2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
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Review and photos by Haney Louka

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At first, my wife couldn’t understand why I was so enamoured with a car that had only two pedals in the driver’s footwell. It didn’t help matters much when I explained, “It’s not an automatic, it’s an automated manual.” I then got the look. You know, the one that says, “do you really expect me to believe that?”

The subject of my admiration (after my wife, of course) is the phenomenal DSG (for direct-shift gearbox), available on VW and Audi models like the Jetta, GTI, and the subject of this review, the Audi A3. No, there’s no clutch pedal, and yes, it will do the shifting for you. But coming from somebody who believes that a manual is the only way to go in any car with performance prowess, believe me: this is no slushbox.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
Click image to enlarge

Previously available only on high-priced, low-volume machines like the BMW M3, various Ferraris, and the Maserati Quattroporte, Audi now brings this automatically-shifting manual concept to the masses in the form of DSG. The six-speed gearbox differs from an automatic transmission in that it doesn’t have a power-sapping torque converter; in fact, it has not one but two clutches. While one clutch engages a given gear, the other clutch readies itself on the next gear up for lightning-quick shifts, on the order of three to four hundredths of a second. The end result is a car that’s as quick as or quicker than the same car with a conventional manual transmission. In the case of the A3, manufacturer’s data show that the zero-to-100 km/h sprint is accomplished in 6.7 seconds with DSG compared with 6.9 for the conventional six-speed stick.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
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It’s also more involving than an automatic, for a few reasons. Leave the shift lever in D and it behaves largely as expected. Aside from a little jerkiness at low speeds (remember, no torque converter to act as a buffer between engine and wheels) and especially before it warms up, the car can loaf along with the best slushboxes. The Sport position on the shifter means lower gears are held longer with quicker and more aggressive downshifts. But it’s the manual mode that is most entertaining. Gears can be chosen by either a quick flick of the console-mounted lever or by tapping the shift paddles mounted just behind the steering wheel.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
Click image to enlarge

The resulting driving experience, for those who relish such an activity, comes close to the fun of a conventional manual. But the beauty of it is that shifts, both up and down, are executed in a way no driver operating three pedals could achieve. We already mentioned the upshift speed, and downshifts are even more impressive because they are not only quick, but accompanying each request for a lower gear is a perfect blip of the throttle to match revs. In short, the DSG represents the perfect blend of driver involvement, performance, and, yes, convenience.

Helping matters was the presence of Audi’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-banger that puts out a healthy 200 horsepower between 5,100 and 6,000 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque between 1,800 and 5,000 rpm. This engine continues the VW/Audi tradition of providing refined yet potent engines that produce thrust well beyond that suggested by the numbers on the spec sheet.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
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Also carried forward from the previous-generation 1.8-litre engine is critical acclaim: the 2.0T engine has been named one of the world’s Ten Best Engines by Ward’s Auto World for 2006.

The A3 2.0T puts its power to the pavement through the front wheels, not all four as some may expect from an Audi. Quattro is available, though, on the 3.2 S-Line version of the car. But it’s quite a jump in price from the base A3.

Starting price is $32,950 – something of a bargain in the premium small car segment. Add the DSG gearbox to replace the standard six-speed stick, and that takes the price up to $34,600. Major standard equipment includes head curtain and side airbags, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys, 10-speaker audio, and no-charge scheduled maintenance.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
Click image to enlarge

Included on our tester was the $950 cold weather package (a ski sack and heat for the front seats, windshield washers, and outside mirrors) and $2,750 premium package which included leather upholstery, fog lights, aluminum interior trim, an LCD display including a trip computer, power driver’s seat, a multifunction wheel with shift paddles, and a few other goodies.

Including freight, our tester rang through at the till for an even $39K.

Choose the S-Line model, with quattro all-wheel drive and a more potent V6 under the hood, and the price of admission becomes $44,990 but includes most of the items that are optional on the 2.0T. So load the A3 up, and we’re talking serious dough: well into A4 territory and also in the same price league as pedigreed competitors like the BMW 3-Series.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
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What else is there to like about the A3? Along with the first-class drive is a first-class interior environment. This little car doesn’t let on that it’s the most affordable Audi. Slip into the leather-clad driver’s seat and you could swear you’re in a $60,000 car. The steering wheel controls include both buttons and grippy little wheels that are easy to locate and use.

Typical of Audis for at least the past five years, the speedometer is graduated in 10s up to 80 km/h, and then skips to 20s from there up. Makes perfect sense to me.

2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG
Click image to enlarge

The only drawback to the A3’s pleasant interior is the tight dimensions of the rear seating area. So if you routinely take three other adults on extended road trips, this probably isn’t the best choice. But then again, neither is anything else in the A3’s class. Fold the seats down, though, and the practical hatchback layout allows for 1,574 litres (55.6 cu. ft.) of stuff space.

I was completely smitten by the little Audi’s sophisticated blend of looks, performance, and a luxury feel that can’t be faked. And with DSG technology at manageable price, the two-pedal world is suddenly a lot more appealing.


Pricing: 2006 Audi A3 2.0T DSG


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Crash test results


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