• Buying Used 2015-2018 Audi A3

Buying Used: 2015-2018 Audi A3

Typical Used Prices: 2015 - $21,000; 2018 - $37,000

Mark Toljagic By: Mark Toljagic February 9, 2019
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THE PROS & CONS

    • What’s Good: Tailored upscale interior, athletic turbo engines, fuel-efficient luxury
    • What’s Bad: Tiny trunk, fuel-pump woes, watch for oil consumption

Remember sample-sized products? Back in the day, brightly packaged samples of laundry detergent, cereal and almost anything else you could think of would come in the mail or be found hanging from your doorknob.

Free samples used to be a great way for companies to market new concepts – imagine: just add hot water for instant oatmeal – in a little packet that gave shoppers an authentic, if brief, product experience.

While samples in the mail have gone the way of party mixes on cassette, you can buy trial-size products from online retailers such as minimus.biz. Yes, it’s a thing now, ever since airport security limited carry-on liquids to packages that contain no more than 100 millilitres.

Audi hasn’t experimented with free sample sizes as far as we know, but it is a believer in smaller, “fun-size” portions of its best work. The reconstituted A3, introduced in early 2014 as a 2015 model in North America, gives car buyers the full-on Audi experience in a handy, smaller portion size.

 

CONFIGURATION

Buying Used 2015-2018 Audi A3

Originally launched in Europe in 1996, we had to wait for the second-generation Audi A3 to be introduced here in the fall of 2005. Only the five-door Sportback made the Atlantic crossing, leaving the three-door hatchback back home.

Built on Volkswagen’s front-drive Golf platform, the A3 was 25 cm shorter overall than the A4 sedan, yet offered similar cabin space. It served as a good entry-level product, although the hatchback configuration had limited appeal. Many buyers opted for the TDI model that offered the benefits of a VW turbodiesel along with the upscale badge.

Sensing there’s serious money to be made in the burgeoning compact-luxury segment, Audi upped its game by specifying its third-generation A3 come as a tidy sedan and rag-top cabriolet for the first time, leaving the hatchback in Europe.

Compared with its predecessor, the new 2015 A3 was cast larger in every dimension except height, yet weighed 40 kg less. It made good use of the latest VW Golf’s MQB platform, complete with its MacPherson strut suspension up front and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.

In no way is this a discount Audi. Instead, it’s the real deal packed with premium features including the latest MMI infotainment system with 4G LTE connectivity, a 10-speaker audio system, leather upholstery, LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and a big sunroof. Buyers never get the sense they’ve settled for the least expensive Audi.

In addition to luxury amenities, the cabin sparkles with aluminum accents, upscale materials and impeccable assembly. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, tailored for hours of touring at a sitting, though they do lack some side bolstering. True to form, rear-seat space is restrictive and suitable for smaller passengers only.

“The car is small, but it’s designed to be a small car, so I’m really surprised when people say the trunk space and backseat are inadequate. Duh. This car is right-sized,” reads an online remark from an owner. Not surprisingly, the fuel tank is not expansive, either.

The topless A3 Cabriolet – which seats four and not five – gained structural reinforcements to compensate for the missing roof, but put on about 110 kg in the process, so it accelerates a little slower. The soft power-folding top is fully lined and astonishingly quiet on the highway, but its narrow rear window and thick C-pillars compromise visibility.

All A3s come with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, the usual bevy of airbags (rear side airbags are optional in sedans), as well as automatic seatbelt tightening and window closing ahead of a potential frontal collision. In U.S. government crash testing, the 2015 sedan was awarded five stars out of a possible five for overall collision protection, with five stars for side crash protection and four stars for frontal crash protection.

 

MOTIVATING THE A3

Buying Used 2015-2018 Audi A3

Every A3 uses of one of four turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The base front-drive model makes do with a 1.8-L TFSI gasoline turbo that produces 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0T produces 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and comes standard with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The high-performance S3 model uses a high-output version of the same engine, good for 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of thrust.

