2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: Compact Car Showdown

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic - a compact car showdown

[Update: Since this article was first composed, Honda recalled over 34,000 Civics “due to potentially missing or misset piston pin snap rings that may cause engine stall or failure.” You can read more about the recall at Jalopnik.]

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic

The 2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic? Most people, no doubt, scoff at such a comparison. Why would one want to compare these two vehicles? Outside of their size, what could these two cars possibly have in common? One is a German-made, prestige brand, while the other is a mass-marketed Japanese model.

While, yes, at first blush, a comparison of these two cars might seem odd, a bit of research proves that comparing the two vehicles is worth the analysis. To explain why such a comparison is helpful, though, a little background information regarding the compact car would be beneficial.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: A Compact History

According to the United States Environmental Agency (EPA), a compact car is a vehicle model that adheres to the following dimensions:

approximately 4,100 mm (161 in) and 4,450 mm (175 in) long for hatchbacks, or 4,400 mm (173 in) and 4,750 mm (187 in) long for convertibles, sedans (saloon) or station wagons (estate car). Multi-purpose vehicles and sport utility vehicles based on small family cars (often called compact MPVs and compact SUVs) have similar sizes, ranging from 4,200 mm (165 in) to 4,500 mm (177 in) in the U.S., and from 4,400 mm (173 in) to 4,700 mm (185 in) in international-based models.

In more colloquial terms, though, a compact car (not to be confused with the even smaller subcompact class) is a small car that functions as a entry-level vehicle and/or affords reduced space and capacity so as to better negotiate confined or congested environments.

The history of the compact car in the Unite States begins in 1950, when Nash manufactured the first Rambler. The car, which Nash produced over the course of the next four years, enabled families in search of an efficient and affordable vehicle to enter the automotive market with more ease than the other manufacturers (such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) allowed. The vehicle was “built on a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase to which a station wagon, hardtop, and sedan versions were added.” Shortly after its introduction into the American consumer market, George W. Mason, Nash CEO and Chairman of the Board, developed the term “compact”; but it’s George W. Romney (yes, the father of the twice failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney) who historians credit with adopting and popularizing the moniker for cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches or shorter.

While, the compact car in America served, primarily, as an entry-level vehicle, the “luxury” compact market did not develop until a few years later. In his article, “Trends: Charting the Rise of the Premium Small Car,” John Le Blanc attributes the migration of the compact car into the luxury market to Mini Cooper. Specifically, he notes that:

Although designed to put an impoverished, post-World War Two Britain back on the road, British Motor Corporation’s Mini city car was the first small car that rich people glommed on to.

Originally launched in 1959 as a bare-bones hatchback, the Mini’s popularity spawned a plethora of body styles. Included were not only the Cooper performance models, wagons, vans, pickups and the Jeep-like Moke, but also “luxury” Minis, like the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf, which added vestigial rear fenders to give the hatchback a more traditional luxury sedan look.

With the British Motor Corporation’s move toward “performance models” and “luxury Minis,” then, the compact luxury market commenced, offering consumers who would normally purchase a larger, more expensive vehicle the option of buying a smaller, more convenient car without sacrificing the comfort, style, and class to which they had grown accustomed.

As his article progresses, Le Blanc sketches out the remainder of the compact luxury car’s history, arguing that the market segment hit its stride during the 80s. It was at this moment that, to his mind, “Yuppies” began transitioning away from larger cars, such as the “Cadillac Eldorado or Lincoln Continental,” and toward smaller “import brands like Toyota, Datsun and Volkswagen at the low-end and BMW and Mercedes-Benz at the high-end.” Nowadays, he says, a “downmarket move” by luxury brands proves that the industry is trending toward our continued reliance on premium compacts, “like the Acura ILX, Audi A3 and Q3, Buick Encore, Lexus CT 200h, Mercedes-Benz B-, CLA- and GLA Classes.”

