Audi is going after a new segment of the market — the first time luxury buyer — and that calls for a reasonably affordable car.
The result is the 2015 A3, which starts for just $29,900. Last week, I headed out to Silicon Valley to test the sedan on roads populated by the potential Audi customers: The young guys and gals who are finally making real money and want to show it by driving something other than a fully loaded Honda Accord.
Audi did a good job keeping some nice features standard in the A3, including a panoramic roof, 4G LTE connectivity, and real leather. The base engine option is a perfectly adequate 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower, good for a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.2 seconds. One journalist on our trip actually preferred it to the more expensive 2.0-liter.
But pushing a luxury car below the $30,000 mark requires making sacrifices. Sit down in the A3, and you quickly notice it's not a top-of-the-line choice. Here's what we missed the most:
- Power seats: Yes, you have to engage muscles to move your seat backward or forward.
- Heated seats: This feature may come standard in low-cost electric cars, but you'll have to pay extra to get it in your new Audi A3.
- Key-less start: As obnoxious as it sounds, I can't remember the last time I had to physically turn a key to start a luxury car — until last week.
- Big wheels: 17-inch rims just don't look that cool.
- Added safety for backseat passengers: It's $350 extra if you want thorax (chest-protecting) air bags for the car's rear seats.
- Rear-view camera: This is especially disappointing because cameras are increasingly common and really helpful. You get one standard on the $18,190 Honda Civic Coupe.
- Navigation: More forgivable, since anyone buying this car will have a smartphone. But it would be nice to have.
Overall, I liked the A3. I think it looks stubby in profile, but I admire the simplicity and elegance of the interior, and it's a lot of fun to drive with either engine option.
Disclosure: Audi paid for travel and accommodations for our trip to California to test the A3.
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