and the unprovoking exterior design will transcend style trends for years to come. But it’s not a treatment that will lure motorists to follow the car hauler to the dealership.
The exterior design is balanced with a strong stance on the larger 18-inch wheels, though 17s are standard. The low front end can be a chin-scraper on driveways and when bounding through cross-street intersections.
The basic black interior doesn’t call out luxury, either. The engaging use of brushed metallic trim is youthful, but the assets of the A3 make themselves known after strapping in.
Audi A3 40 Performance
In the base drive mode of Comfort, A3 performance is mild and tuned for maximum fuel economy. At 3,494 pounds, which is a bit heavier than the BMW or Mercedes competitors, the official A3 40 fuel-economy ratings with AWD are 31 mpg city, 28 highway, and 36 mpg combined — using the recommended 87 octane fuel. Those ratings are a few mpgs better than the BMW and the Mercedes, which prefer premium fuel.
The A3’s 13.2-gallon tank could provide more than 400 miles of driving. I wouldn’t know because I was enjoying the Sport modes. My around-town mpgs were acceptable, but even then, I set the performance mode to “Comfort-Sport.”
The 201-hp 2.0-liter has 221 foot-pounds of torque, which peaks at a relatively high 4,000 rpm. That’s why performance in Comfort mode is comfortable. Activating Sport gives a bit more engine rev on take-off from a stop, which gets everything moving quicker into the upper rpms.
The seven-speed dual-clutch has the sensation of engaging first gear. That spooling and clutching can delay launch force as the turbo builds pressure and the transmission hooks up. But shift response at speed is quick and supportive of enthusiastic driving.
Especially appreciated is an honest exhaust and engine tone. There is no artificial engine-sound generator to give a hot-shoe impression. I’m quite capable of making noise on my own.
The A3 Premium Plus packages the network of driver-assist technologies. It is a Level 2 hands-on system that will be an asset for those in the slog of highway commuting.
I found the system to be precise in its lane centering and a faithful roundhouse of eyes for protection from drivers who are less aware while driving.
The advanced-tech package includes:
- Adaptive cruise assist with lane guidance;
- Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic assist;
- Adaptive cruise assist;
- Active lane assist with emergency assist.
Mild Hybrid Technology
The direct-injected TFSI engine — Turbo Fuel Stratified Injection — has sophisticated engineering for power and economy from a 48-volt mild-hybrid (MHEV) system. It’s another first for the A3, allowing it to coast while the engine temporarily shuts off in certain driving situations. The system also applies energy recuperation on throttle-lift and braking.
Audi says the A3 40 TFSI quattro has a 24 percent improvement in combined efficiency compared with the previous quattro model; it had official mileage ratings of 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined.
What’s the 40 mean?
In Audi engine terms, the A3 40 somehow refers to the 2.0-liter engine’s horsepower, which globally ranges from 165 to 198 hp. But the current U.S. -spec Audi A3 40 has 201 hp. The higher the number, such as 45, the higher the horsepower. The Audi A8 large sedan has an engine ranking of 55 for its
335-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6.
The higher-horsepower Audi A3 S and R.S. models don’t use an engine code; they stand on their own.
Audi A3 40 Ride and Handling
Despite a low 0.27 coefficient of drag, there was more road and ambient cabin noise than expected from such a small car. The likely culprit is the Pirelli P Zero all-season tires, though all-season Pirellis are not known to be noisy. The 225/40 tires have good cornering grip and a treadwear rating of 500, which is in the midrange for hardness; the tire’s warranty is for 50,000 miles.
The steel-spring suspension has MacPherson struts at the front and a four-link rear. The setup nimbly handles weight transitions and has a tight turning circle of 36.4 feet (or maybe a little wider with the 18-inch tires). The highway ride quality is more compliant than expected from the 103.5-inch wheelbase, which is a few inches shorter than its competitors.
Braking is absolute, but not grabby, from 12-inch ventilated front discs and 10.7-inch solid rear discs. The four-wheel ABS integrates brake-force distribution, hydraulic brake assist, and the expected stability and traction controls.
