By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 4/28/2011
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.You May Not Like This Car If...
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.What's New for 2011
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 It 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.Notable Standard Equipment
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.Under the Hood
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)
With Audi's Sport package, metallic paint and destination charges the 2011 A3 begins at just over $30,000. Opt for Premium Plus, the same metallic color and Sport package, S tronic dual clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel drive will move the total to just under $36,000. Those wanting to enjoy the efficiency of diesel (front-wheel drive only) can expect to pay over $36,000 with the typical sprinkling of comfort and convenience options. Be sure and check kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price for a reliable indicator of what consumers pay in your market area. And while there are other premium priced hatches (Mini, Mazda3 and GTI are the three most prominent), the A3 stands alone with its diesel option and performance-biased all-wheel drive. Audi's recent upsurge in popularity has led to a significant rise in residual values, suggesting that A3 resale will perform on a par with VW's GTI, and better than comparable Japanese offerings.