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: “Downmarket” Shifts

But why have consumers moved “downmarket”? Or why, as Andrew MacLean alternately asks in his article “Small Luxury Cars on the Rise,” have premium car makers followed a “global trend of downsizing” luxury cars? There isn’t one, simple answer to this question; in fact, a confluence of factors has precipitated this industry-wide, generational shift.

MacLean points to the most obvious answers, which are a “swing towards more fuel-efficient engines and vehicles more suited to the urbanisation of large cities.” In other words, he believes that car owners are searching for high-end vehicles that can counteract elevated gas prices, while simultaneously confronting space issues brought on by exploding population growths within major, urban areas.

Joshua Dowling, author of “Compact Luxury Cars on the Rise,” only partly agree with MacLean:

The reason for this shift to premium small cars? Interestingly enough, it’s not to save money on fuel. After all, if you can afford to spend $40,000 on a small car, you can afford to run it.

The reasons are simpler than that. There are more wealthy people on the planet than ever before—in more countries, especially China, now the world’s largest car market—and at the same time our cities are becoming more congested and parking spaces are getting tighter or harder to find.

Of course, with gas prices at the pump reaching unprecedented lows (this morning, I passed a station advertising gasoline for $1.69 per gallon), Dowling’s argument might appear plausible in the moment. But when looked at historically, he may be overly dismissive of the cost of fueling large, less-efficient vehicles. In 2008, gas prices reached a national average of $4.08 per gallon; and, in some cities, neared the $6.00 per gallon range. Topping off a 20-gallon tank of a full-sized SUV under those economic conditions every week, no doubt, would cause even the deepest pockets to second guess their automotive choices.

LeBlanc, though, offers his own set of impetuses for consumers’ changing demands. He claims that the transition to compact cars to be indicative of “rapidly changing demographics, shifting global economies, and tightening environmental regulations are forcing the automobile to change faster than ever.” To this end, a growth in the number of young drivers pining after luxury vehicles, in addition to heightened environmental concerns, have aided in expanding this market segment as much as (if not more than) gas prices and a dearth of parking. Additionally, The Korea Economic Daily even went so far as to claim that the rise in the compact market stems from a “prolonged economic slump” of global proportions.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: “Democratization of Luxury”

Regardless of the cause, though, the increase in compact sales has brought upon a “democratization of luxury in the automotive industry,” as MacLean calls it, that “has been an ongoing process for decades.” And Dowling notes that the “popularity of expensive small cars is putting mainstream brands and proud premium marques on a collision course.” Mainstream and luxury car companies have set upon a “collision course” because “mass-market manufacturers are loading their cars with more equipment than ever before,” while, simultaneously, “imported prestige marques…are using the same advantages to limbo into price territory they’ve never been before.”

Audi, of course, is no stranger to the “democratization of luxury.” In a Jalopnik exposé last year, Patrick Gregory mentions how the manufacturer asked “280 dealers across the U.S. to throw fancy parties aimed at selling the A3 to cool ‘urban’ people in their mid-20s to early 40s.” The article, humorously, goes on to claim that Audi was seeking to lure the “bearded fellow decked out in American Apparel clothes holding up traffic on [a] fixie bike.” In other words, they were courting hipsters: those “organic coffee” drinking,” “bacon donut” eating, and “Chvrches” listening “bastions of coolness.” The ploy appears to have worked, as six weeks after the 2015 A3’s release, consumers were already on 30-day waiting lists; moreover, “about one quarter of buyers are 30 or younger, and many are financing instead of leasing,” signaling a long-term investment with the brand.

With this “democratization of luxury,” then, we arrive at a point in America’s automotive history in which a comparison between an Audi A3 and a Honda Civic does not seem so preposterous. In fact, the comparison seems necessary.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: Spec Comparison

Like most models, car manufacturers produce a variety of options, trims, and levels from which a consumer can choose. To this end, I’ve included a comparison of the most basic, entry-level specifications for both the Audi A3 and the Honda Civic, as well as the fully-loaded versions, respectively.

