News of Audi’s marketing efforts for the upcoming A3 has been making the rounds on the auto blogosphere for all the wrong reasons. As Automotive News reports, the 60-odd page launch guide given to dealers is supposed to be a codex for appealing to Millenial buyers with “farm-to-table” food, craft beer and Spotify playlists. Since the goodwill towards my angry-young-millennial shtick has evaporated over the past two years, I’ll say that this whole thing sounds like Audi trying to copy GM’s ham-handed youth marketing efforts. For now, let’s bring it back to the product.
The A3, as we know, is a front-drive Audi 4-door that only comes with a two-pedal transmission and is based on the same MQB platform as the Golf. And I’m really looking forward to it.
To understand why, let’s rewind to 2006. High school was a charmed epoch for me: I was utterly unaware of my own awkwardness or abrasively brash humor. I confused shock and offense for being profound and witty. My grades were not great, but good enough to get into a good journalism school. My parents urged me to work harder, get better grades and leave doors open for the future. “I don’t plan on going back to school after undergrad,” was my reply. If you think I am arrogant, combative and hard headed now, I wish you could have seen me then.
My home life was equally comfortable. My father had just turned 50, made partner at his law firm a few years earlier and was enjoying unprecedented prosperity. My mother had fully recovered from a bad stomach bug that left her bed-ridden for months. One vacation a year turned into two, and in 2003, my father traded in his 1999 Acura TL for a 2003 BMW 530i, which was among the very last to come to Canada before the Bangle-tainted E60 debuted.
The 530i was his pride and joy. Having long admired the E38 740iL, he was now in a position to afford a top-tier sports sedan and determined not to let the chance pass him by. The 530i was, in his mind, the apex sedan: an adept tourer that could be pushed hard on the odd day when he felt like it.
Sadly, I barely got to drive it. While I had my license towards the end of our time with the car, my father opted not to renew the lease. Among its candidates for replacement was a car I regarded with some contempt: the Volkswagen Jetta. The GLI was not yet released in Canada, but there was a 2.0T model that offered the GLI’s suspension, two-piece alloys as well as leather and the premium stereo system – all equipment that my father valued over the tartan cloth, boy racer bodykit and red brake calipers that would arrive a year later on the Canadian GLI.
In hindsight, the petulant whining about my father’s car is mortifying – but what would adolescence be without obnoxious entitlement and the inability to empathize. In his characteristically polite but firm way, my father informed me that the BMW could not stay, unless I wanted to shoulder the burden of paying tuition myself. We took the BMW out for one final drive, and he convinced me to come collect the car with him later on that week. It was black on tan leather, just like the 530i, and on our maiden voyage home, we went against the dealer’s strict break-in instructions and cracked the throttle. It was, without a doubt, much quicker in a straight line. The VAG 2.0T and DSG gearbox were fairly advanced stuff for 2006, and feeling the wave of torque along with the DSG’s rapid downshifts proved to be addictive.
I spent most of my real driver’s education – getting comfortable in traffic, figuring out how to pass on the highway, parallel parking – in the Jetta. My initial distaste for its front-drive, two pedal configuration and its less prestigious image (which one tends to value at age 17) faded away. The 530i was graceful and poised, while the Jetta was more like a feisty puppy, diving into corners with the crappy Michelin all-seasons howling away, spinning the inside tire upon exit in a furious fit of torque steer and then rocketing the car forward when it calmed down. It was a great car for a young man to learn to drive quickly, without the “look-at-me” factor of the sportier MKV cars.
Eventually, the Jetta left our driveway as well – the prospect of owning that car out of warranty was enough to prompt my father to get rid of it. At that point, we had the Miata as well, and with me paying for it, he could have all the thrills of sports car ownership, without the hassles. To this day, the Jetta, not the BMW, or his Prelude VTEC or his Integra GS-R, is the one car that receives the fondest tributes.
So what does this have to do with the A3? Well, it seems a hell of a lot like the old Jetta. The enthusiast community may have derided the current Jetta as an Americanized bastard-child for Volkswagen, but they weren’t buying anyways. My father, on the other hand, was a customer that Volkswagen really did lose. It may not be the dynamic equal of the BMW 320i, or as stylish as the Mercedes-Benz CLA, but if it can deliver a comfortable, fairly powerful driving experience with dynamic competence up to 7/10ths, it will be good enough for him, and plenty of other entry-level luxury buyers. But the A3, with its nicer interior, 2.0T powertrain and compact dimensions, is the kind of car that he’s looking for – even though he’s old enough to be the parents of the buyers Audi is targeting. I wouldn’t be surprised if other older customers are attracted towards this car as they look towards downsizing. It wouldn’t be the first time that a car is targeted at younger buyers, but purchased by older consumers.