2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line. Click image to enlarge
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2007 Audi A3 by Justin Pritchard
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2008 Audi A3

Ottawa, Ontario – You could say that the hatchback’s most recent upward march in status culminated in Audi’s first importing its four-door A3 hatch here in 2006.

After all, a cadre of nicely-equipped cars like the Mazda Protege5, Ford Focus ZX5 and Hyundai Elantra GT helped make hatches cool in 2002. Compared to those cars, however, the A3 was a whole different animal: the first of the modern hatches from a premium automaker.

Now in its third model year since its introduction here, the A3 – whose platform is shared not with the A4, but with the last-generation Volkswagen Golf – hasn’t undergone any significant changes and therefore is still a small car. There’s good front-seat legroom, but the rear seat can be tight for taller riders. In my tester, an A3 3.2 S-Line, it was the $1,500 sunroof that was the worst offender, cutting into both front and rear headroom.

2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line. Click image to enlarge

Delete that option, however, and you have a very comfortable interior. Even the rear seats are quite nice, and the high seating position makes for good visibility, though this might also be partially responsible for the limited headroom.

The rest of the A3’s interior features the high level of quality for which Audi has become known. The controls are easy to figure out, and feel good to the fingers, but I found a few ergonomic nits I’d like to pick. First, the climate controls are a little low on the centre stack, and there is no “off” button for the fan; you have to hit the “down” button repeatedly to shut the system off completely.

Second, the centre armrest in front gets in the way of the parking brake; the handle is an awkward reach with the armrest down, and the brake handle will hit the armrest when yanked upward.

My tester came with a $300 iPod interface, which includes a dock for the music player in the glovebox. It featured a number of plastic adapter cradles meant to fit a variety of iPod models, but none fit quite right on a recently-purchased, third-generation Nano.

A couple of neat features are the storage compartment found under the front passenger seat, and a mesh pocket in the passenger footwell.

There’s little to fault in the cargo area. The A3’s capacity for very large items is limited by the rake of the rear window, but the “trunk” underneath the cargo cover is a useful size and shape, and the rear seats fold nearly flat. The black roof is a zinger, styling-wise, and makes this car look spectacular, especially when viewed from above.

2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line. Click image to enlarge

The A3’s throttle is touchy, a common Audi characteristic, so smooth launches take practice. Otherwise, there’s little to fault in my tester’s powertrain, which matched Audi’s 3.2-litre V6 to the Volkswagen/Audi Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) sequential transmission. It’s a nice combination, the engine’s smooth running complemented nicely by the transmission’s smooth moves.

The DSG option came with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters in my car, but these turn with the wheel, which makes it tough to execute shifts mid-turn. I left the transmission in automatic mode most of the week, and used the manual mode to shift down for extra engine braking; it’s a good excuse to hear the drivetrain execute its rev-matched downshifts.

As much as I like this V6, I actually found myself wishing my tester had the base model’s 2.0T four-cylinder. While its 200 horsepower is a significant lower than the V6’s 250, the turbo four is so torquey that it feels like a much strong motor than its numbers suggest.

The V6 is surprisingly efficient considering the muscle it offers; in a week of driving around town, I was able to keep fuel consumption down to 11.3 L/100 km, identical to this car’s EnerGuide city consumption rating. That said, an A3 2.0T with the same six-speed transmission is rated at 9.3 L/100 in the city.

The A3’s compact size makes for a wonderfully tossable package; hurl the car into a corner and it responds eagerly, with sharp turn-in and a balanced attitude. The steering is quick, the brakes firm and responsive; combined with the car’s hatchback utility, it all makes for a truly appealing package.

2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line
2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line. Click image to enlarge

It’s a bit more difficult to get used to the A3’s steep price, at least in V6 form. While the A3 2.0T starts at $32,300, moving up to the V6 brings an $11,400 price increase. This includes the DSG transmission, but my tester also came with the $1,500 Open Sky sunroof, self-levelling bi-Xenon headlights at $1,200, a $650 Bluetooth phone package and $300 for an iPod interface that, as mentioned, didn’t work for me.

With options, the price was $47,350; add in $800 freight and A/C tax and the as-tested number came to $48,250. Even for its $32,000 base price, the A3 isn’t likely to attract the average hatchback buyer who is used to this body style’s bargain-basement heritage. But for the Audi buyer who won’t be seen in anything but a vehicle with the familiar four-ringed logo on the grille, this car’s combination of fun, efficiency and utility will be tough to fault.

Pricing: 2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line

Base price: $43,700
Options: $3,650 (Sunroof $1,500; self-levelling bi-Xenon headlamps $1,200; Bluetooth $650; iPod interface $300)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $800
Price as tested: $48,250
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Audi A3 3.2 S-Line

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    Day-by-Day Reviews

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    Competitors
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    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Audi Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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