 

AUDI A3 PREMIUM HONDA CIVIC LX
Engine Turbo-charged, 4-cylinder, 16-valve 4-cylinder, 16-valve
Horsepower / Torque 170 / 200 158 / 138
City / Highway / Combined 23 / 33 / 27 27 / 40 /31
Acceleration (0-60) 7.2 seconds N/A
Top-Speed 130 mph N/A
Warranty 4 year / 50,000 miles 3 year / 36,000 miles
Maintenance 12 month / 5,000 miles N/A
Transmission 6-speed dual clutch, front-wheel drive 6-speed manual, front wheel drive
Wheel Base 103.8 inches 106.3 inches
Curb Weight 3,175 pounds 2,472 pounds
Length 175.4 inches 182.3 inches
Height 55.7 inches 55.7 inches
Cargo Volume 12.3 cubic feet 15.1 cubic feet
Climate Control Dual-zone Automatic Single / Centrally controlled
Panoramic Sunroof YES NO
Headlamps Xenon headlights / LED running lights Halogen lights
Driver Assist Parking System Plus, Audi Presense Basic NO
Audio Bluetooth, HD Radio, SiriusXM Bluetooth
Sound System 10 speakers 4 speakers
Infotainment System
MSRP $30,900.00 $18,640.00

 

AUDI A3 PRESTIGE HONDA CIVIC TOURING
Engine Turbo-charged, 4-cylinder, 16-valve Turbo-charged, 4-cylinder, 16-valve
Horsepower / Torque 220 / 258 174 / 162
City / Highway / Combined 24 / 33 / 27 31 / 42 / 35
Acceleration (0-60) 5.8 seconds N/A
Top-Speed 130 mph N/A
Warranty 4 year / 50,000 miles 3 year / 36,000 miles
Maintenance 12 month / 5,000 miles N/A
Transmission 6-speed dual clutch, quattro all-wheel drive LL-CVT, front-wheel drive
Wheel Base 103.8 inches 106.3 inches
Curb Weight 3,362 pounds 2,923 pounds
Length 175.4 inches 182.3 inches
Height 55.7 inches 55.7 inches
Cargo Volume 10.0 cubic feet 14.7 cubic feet
Climate Control Dual-zone Automatic Dual-zone climate control
Panoramic Sunroof Yes No (moonroof)
Headlamps LED headlights / rear lights LED headlights
Driver Assist Parking system plus, Audi side assist, Audi presense front Lane Assist / Watch
Audio Bluetooth, HD Radio, Sirius XM/Traffic, iPod Integration Bluetooth, Pandora, CarPlay, Android Audio, Sirius XM, HD Radio
Sound System 14 Bang & Olufsen speakers 10 speakers
Infotainment System MMI 7-inch touch, navigation plus, Audi Connect 7-inch touch screen
MSRP $43,050.00 $27,335.00

 

These, obviously, are not all the specifications on the four vehicles I chose to highlight; but the above tables present each vehicles’ key features and their differences.

Both the entry-level A3 and its fully-loaded sibling boast higher MSRPs than their Honda Civic counterparts. But the additional cost provides you a more powerful engine that offers higher top-speeds, better acceleration, and AWD. Likewise, the bells-and-whistles (both on the interior and exterior) of each Audi model are far superior to those found on and in the Honda Civics. Although the Civic does post better fuel-efficiency numbers, the figures Honda provides might not be entirely accurate (more on that later).

Moreover, the warranty package that comes standard with the Audi vehicles far outpaces that which comes with the Honda cars. To this end, owners of an Audi will have the added reassurance that comes with a robust support system if they so need it.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: Design Language Differences

Reading charts and comparing numbers, though, only provides so much information. For, indeed, there are other factors that one needs to take into consideration when purchasing or leasing a vehicle. One of the biggest differences between the Audi A3 and the Honda Civic can be attributed to each manufacturers’ adherence to their national “design languages,” respectively.

This statement, perhaps, raises two important questions. The first: What is a “design language,” especially with respect to the automotive industry? And the second: how do German and Japanese design languages differ, specifically with regard to Audi and Honda?