The familiar, if notorious, 2.0-L TDI turbodiesel engine churns out 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It’s only available with the sedan; the cabriolet is limited to gasoline engines – likely due to the prospect of diesel fumes spoiling the top-down experience. All engines work through a standard six-speed automated manual transmission; sadly, there’s no manual gearbox to be had.

Refreshed for 2017, front-drive A3 models received a standard 2.0-L turbo four-cylinder tuned for fuel economy, making 186 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque, tied to a new seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Quattro models retained the 220-hp engine and the old six-speed automatic. All A3s earned a facelift with a new headlight design and a more angular grille. Fashionable LED taillights finish the rear. A forward collision mitigation system came standard on all models.

 

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Buying Used 2015-2018 Audi A3

Being equipped with Audi’s fast-acting automated manual transmission (which mimics an automatic), the sedan is quick off the mark: zero to 97 km/h takes just 5.5 seconds in the 220-hp Quattro. Front-drive models do the deed in 6.5 seconds, while the TDI turbodiesel phones in a ho-hum 7.9-second performance. At the other end of the spectrum, the 292-hp S3 almost scorches its tires to attain a time of 4.4 seconds.

The front-drive A3 circles the skidpad at an impressive 0.92 g of grip, which is very close to the four-wheel-drive model’s 0.94 g. Befitting the marque, the A3’s ride and handling strike a nice balance between comfort and sporting. Quick and well-weighted electric steering contribute to the sedan’s nimble character, while the compliant suspension keeps body motions composed. A minority of owners found the optional low-profile 18-inch tires’ ride quality a little rough.

“The handling is sporty, steering seems tighter than the A4, and the car rides just as well as its larger cousin. Mileage has been impressive, quite a bit better than the A4,” reads one testimony. “Drove through several snowstorms this winter, and the Quattro all-wheel drive keeps the car feeling secure and planted.”

 

OWNERS REPORT

Buying Used 2015-2018 Audi A3

As noted off the top, Audi went out of its way to make its entry-level A3 an authentic brand experience. Owners delighted in the car’s class-leading cabin, rich amenities, athletic and efficient turbo engines, and rewarding drive. The Audi experience is not an inexpensive one, though, not even for a tantalizing sampler like the A3.

In return for the steep price of entry, even used, the second owner can only hope that the build quality is as good as touted German engineering can deliver. On that score, owner chatter is a little uneven. For instance, buyers of early 2015 models reported some examples of the dual-clutch automated transmission giving up the ghost early.

“Nice little car with decent performance; however, the transmission required replacement after 15,000 kilometres and eight months of ownership. Manufacturing defect or not, this is an unacceptably low level of quality,” an unhappy driver wrote online. The DSG transmission may exhibit jerky gear changes and hesitation, telegraphing potential problems ahead.

The 2.0-litre TFSI gas turbo engine is known for consuming motor oil. While the worst engines were outed in earlier VW and Audi models, there is a significant number of A3 owners reporting the scourge. Excessive oil consumption documented by the dealer may lead to an engine rebuild or replacement.

“Fuel pump stopped working while driving on highway. Car literally turned off on a busy interstate. Dealer will replace fuel pump and turbo,” reads an online warning. Lots of fuel pumps have been replaced under warranty, and others have had their water pump check out early, too.

Other mechanical weaknesses in the A3 include short-lived batteries, failed air-conditioner compressors, malfunctioning power windows and easily damaged alloy wheels. The 2017-18 models have been recalled to due to incorrect engine control software that misreads flywheel rotation at start-up, which can cause power loss and stalling.

Overall, the A3 is a better brand ambassador than some earlier Audis – the smaller 1.8-L engine appears to be less troublesome than the 2.0T – and it certainly doesn’t require owners to dial back their expectations just because they purchased the fun-size sampler.

Typical Used Prices: 2015 – $21,000; 2018 – $37,000

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