2015 Audi A3
The days of the tech trickle down are over. You no longer need leave a nose print on the window of a manufacturer's swankest concept to peek at cutting-edge gadgetry, then wait years for the goods to get installed in a car you can actually afford. Take Audi's new A3, arriving now as a four door, and later in "S", cabrio, diesel, and hybrid versions. The German brand's first model designed for the American market boasts features that put it in line, tech-wise, with the brand's top-tier vehicles.
What that means for drivers is a 4G connection that can stream Netflix movies to the kids' tablets in the backseat while a driver listens to internet radio and navigates via a photorealistic iteration of Google Earth; an optional 705-watt, 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system that throws thunderbolts, B&O's first unit in the entry-level luxury segment; and perhaps most importantly, the ability to swap chipsets, so the car won't be stuck using 2014 circuitry in 2022, should you keep it that long.
So why's Audi pushing tech so hard with its cheapest car? It might be that the young buyer attracted to an A3 (and Audi is banking on a lot of them) is more likely to be drawn in by cool tech than than promises of sublime driving dynamics. Still, when they push down the pedal, they'll be pleasantly surprised: We spent two days flinging the A3 around some of Northern California's most gut-testing twisties and found that models outfitted with the 220-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo'd four and Quattro all-wheel drive have much of the same balanced-as-a-rolling-marble, smooth shifting, stick-to-the-tarmac character as their bigger, spendier Audi brothers. There seems to be a two-part plan here: Lure them in with tech and hook them with a superior ride. After all, they're gonna trade up someday. [$29,900; audiusa.com]