Within the automotive industry, design language is the “development of the appearance, and to some extent the ergonomics, of motor vehicles.” More precisely, automotive design language focuses on exterior design, interior design, color and trim, and the manner in which these three categories interact within one another to form a cohesive whole. Furthermore, a design language attempts to fuse these aesthetic divisions with an overriding concept in which to sell to consumers.

In his Road and Track article “Where is Japanese Automobile Design Going,” Takaharu Koby Kobayakawa claims that Japanese design contains “Japanese DNA” that promotes “designs that reflect Japanese culture.” This statement, obviously, is ridiculously tautological and, thus, means nearly nothing. Luckily for Kobayakawa, he elaborates upon this idea with quotes from prominent, Japanese automobile insiders. For example, Toyota design chief, Shuichi Misono argues that Japanese design language, or that “J-Factor,” is not “imbued by the past or by specific shapes, but rather more spiritual elements, such as futuristic, high-tech and innovative images.” Later in the article, Kobayakawa quotes Honda design chief, Yoshio Ui, who notes that Japanese design language stresses pragmatics by emphasizing “the importance of advancement through actual experience.”

This combination between the “futuristic” and the pragmatic further resonates throughout the “Designers Talk” segments on Honda Worldwide’s web page. In an article titled “CR-Z: Exterior Design,” the marketing copy refers to a desire “to create an advanced design that looks ahead of its time,” while simultaneously highlighting “functionality.” Of course, while designers might not outwardly express allegiance to certain forms, patterns, or shapes, particular aesthetic aspects echo throughout Honda’s (and other Japanese manufacturers’) vehicles. For instance, most of the cars in Honda’s fleet employ a “wedge” or “bullet” shape with priority placed upon the construction of a “low hood.”

And, in perhaps the most telling admission by Honda designers, they state in the article “The New European Civic” that “Honda is not so much in the business of selling cars as it is in the business of selling products that improve and enrich people’s lives.” Again, this statement frames their cars as consumable “products” used to serve a specific purpose or function within a customer’s life. If we take these designers at their word, then, Honda develops cars that will speed their customer from place to place as quickly as possible in order to expedite the activities of their life.

German design language, conversely, follows a different trajectory all together. The Wikipedia entry that describes German automotive design argues that it stemmed from the Bauhaus Movement and, thus, paid “more attention to aesthetics” and “luxury.” Such heightened awareness, then, created a “Teutonic style” that married “highly-engineered cars” with aesthetic beauty in order to create superior driving machines that have reigned supreme since the 1980s.

Bauhaus, as an artistic movement, sought to yoke “fine art and craft” with the purpose of “problem solving for a modern industrial society.” And the “problem” that Bauhaus was attempting to solve, vis-a-vis “modern industrial society” was the perceived “soullessness of manufacturing and its products” coupled with anxiety regarding “art’s loss of purpose” in daily life. To this end, artists who subscribed to this movement wanted to meld industry and craft with high art, in essence making them indistinguishable. Aesthetically, Bauhaus design focused on “simplified, geometric forms that allowed new designs to be reproduced with ease.”

While one could argue that Audi has moved away, over the years, from a rigidly traditional Bauhaus aesthetic, one can still witness its vestiges in the clean but dynamic lines that are coupled with performance contours. In fact, the design section of Audi’s main site boasts of an unrivaled and “compulsive dedication to uniting art and engineering”; the phrase “uniting art and engineering” sounds as if it could have been lifted from a Bauhaus manifesto. While Honda’s main concern centers on developing an appearance that aids in functional design that facilitates day-to-day activities with an eye toward some imagined future, Audi seeks to meld engineering and art in order to produce a luxury vehicle that embeds itself in a prominent aesthetic movement of the twentieth century.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: Visual Comparison

A quick look at the A3 and the Civic, side-by-side, will make evident the different approaches by which each company abides. The top row contains images of the A3, while the bottom row offers a glimpse of the Civic:

 

2016 Audi A3 front driver view 2016 Audi A3 rear driver view
2016 Honda Civic front driver view 2016 Honda Civic rear passenger view

