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Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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How much would you pay for a hatchback, a really nice hatchback? $30,000? $40,000, even? How about over $54,000?
Why not? A fully-loaded example of the most expensive small Audi, the A3 3.2 quattro, is packed with technology. It has all-wheel drive, a fantastic robotized transmission (more on that later), the latest in stability and traction control systems, and ABS brakes. It has more airbags than you can shake a stick at. Its dashboard is bursting with toys including an excellent Bose stereo system with six-disc CD changer, DVD-based navigation, the ability to read memory cards that hold photos and music, and Bluetooth integration that allows you to work your BlackBerry or mobile phone with the car’s controls (without ever having to remove the phone from your pocket).
A base A3 3.2 S line, at just under $44,990, comes with a beautifully-trimmed leather interior with special sport seats with extra side and shoulder bolstering, real aluminum trim on the dash and door panels, and a bunch of TT-inspired touches, such as the circular air vents and heater knobs.
As you would expect from Audi, the perception of quality is excellent, with every surface – from the spars that connect the console to the dashboard to the light switch – soft and expensive-feeling under your fingers. As you would expect from the A3’s compact exterior dimensions, the rear seat is fairly tight, but at least it feels airy thanks to the extra sunroof opening. Should you need extra cargo space, the seats fold flat to expand the trunk area.
Sharing a platform with the new Volkswagen GTI (and the Jetta), the A3 feels lighter on its feet than pretty much any Audi I’ve ever driven. The steering isn’t quite as fast as I’d like it to be, but it guides the car with precision, and feedback from the three-spoke perforated leather steering wheel is excellent. Fitted with aggressive winter tires, my tester clumped a bit over the roughest pavement, but otherwise, the ride was well-sorted, smooth and comfortable but with tight control of body motions. Around corners, the A3 still feels nose-heavy (there’s a big V6 out front, remember?) but the all-wheel-drive helps to mitigate some of the understeer, the rear wheels balancing out the car’s attitude once the front wheels are working at their max.
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Point to point, this is an impressively fast car – the chassis and all-wheel drive make for high cornering speeds, and the A3’s compact size and responsive steering make it easy to manoeuvre quickly through traffic. Great visibility from the upright driving position helps, too. But despite how quickly you can cover ground in the 3.2, you don’t feel quite the same joy and liveliness as you would in, say, a Mini Cooper S (or especially one with the John Cooper Works package), a similarly extravagant small car.
Due to its transverse engine arrangement, the quattro system used in the A3 isn’t like the one in the A4, A6 or A8. Instead, like the system in the TT, it remains primarily front-biased in most conditions, which is actually fine, and helps to improve fuel economy a bit (my tester, with its big power and entertaining sound, managed 12.8 L/100 km). Engagement of the rear wheels is seamless, and traction in the snow is amazing.
Undoubtedly, the best thing about the 3.2 is the standard DSG gearbox, which (despite its PRND gear lever) is actually an automated manual transmission, which you can shift using illuminated paddles on the back of the steering wheel or by tapping the stick back and forth in a slot to the right of the usual shift quadrant. Because it uses two clutches – one for first, third, and fifth gears and one for second, fourth, and sixth – it can pre-engage the next gear. Pull on one of the paddles, and shifts are instantaneous, with no interruption of power. Downshifts are accompanied with a perfect throttle blip to smooth things out, and even if you manage to confuse the computer (upshift when it thinks you were going to downshift or vice versa), selection is faster than in a manual, and smoother than you’d be able to do yourself.
Problem is, you can get all of the benefits of the 3.2’s DSG transmission in the $34,600 2.0-litre turbocharged version of the A3 as well. It too gives you the benefits of instantaneous gear changes, improved fuel economy, and improved acceleration. It has shifter paddles (though they’re not backlit like the 3.2’s), and the exhaust makes that same amusing “burp” during high-rev upshifts, giving it a really racy feel.
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Unfortunately, you cannot get quattro all-wheel-drive on the 200-horsepower 2.0T; Audi forces you to the 3.2 for it, which is a shame, because quattro is the reason many buyers consider Audis in the first place.
As it is, the 3.2 may well be one of the nicest, most luxurious little hatchbacks on the market, but it’s priced in territory where it’s competing against larger, more luxurious cars, including Audi’s own A4. Urban dwellers with big budgets but really tight parking spots will love the 3.2; most of the rest of us will hanker for an A3 2.0T quattro instead. Such a car would be the killer combination for Canada – though it would still be a premium-priced vehicle, its more economical engine coupled with all-wheel-drive would make it a far better value proposition than the 3.2, and would put it on a lot more shopping lists.
Technical Data: 2006 Audi A3 3.2 quattro
|Options||$8,900 (Navigation system $2,750; Bluetooth $600; Bi-xenon headlights $1,200; 18 inch alloys/tires $1,400; rear side airbags $500; open sky system $1,500; cold weather pkg $950)|
|Price as tested||$54,690 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback|
|Layout||Transverse front engine/quattro all-wheel-driv|
|Engine||3.2 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves|
|Horsepower||250 @ 6300 rpm|
|Torque||236 @ 2800-3200 rpm|
|Curb weight||1660 kg (3660 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2578 mm (101.5 in.)|
|Length||4284 mm (168.7 in.)|
|Width||1765 mm (69.5 in.)|
|Height||1422 mm (56.0 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||552 litres (19.5 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: n/a|
|Estimated||12.8 L/100 km (22 mpg Imp)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Assembly location||Ingolstadt, Germany|