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For those that - in the '80s and '90s - embraced VW's GTI, but now regard it as too sophomoric for their current, more senior status, the Audi A3 might satisfy. With its compelling combination of a 4-door hatch's sport and utility, polished exterior, refined interior and available all-wheel drive, Audi's A3 constitutes a car for all seasons. And with two stellar powerplants - a 2.0-liter turbocharged four or 2.0-liter turbo diesel, you can go quickly with economy (gas), or go economically with the urge of over 230 pound-feet of torque (diesel). At its 2006 introduction its success wasn't a given; now in its sixth model year it seems to have gained the affection of both the enthusiast and the marketplace.
If you enjoy the comfort and composure typical of a European sport sedan, but also demand some degree of versatility, the A3 is hard to fault. And while VW's GTI rides on the same platform - and has a similar level of detailing inside - the Audi delivers a level of maturity its corporate sibling can't match.
Although its under-$30,000 base price might be seductive, Audi's pricing structure can quickly elevate the A3 into the mid-$30s. In short, shopping the A3 isn't for the financially faint of heart. And if you're one of the millions genetically averse to the concept of owning a hatchback, you're probably no longer reading this, anyway.
With the introduction of the 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel for 2010 (and elimination of the V6 option), changes in 2011 are largely cosmetic. New chrome trim, a couple of new wheel designs (including a new 5-spoke alloy for the Titanium Sport package), and two new blues: Scuba and Deep Sea.
Driving Impressions Despite its age, the A3 continues to achieve a desirable balance of comfortable ride and composed handling. The Servotronic speed-sensitive power steering is appropriately communicative, while the all-independent suspension is...both compliant and controlled. Opting for the sport suspension and 18-inch rims will compromise the ride/handling balance slightly, but in no iteration of the A3 does a "boy racer" element override the feel of near luxury. And regardless of your preference for manual shifting, experience Audi's S tronic dual clutch option before committing to the 6-speed stick. It's more responsive when on the throttle, while (obviously) more convenient in stop-and-go operation.
quattro All-wheel Drive
Forget the snowbelt/sunbelt debate over the benefits of all-wheel drive. In virtually any road condition, dividing the engine's output among all four wheels provides a level of security not available when only two wheels are driven. We only regret that Audi's quattro is no longer available in the U.S. market with the 6-speed manual transmission.
The A3's 5-door configuration almost exponentially expands the utility of the A3 platform. With the rear seat up you'll enjoy comfortable seating for four, along with adequate luggage space for overnight travel. When folded, the travel options (for two) are unlimited, providing secure, accommodating storage for any number of activity-oriented pursuits.
Audi has, for well over a decade, provided the benchmark for interior design and detail. And despite its entry-level (for Audi) price point, the A3 fully upholds that tradition. Elements of the Audi TT can be seen in the A3's instrument panel, both variants of the steering wheel (Premium and Premium Plus) are appropriately tactile, and alloy accents are sprinkled strategically throughout the cockpit. With four doors, rear seat passengers enjoy easy access and, once seated, a reasonable amount of room. If you're carrying cargo rather than people, the rear seats fold (60/40), and come equipped with a pass-through for carrying longer items. All materials impart a quality feel, while the car's suspension provides a quality ride.Exterior
With its relatively small greenhouse, were the A3 a more conventional sedan you might think of it as a 4-door coupe. As a hatch, you can consider it the less-practical offshoot of VW's GTI, or the far less practical cousin of Audi's Q5. But with a trim exterior, wheels pushed to the corners of the car, tires that fill the wheelwells and an almost fastback profile to the rear hatch, what the Audi gives up in overall interior volume is compensated by an elevated level of high style. Its grille provides the face of Audi, and the overall impression is solidly European.
At its under-$30,000 price point Audi's A3 is comprehensively equipped. Standard equipment for its Premium trim includes dual-zone automatic climate contro, leather seating surfaces and Audi concert radio with Sirius Satellite Radio, 140 watts of power and 10 speakers. Functional enhancements include cruise control, remote keyless entry, halogen headlights and the Sideguard airbag system.
