3. Audi A3
Model class and body style: Premium compact sedan, hatchback, and convertible
Last full redesign: Model year 2006
Base price range: $30,795-$41,995
Audi plants its flag in the burgeoning premium-compact market with the all-new second-generation A3. The first A3, introduced for model-year 2006, was a four-door hatchback based on the Golf from Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen. The new A3 kicks off a family of body styles: a four-door sedan, a two-door convertible, and a four-door hatchback, called the Sportback.
All share some structural elements and powertrain features with the redesigned 2015 Golf, but these are outfitted to compete with such upscale compacts as the BMW 2 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLA, and Acura ILX. Bi-xenon headlamps, leather upholstery, and a power moonroof are standard. Chic accessories include a magnesium-backed, smartphone-thin, 7-inch high-resolution navigation screen that rises from the top of the dashboard.
No rival matches the A3’s breadth of body styles and powertrains. All versions employ a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but there are gas, diesel, and plug-in-hybrid variants.
Sedans start with a front-wheel-drive 170-horsepower base model and include a 220-horsepower all-wheel-drive edition and the 292-horse, all-wheel-drive high-performance S3. There’s also the front-drive 2.0 TDI sedan and Sportback with a diesel engine rated at 150-horsepower and 236-pound-feet of torque.
The convertible is available in both the front-drive 170- and all-wheel-drive 220-horsepower combinations. It comes with a power soft top that raises and lowers in less than 18 seconds while driving at up to 31 mph. On the horizon is Audi’s first plug-in hybrid, the A3 Sportback e-tron, which combines a gas engine with a battery-powered electric motor propulsion system. It’ll be available in all 50 states starting in early 2015.
Hard-core enthusiasts are disappointed that Audi doesn’t offer a manual transmission in any A3 — even the S3. But the new sedan is off to a strong sales start, attracting younger, affluent buyers who don’t necessarily want big cars and don’t associate small ones with cheapness.