First look: Gadgets abound in the all-new 2015 Audi A3

OK. I admit it, I'm directionally inept. If you say "east side of the street," I'm probably on the south side. Which is really not helpful if you're trying to pick me up and I don't see any street signs to give you an exact address.

But with Audi's new "Picture Navigation" none of this matters. If I'm not quite sure where I am and I need someone to come get me, as long as they're in an A3, all I have to do is send them a photo via my smart phone from my location, and voila! I'm found.

Every photo you take with your smart phone is tagged with a geolocation (unless you've disabled this feature in your privacy settings). So, when you send the photo to a friend with an A3, they can upload it into the photo roll on their car and set the destination to wherever the photo was taken.

This application comes in handy if you are cataloging great restaurants, sites to see, a friend's house -- anything really. Just as long as the photo is tagged, the car can navigate you there.

While this was probably my favorite feature on the A3, there are a lot of other neat gadgets and tech features available on this all-new entry-level sedan from Audi.

Some other cool features include the 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection, 7-inch MMI screen that displays 3D satellite imagery via Google Earth and the touch-sensitive scroll wheel with handwriting-recognition technology.

The tough thing is, however, that this all comes with a price. Except for the leather seats and panoramic sunroof, pretty much everything else is "available." Want heated seats? Add the Cold Weather Package for $500. Want navigation? That'll be an extra $1,900. Think you'd like blue or grey exterior paint? That'll be an additional $550. Only Brilliant Black or Brilliant Red are no-cost paint colors at the base Premium trim.

The A3 starts at $29,900 and comes equipped with the 1.8-liter engine. While the bulk of my drive time was in the available 2.0 model, I took a quick spin in the 1.8 and really enjoyed it.

Delivering 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, it has a lot of pep and provides a spirited driving experience for most drivers. I say "most" because it does lack a little oomph for those among us who are deemed "aggressive."

In everyday driving, it's quick off the line, merges well with traffic and has a decent amount of torque for passing. Where I noticed a lack of power was if you need to accelerate from a stop quickly to merge with fast-flowing traffic.

The 2.0-liter engine, however, was practically perfect. It had plenty of go for aggressive highway driving and those quick city starts as you jack rabbit through traffic. This engine delivers 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

When looking at the 1.8 vs. the 2.0, another significant thing to note is that the 1.8 model comes with a front-wheel drive power train, whereas the 2.0 comes with Audi's all-wheel drive quattro.

Interestingly, however, even with more horsepower and AWD, the fuel economy ratings for both models are remarkably similar. Both models have the same highway and combined fuel economy at 33 and 27 mpg, respectively. The 1.8 gets 23 mpg in the city, and the AWD 2.0 gets 24 mpg in the city - 1 mpg better than the FWD model.

In terms of ride and handling, the A3 is incredibly tight. It's great on corners and provides a fair amount of fun on highway on and off ramps.

The biggest downer I found with the A3, however, is that a manual transmission is no longer offered. In any iteration. Nor will it be offered. Talk about a buzzkill for the enthusiast.

When I brought this up to the folks at Audi, they assured me that it wasn't necessary because it has a 6-speed "automatic manual," which translates to a dual-clutch transmission with standard paddle shifters. Snore. I get that most of the population no longer knows how to drive a manual, but it seems to me the kind of drivers Audi attracts are of the enthusiast ilk, and to do away with it altogether is worrisome.

I did play around with the manual mode on curves and up hills, and while it did make driving a little more fun, it's not the same as a clutch and gearshift.

On the upside, one of the A3's primary competitors, the new BMW 2-Series Coupe, comes standard with an 8-speed automatic but offers the manual as a no-cost option. Thank you.

The interior of the A3 is both plain and conservative. Which is A-OK by me. This means all the buttons and dials are intuitively placed, and there's nothing distracting on the dash. A particular highlight of the interior is the slim 7-inch navigation screen, which is available with the Audi MMI Navigation Package on the Premium and Premium Plus ($32,450) trims. It's standard at the Prestige level ($38,350).

The 6-hour drive time was split between driving and being a front passenger, and I found both seats to be very comfortable. They are very adjustable with a wide range of positions and had some great bolstering. Both my driving partner and I were on the thin side of the scale, and we both were comfortable, but I have to imagine it would be a tight fit for someone with larger proportions.

The exterior of the A3 is completely redesigned for 2015. While you will recognize the austere Audi lineage, know that every body panel is unique to the all-new sedan. The wide-mouthed Audi grille has finally started to grow on me, and I really like both the front and rear profiles of the new A3.

Of course, the A3 purists are up in arms that the redesign is a (gasp) sedan. But have no fear, the beloved hatchback form will return as a 2016 model in 2015. It just won't have a gasoline engine. The Sportback will be available as TDI and e-tron (electric) models.

Later this year, you will also see the introduction of an A3 Cabriolet and the S3 Sedan - both as 2015 models.

Overall, I really liked the new A3. It was fun to drive, comfortable and attractive. It's the perfect car for the young professional, but I'd probably hold out for the Sportback TDI model if I were a young parent.{} My two main beefs with the new A3: lack of a manual transmission and the everything-is-extra pricing structure. I like the standard leather seats and sunroof, but c'mon! I have to pay more for paint color choices and heated seats? For me to spec this car out as I'd buy it with navigation, heated seats, rear side airbags, blue exterior paint and the 2.0-liter engine, I'd spend a minimum of $36,550.

But the way it drives and the Audi cache may outweigh all that. If you're looking for a compact car with sporty German engineering, the new A3 is a must test. Whether it's a must buy is up to you.

For more photos, check out this photo gallery.

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