Audi's Premium Plus trim level adds xenon headlights, an Aluminum Medial inlay in the doors and center console, Bluetooth mobile phone prep and a power driver's seat. Audi's Sport package provides a lower, firmer suspension for more precise handling, sport seats for better lateral support and 225/40-18 rubber for improved grip. Those living - and surviving - in cold climates may opt for the Cold Weather package, offering heated seats, mirrors and windshield washer nozzles. Individual options include Audi's Open Sky panorama sunroof, walnut wood inlays, navigation, rear side airbags and aluminum roof rails.
Audi's 2.0-liter turbocharged four, with Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI), is perennially regarded as one of the best drivetrains available in its near luxury category. Producing 200 horsepower at 5,100 - 6,000 rpm, and 207 pound-feet of torque at between 1,800 and 5,000 rpm, the turbocharged four is as flexible as it is fast. If you wish to maximize your efficiency, Audi's 2.0-liter clean diesel is a compelling argument for the non-hybrid drivetrain, with adequate power, generous torque (236 pound-feet at 1,750 - 2,500 rpm) and an amazing 42 miles per gallon (EPA highway). We only wish Audi would combine its diesel offering with quattro all-wheel drive.
2.0-liter DOHC in-line 4 turbocharged
200 horsepower @ 5100 - 6000 rpm
207 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1800 - 5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
21/30 (manual), 22/28 (S tronic), 21/28 (S Tronic quattro)
2.0-liter DOHC inline 4 turbodiesel
140 horsepower @ 4200 rpm
236 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1750 - 2500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30/42 (S tronic FWD)
By AudiDriver (PA) on Wednesday, April 03, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 23,900overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Cons: "Center gear shift knob gets very hot in the summer"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"The car is a pleasure to drive and has alot of power. My husband keeps saying he wants to drive it on a closed track to really see it perform. Drives well in all weather conditions. The hatch back offers a large amount of space."
By Crystall (CA) on Monday, August 27, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 53,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive- esp in mountains."
Cons: "Transmission; dealers won't fix Real problem"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"Love the handling; great acceleration; balanced & attractively unique. Transmission started jerking between 1st and 2nd gear. Dealer said he'd _____ it. This game went on for 2+ years. Took car to a different dealer in a city 300 miles away. Same run-around. Now that it's "out of warranty","
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By Tformers1 (PA) on Friday, April 13, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 60,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun n sporty"
Cons: "Turbo lag and maintenance cost"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"Bought this car used as my daily driver. its a fun car to drive the Fwd did great in pa 09-10 snow. I've been pulled over from other audi drivers to look at this car. I've added audi's ground effects kit and larger spoiler with audi's ECU upgrade ( done by audi with 4yr warranty) for better performance which has no turbo lag and better throttle response . Have had no issues since ive had the car but be prepared for the cost of owning ( ie; brakes, tires and overall upkeep) a german car. Overall a sporty,fun, nice interior and great handling car."
12 people out of 12 found this review helpful
By Mark (IL) on Friday, March 30, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 105,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Overall value for the luxury, highly reliable."
Cons: "Seats could be a little more comfy"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Although I broke my rule of buying the first model year of a vehicle, Audi has a tried and true 2.0 litre engine that is bullet proof. This car has 105K miles on it and we have only had to replace 1 headlight bulb. That is the only problem we have had. Everything else has been preventive maintenance and the car drives and seems brand new even with 105K miles. Gas mileage is pretty darn good too. We average 28 mpg, with up to 34 on the highway. The hatchback is highly convenient and it takes a Yakima rack like a champ. We have abused this car over the years with camping, biking and sports and it hasn't flinched. Highly recommend this car."
9 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By Marijam (OK) on Friday, March 23, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 79,800overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, comfortable, great mileage"
Cons: "Hard to get into and out of due to long legs."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Drives and handles like a fine sports car. Really appreciate the manueverability of the car, getting into and out of tight spots, such as when parallel parking. Heated, adjustable seats and automatic climate control make it very comfortable. Love, love, love the gas mileage that I get. Love, love, love Audi maintenance and service. I want to still have this car when I'm a little old lady and can barely see over the steering wheel. Fully expect to be able to get 200,000 plus miles out of the car. Only draw back is that I have very long legs that make it difficult to get into and out of the car, but once you are in, there's plenty of leg room because of the fully adjustable seat."
3 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By JJ (CA) on Wednesday, March 14, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 96,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I love the practability of the design. But I love the turbo more! Gas mileage not terrific but for a turbo with 200hp not bad at 24mpg."