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2017 Audi A3 Overview
The compact luxury-oriented Audi A3 sedan and convertible receive a minor exterior facelift for 2017, as well as a number of interior upgrades, including several new optional tech and safety features. One of the automaker's most popular vehicles, trailing only the Q5 compact SUV in sales, the entry-level 4-door A3 was in need of a mid-generation refresh, if only to stay competitive with such class challengers as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, and Acura TLX, as well as two new competitors for 2017, the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia sport sedans. With the small luxury car segment heating up and continuing to show room for potential growth, the A3's 2017 revisions should help it keep up with the rest of a fast-moving pack.
Most of the exterior updates focus on the front and rear ends, giving the A3 a cleaner, sportier appearance and bringing it more in line with the design of its larger sibling, the A4. In fact, some reviewers say the two cars are getting harder to tell apart. But there are a number of differences between the two. They ride on different platforms, for instance, with the A3's wheelbase measuring 103.8 inches and the A4's checking in at 111 inches. The A4 offers a more powerful engine, and there's also a price difference between the two of about $7,000, a point that makes the A3 attractive to luxury-car buyers on a budget.
At the same time, the A3's new hexagonal Singleframe grille, now wider and sharper at its corners and edges, closely resembles the one on the A4, and fits in better with Audi's overall design scheme. Both vehicles now display the same thin, angled LED headlights, which integrate nicely with the lines of the grille. At the back end, Audi has tweaked the A3's LED taillights and rear diffuser. In addition, Audi expands the A3's exterior paint selections for 2017, with the addition of five new colors, including Ara Blue, Cosmic Blue, Nano Gray, Tango Red, and Vegas Yellow.
While the exterior updates are fairly subtle, they do give the A3 a freshened appearance. Neither too sedate nor too flashy, the A3 continues to cut a svelte figure on the road, and comes standard with such features as LED daytime running lights, sporty lower air intakes, power heated side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, Matte Black trim around the windows, and dual tailpipes.
Inside, the A3 goes gadget-crazy for 2017, thanks to the addition of a number of new optional features previously available only on Audi's more expensive full-size vehicles. Chief among these is the Virtual Cockpit, confirmed for European versions and expected on U.S.-bound A3s. The Virtual Cockpit, which first appeared on the Audi TT in 2016 and expands to other models for 2017, replaces the typical dashboard lineup of gauges and readouts with a high-resolution digitized 12.3-inch color TFT screen, which can display a number of visual forms.
In essence, the Virtual Cockpit puts all the information usually displayed by the car's smaller mid-dash 7-inch pop-up screen on the larger instrument panel directly in front of the driver. It can display a "classic view" mode, with typical circular analog-style instrument dials, or an "infotainment" mode, with a large, centralized Google-style navigation map and smaller dials, readouts, and displays for the navigation system, phone, and multimedia components. Drivers can use steering-wheel-mounted buttons or a new MMI smart dial, located on the center console, to control the Virtual Cockpit.
Other new tech features for 2017 include driver assistance systems like active lane assist, predictive pedestrian protection, traffic-jam assist, and emergency assist. All were previously available on Audi's full-size sedans but are being offered on the A3 for the first time this year. Active lane assist alerts the driver when the car is drifting into another lane, while the predictive pedestrian protection system uses the front camera to detect pedestrians entering the street and alerts the driver. A first for the compact luxury car segment, traffic-jam assist keeps the A3 a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead, and will start, stop, and even steer the vehicle for short distances if necessary in tight traffic. Emergency assist will stop the car if it detects the driver has fallen asleep or is incapacitated. Most of these systems will be available as options or as part of add-on packages.
In addition, Audi has restructured the menus for its MMI car management system, which includes a central rotary/push-button controller and a 7-inch display as standard equipment. Navigation remains an option. The MMI and its array of buttons and dials on the center stack and console are generally considered one of the easier systems for drivers to operate.
While the infotainment and driver assistance systems are among the vehicle's highlights, interior cabin space for the 5-passenger A3 remains an issue, particularly in the rear seat, and especially for taller drivers and passengers. Second-row passengers will find both legroom and headroom tight, and although the A3's 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space is also tight, it's about the norm for the segment. Seats are comfortable, with good support, and fit and finish are on level with Audi's standards.
As in previous years, Audi offers the A3 in Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trim levels. Leather upholstery, a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual climate control, and a 10-speaker audio system are among the standard features for the Premium, while the Premium Plus adds heated front seats, an advanced key system, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and aluminum-optic interior trim. At the top of the line, the Prestige includes navigation, an upgraded MMI system, and a 14-speaker, 705-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system, along with an S line exterior upgrade package. The Premium and Premium Plus ride on 17-inch wheels, while the Prestige gets 19-inch wheels.
Although Audi might tweak the A3's optional 2.0-liter TFSI engine, it's more than likely the car will roll into 2017 with both its 4-cylinder powerplants untouched. Base power comes from the 1.8-liter turbocharged 1.8 TFSI engine generating 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, while the available 2.0 TFSI 2.0-liter turbo pumps out 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Both engines link to a 6-speed S tronic transmission with a manual-shift mode. The A3 with the base engine clocks a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds, while the A3 with the 2.0T makes the same run in 5.8 seconds. Audi limits top speed for both engines to 130 mph. Fuel-economy numbers for the 1.8T check in at 23 mpg city/33 highway/27 combined, while the 2.0T posts numbers of 24/33/27.
When equipped with the base engine, the A3 rides on a front-wheel-drive platform. With the bigger engine, the A3 also gets Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system. In addition, the A3 can be ordered with a turbocharged diesel engine, which produces 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It makes the jaunt to 60 in about 8.1 seconds.
The convertible, which Audi refers to as a Cabriolet, comes equipped with an acoustic folding roof, which opens and closes in about 18 seconds. Drivers can activate the top at the press of a button at speeds of up to 31 mph.
All A3s come equipped with a full range of safety features, including knee airbags, electronic stability control, and antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the A3 a Top Safety Pick for 2016.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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