For a better sense of the details found on the A3, check out the interior views, as well as the close-ups of some exterior views below. For comparable images of the Honda Civic, check out the photos below, as well as the pictures taken during a recent Car & Driver review:

 

2016 Audi A3
2016 Audi A3 wheels 2016 Audi A3 headlight detail
2016 Audi A3 dash 2016 Audi A3 cabin

 

 

2016 Honda Civic
2016 Honda Civic Sedan Wheels 2016 Honda Civic Sedan Badge Detail
2016 Honda Civic Sedan Cabin 2016 Honda Civic Sedan Cup Holders

 

One can see, rather easily I might add, the difference between these two vehicles, at least with regard to their aesthetic discrepancies. The angular, often jagged exterior of the Civic, coupled with its slapdash interior (as evidenced in the Car & Driver images), create a chintzy veneer that clearly exudes a reliance on economy and basic functionality. Comparatively, the classic lines and distinguished look of the A3’s exterior, combined with its luxurious and ample interior, provide for an unparalleled experience relative to its Japanese competitor.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: What’s in a Badge?

There is, of course, a final element that needs to be considered when comparing these two vehicles: the badge. While some might scoff at the weight a brand might bear upon an automobile, the effect cannot be denied. Indeed, the badge influences both driver and spectator alike. With the increased price of the four interlocking circles, drivers purchase the prestige of Audi: an indication that the person behind the wheel of the car can afford a luxury item and possesses discerning taste, insofar as they understand how craftsmanship, artistry, and engineering meld into both a superior experience and an ineffable aura.

The Honda badge, conversely, indicates a cheaply-priced vehicle available to most consumers in order to promote thriftiness, economy, and functionality. Sensible, yes. Enviable? Not in the least. This is not to say that the Honda Civic is not a smart purchase for some consumers; for, indeed, it most definitely is a good deal. But what the difference in badges does say about drivers is something about station, class, and taste.

Even though the A3 is Audi’s entry-level vehicle, it signals to those willing to notice that the driver does not visualize their ceiling as a Civic; rather, the driver believes that they are entering into a new and prosperous realm in which unlimited, upward potential exists. And, indeed, James Riswick, in his Edmunds’ article “Small Luxury Cars or Luxurious Small Cars,” agrees:

there is something to be said for the way that luxury badge makes you feel, and more importantly, the genuinely higher quality of materials, construction and engineering that comes part and parcel with a three-pointed star or four interconnected rings.

It almost goes without saying (but, hell, I’ll say it anyway) that those “four interconnect rings” invoke more positive connotations for and feelings within a driver than a wedged “H” could ever dream of instilling within a consumer.

2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic: Video Reviews

No doubt, though, you’ll want a less biased opinion than someone who works for an Audi dealership. With that said, I’d like to provide for you three, independent video reviews of each vehicle. The opinions, advice, and information in this post will be reflected in the commentaries by the reviewers in these subsequent reviews.

One interesting tidbit that should be noted, though, is in the Everyman Driver review of the Honda Civic. While, generally speaking, the reviewer delivers a positive assessment of the car, he does note that the trip monitor that the car comes equipped with shows the car well under performs when it comes to its stated mileage and gas-efficiency. In fact, all but one trip recorded in the information center registers below 30 mpg. The one trip that does register above 30 mpg only recorded a 32.1 mpg performance.

2016 Audi A3, Kelley Blue Book Review:

2016 Audi A3, Car Connect:

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, CNET:

2016 Honda Civic, Everyman Driver:

2016 Honda Civic, MotorWeek:

2016 Honda Civic, AutoGuide:

If you’ve read this 2016 Audi A3 vs 2016 Honda Civic comparison and believe you’re ready to enter into the rarefied world of German engineering and design, then stop by Prestige Imports in Lakewood, CO. We are located at 9201 West Colfax Avenue between Wadsworth and Kipling. Alternately, you can call us at (833) 825-5423 to schedule and appointment with one of our certified Audi Brand Specialists.