By Brian Armstead
Want luxury for less? German brands BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have a deal for you. Mercedes-Benz offers the impressive CLA250 wearing a base price a tick under $30,000. And Audi and BMW have fired off their own versions to compete at the magical $30K level.
BMW reprises the popular 320i moniker with their $32,900 320i. And Audi brings a new version of the popular A3 to the battle, now outfitted with more luxury and yards of technology.
A3 prices begin at $29,900 for the front-wheel drive version. The base “Premium” trim level offers a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine and a six speed S Tronic dual clutch transmission. This trim level would be sufficient for most, but we all know what lurks in Audi’s performance parts bin: quattro all-wheel drive. Quattro is a legendary platform, having powered myriad racers to victory over the years. It has also powered snow belters out of winter’s mess with aplomb. The A3 is also available in Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels. Each trim allows you to choose from the aforementioned 1.8 turbo that yields 170 horsepower (FWD only) or step up to quattro with the 2.0 turbo outputting 220 horsepower. During the national press launch for the A3, I had the chance to drive both, and spending the extra dough on the 2.0T with quattro yields a superior driving experience.
So, what about the Benz CLA and BMW 320i? Both are nice cars, but neither matches the A3 overall. Take the CLA for example, with door panel gaps that allow you to see painted door jambs behind them. Shocking indeed for a Benz, but intolerable in an Audi, which builds perhaps the nicest interiors in the business. The base 320i does not carry the same level of features as the base A3.
Performance wise, it’s a matter of choice, but between the CLA and A3, I give the nod again to the A3. The CLA performs well, but the boosted A3s have a nasty kick to them thanks to the quick spooling turbochargers. I have not yet driven the 320i, but do keep in mind BMW’s main goal is race car performance in street friendly platforms.
Technology wise, Audi has teamed with Google and NVIDIA for the industry’s first 4G LTE connectivity. Navigation graphics are superb, and connected apps come alive with newfound speed.
The 2015 Audi A3 is a clear winner of the entry level luxury battle. I’m looking forward to the next fight between the German giants. AT