In its last year on the market before an entirely new model is launched, the 2013 Audi A3 continues in its niche as a small but luxurious five-door compact hatchback that gives you Audi panache at a less-exalted price than the rest of the German luxury maker's range.
While Lexus has its CT 200h luxury hybrid hatchback to compete with the littlest Audi, the A3 offers an option that Lexus can't: the 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel engine that not only returns 34 mpg (EPA combined rating) but gives it loads of torque off the line.
Many Audi diesel owners report real-world fuel economy that's even better than the EPA ratings (30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway), so there's the potential for even more efficiency. And it's paired with tight German handling and an engine that's responsive and torquey, paired to Audi's excellent six-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic transmission.
Not all A3 models carry the TDI engine, though. The other option is a 2.0-liter gasoline four, which returns a combined 24 mpg when fitted with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the S-Tronic transmission.
Remarkably, if you want Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system (another option not found on the CT 200h), the combined mileage figure stays the same--not usually the case.
The A3's styling has now started to date, with its softer forms looking more mid-2000s than of the current decade. It's still handsome, with tasteful alloy wheels and a clean shape, just not cutting-edge any longer.
On the road, the electric power steering is a little numb, though it remains accurate, and the A3 handles well enough. You'll get best results with the magnetic suspension option, which softens the ride quality without compromising the handling. For a smaller car, the Audi A3 feels stable and confident even at speeds far higher than the legal limit.
Inside, the interior doesn't show its age quite as much. It's lacking some of the latest electronics and digital media connections, but it remains simple and well screwed together. First-rate materials give a luxurious feel, and our only real concern is that as compact cars have gradually crept toward mid-size roominess, the A3 now has one of the smaller interior volumes in its class.
The front seats are low, which can be an issue for shorter drivers, and they lack side support. Taller passengers will find the rear seat tight, so traveling with four adults will be an exercise in compromise. Occupants up front fare best, with standard leather upholstery.
Given its modest length, the A3's hatchback makes it supremely versatile for carrying people, kids, goods, or a combination. For the young family moving up from a VW Golf, the Audi A3 will feel familiar--but with the four rings on the nose, more upmarket.
Perhaps the car's biggest drawback is its lack of noise suppression. This is an area in which a lot of progress has been made in recent years, and the A3's decade-old design simply doesn't muffle noise as well as most competitors--even much cheaper models. Low-profile tires contribute their own roar as well.
The low-volume Audi A3 hasn't been re-tested by the IIHS or NHTSA since crash standards were strengthened for 2011, and it likely won't be until the new model arrives for 2014. It historically scored well on the previous generation of safety tests.
Standard features include keyless entry, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and a 140-Watt audio system with 10 speakers.
Above that, the Premium Plus trim package adds power adjustment for the driver's seat, steering-wheel controls for the audio system, LED running lights and xenon headlamps, and larger alloy wheels.
Then there are the individual options, including an in-dash navigation system (feeling rather dated these days) and a Bose premium sound system. Annoyingly in a year when virtually every car includes iPod connectivity and Bluetooth pairing as standard, the A3 charges extra for a simple cable that permits an iPod to be connected to the car's stereo system.
The 2013 Audi A3 carries a starting price below $28,000 for the basic gasoline model, but a heavy hand on the options list can quickly add several thousand dollars to the sticker. That total can quick soar past $40,000 for a nicely equipped quattro model, taking it well past the Lexus CT and into the territory of larger and newer vehicles.
So spec your A3 carefully--or perhaps wait one more year for the all-new 2014 model.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Audi A3 range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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