March 12, 2007
Audi has a reputation for building some of the best luxury performance machines in the world that don’t need to be stored during the colder months. Almost every vehicle they make comes standard with Quattro all wheel drive. Even the S4 Cabriolet, a four-seat convertible, offers AWD as a class exclusive feature. Then there’s the S8 sedan, a 450 horsepower rocket-limo that has a Lamborghini engine under the hood and all-wheel drive under the floor.
As a cold-blooded northerner, trust me on this: there aren’t a whole pile of cars with that much juice you’d probably want to drive in February.
But the S4 Cabriolet isn’t practical for most, and the S8 costs more than some homes. The A3, Audi’s entry-level model, represents a more affordable alternative to many while packing the same technology, performance and thrills it’s big brothers are known for.
It’s hard to make an original-looking hatchback nowadays, but this one definitely does the trick. The A3 features a lean and compact body complete with the menacing trademark grille flanked by active xenon headlamps. There’s an ambitious wedge shape to the windows, and the forward sloping line created by the windshield pillar recurs in the fender flares, grille, and bumper when viewed from the side.
As a hatchback, it’s ideal for a small or growing family – it demonstrates fun and excitement on one hand, but commitment and sensibility on the other- assuming you can justify a $56,000 hatchback as a sensible buy.
The A3 is easy to get into and out of, comfortable and offers great visibility. There are no blind spots, and the optional swivelling headlights steer into corners so there’s always light just where it’s needed on the road ahead. When first switched on at night, the lenses pivot up, down, in and out to ensure their proper range of motion.
An enormous panoramic style sunroof tops the well-stocked cabin. Heated leather seats were included, as was a navigation system to ensure you’ll find your way to your destination. A hands-free cellular telephone interface allows drivers to safely talk to others while on the way.
The only real concern inside is that the backseat is best left for smaller persons – those of even average height will likely complain about the limited headroom.
The trunk in the compact hatch offers up a reasonable storage area with a 12-Volt power outlet included in the rear as well, and the seats easily fold out of the way as needed to transport larger objects like skis and snowboards.
Underhood is a compact and efficient 3.2 litre V6 engine which develops 250 horsepower. It’s not Audi’s smoothest or quietest engine, and it gets a little noisy and harsh when pushed. Call me a big kid, but I was more impressed with the base two-litre turbo mill.
The V6’s grunt is undeniable though, and mileage averages around 14 L/100 km in the city and 11 L/100km on the highway. Get carried away, and you’ll find it drinks premium nearly as quickly as the 4.2 litre V8 found in larger models.
Maybe someday they’ll install this mill to create an S3. It would be frightfully quick, and the styling upgrades are already taken care of with the included “S-Line” kit which includes badging, rims and other visual treats.
The suspension is well sorted out – firm but forgiving and relatively quiet. Even during hard braking or emergency manoeuvres, the A3 rarely looses its cool. With the big wheels and all wheel drive, you can really lean on it while cornering, but there’s no major penalty when driving around town.
Though the Quattro AWD system doesn’t react to changes in road conditions as quickly as other Audi models in recent memory, it is hugely beneficial, and no driver input is required.
The brakes are well matched to the rest of the package. They’re impressive, nearly fade-free, and clamping them down brushes off speed in a real hurry.
During hard deceleration, drivers can experience as many as five perfectly blipped and expert sounding downshifts courtesy of the S-Tronic transmission, with manual gear-changing available by a simple click on a set of steering-wheel mounted paddles. It’s the only available transmission with the V6 engine.
The S-Tronic is not just some lazy autobox fitted with shift-flaps for novelty – this dual-clutch system is the real deal. When the driver summons a shift, the computer cuts or guns the throttle and engages the next or previous cog, depending on the paddle clicked. It does this all in as little as two tenths of a second. Gearing down is especially amusing, as the revs go wailing off towards the redline like an F1 car quickly gearing down for a tight corner. All the while the perfectly smooth shifts rarely send a wiggle back through the car’s driveline.
Rarely, but not never. It sometimes has trouble accelerating smoothly from a stop, and downshifts occasionally cause a disconcerting jolt as the clutch fights to re-engage as quickly as possible. And though it’s faster than a manual gearbox, it computerizes one of the most rewarding and satisfying parts of performance driving.
At the end of the day it’s useful and quite a blast, but I’m sure some performance purists will be happy with the smaller turbo engine and its available manual transmission.
As an entry level flagship that goes as quickly as it looks and packs more electronics than the PC aisle at Best-Buy, the A3 3.2 passes with flying colours.
Pricing 2007 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
Base price $45,690
Options $ 8,700
(Navigation $4,000; Technology Package $1,800; 18-inch sport rims $1,400; Panoramic roof $1,500)
Freight $ 700
A/C tax $ 100
Price as tested $55,190
Manufacturer’s web site