A3 Interior Function
The A3 cabin seems to have been designed as a driver’s car — with an authentic coupe feel. There are wide-open sightlines at the side mirrors without complications of frames at the corner glass. Over-the-shoulder views are also open, and the rearview camera with guidance lines also gives a silhouette view of nearness to objects front or rear.
Small cars often have cluttered interiors for placement of all the switches and controls, but not in the A3. A designer took care to arrange the front door panels to have an easy reach to the door grab with ideal leverage, opening or closing. Window switches, mirror adjusters, seat-memory presets, door locks, and the trunk opener are all within finger reach. The storage area just below has plenty of stash space and a bottle slot.
The center stack of controls anchors the upper infotainment screen, which is clearly visible in all light conditions. A tier below it are the climate controls with simple switches. The stack continues into a wide and low shift console with a secure finger grip for gear selection, the ignition button, and the audio volume dial.
Audi builds its seats for the long drive. These are eight-way adjustable with seat-bottom tilt. And the seats are without extreme side or bottom bolsters, which avoid that unwelcome wedgie on entry or exit.
Front headroom of 36.8 inches, with the sunroof, might not fit the big-and-tall driver.
A3 Back Seat and Trunk Space
Back seat space is subcompact with max legroom of 35.2 inches, when those in the front scooch forward. A tall exhaust-transmission tunnel interferes with five-seat capacity.
Trunk space of 10.9 cubic feet is also subcompact but spacious enough for travel and getaways. And the back seat folds in a three-way split, 40/20/40, with a ski passthrough.
Why Buy the Audi A3?
In the late 1990s when the major European carmakers were competing to sell more cars in the U.S., the subcompact sedan was eyed warily. Could a subcompact sedan be profitable? Would it be perceived as luxury? Could it dilute the brand?
Ultimately, money won out. Audi and Mercedes-Benz took the first leaps, followed by BMW.
Reinforcing the brand’s status are the high-performance divisions for each of those brands — Audi RS, BMW M, or Mercedes-Benz AMG. Every entry-lux version of those subcompacts carries the halo of high performance, or, at least, the perception of it.
Audi’s A3/S3 subcompacts typically sell around 8,000 to 15,000 in a non-covid-impacted year. Add up base prices of about $40,000, and that’s not a bad return for the segment. And then factor the RS 3 sales of $60,000 to $75,000 each.
The Audi A3 40 represents the obsessive detail of Audi engineering and performance. The casual styling of the A3 40 belies the technologies beneath the exterior sheet metal. It is not overt performance but skilled refinement.
Don’t muscle the A3. Let the layers of its engineering envelop you to make a better driver.
2023 Audi A3 40 Specifications
Body style: subcompact, 5-seat, 4-door all-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: Mild hybrid 201-hp, turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with auto stop-start; 221 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 28/38/32 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
0-60 mph acceleration: 6.3 seconds (Audi)
Top speed: 130 mph
BY THE NUMBERS
Fuel tank: 13.2 gallons
Trunk space: 10.9 cubic feet
Front head/leg room: 36.8/41.2 inches
Rear head/leg room: 36.6/35.2 inches
Length/wheelbase: 176.9/ 103.5inches
Curb weight: 3,494 pounds
Turning circle: 36.4 feet
Premium Plus standard equipment includes: Audi advanced key with push-button ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise assist with lane guidance, driver’s seat memory presets, wireless phone charging pad, 8-way power front seats, power folding and heated side mirrors, full HED headlights, garage-door opener, driver’s seat memory, leatherette-covered door armrests, wireless phone charging pad, 40/20/40 folding seatback;
Premium Plus Safety features include: 7 air bags, Audi side assist with rear cross traffic assist, adaptive cruise assist, alarm system with motion sensor, active lane assist with emergency assist, parking system with park assist,
Base price: $43,145, including $1,095 freight charge; price as tested $43,145
Options on test vehicle: Atoll Blue metallic paint $595; Black Optic package $1,550
Where assembled: Ingolstadt, Germany
Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with powertrain and roadside assistance (unlimited miles)