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Review: 2006 Audi A3

July 20, 2005 03:20 PM EST | Audi , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageAudi's new four-door hatchback A3 makes a very strong case for combining luxury and sport in a package that's as practical as it is compact. Will America get it?

Pros
Best automatic transmission around, great driving dynamics, versatile interior space, powerful and sophisticated engine.

Cons
Cargo and rear-seat legroom a bit tight, price can get quite steep with dazzling options.

What's New for 2006
Audi brings the A3 four-door hatchback to our shores for 2006.

Introduction:
The trend in automobiles lately is big, literally. Bigger is better. Why then would Audi try to market a small luxury sport wagon (a.k.a. hatchback) in the land of plenty? The company is betting that a restless slice of the apple pie will gravitate to the new A3's combination of driving fun, sensible footprint and nimble driving character. European buyers have no qualms with owning a small luxury hatchback. The A3 is based on the new Golf platform (which we won't see until later in 2006), but only the four-door hatch will be offered here. One glance at the A3 and it's clear the vehicle is Euro-inspired. The car's exterior proportions are roughly one-third greenhouse, two-thirds lower body, giving it a confident stance that reflects its European moniker: Sportback. The 2006 A3 is meant to expand the brand's appeal to entry-luxury buyers, age 25-40, by offering the sporty proportions of a coupe with the practicality of a wagon. The A3's total interior volume is equal to the previous-generation A4 Avant, and despite the shortened cargo area behind the C-pillar, you can still carry 13.1 cubic feet of luggage with the rear seat in place. Fold the 60/40 second row flat and cargo capacity jumps to 36 cubic feet. The heart of the A3 is a 2.0T FSI engine first seen in the A4. This engine combines direct fuel injection with a high-compression ratio (10.5-to-1) to offer 207 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm, and 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm. Power can be fed through Audi's acclaimed six-speed DSG (Direct-Shift Gearbox), or the standard six-speed manual. In typical Audi fashion, the ride is comfortably firm, and handling is just as sporty as its larger siblings. Inside the cabin, it's readily apparent the A3 continues Audi's tradition of using first-class materials throughout the cabin. High-quality plastics combine with stylish trim accents to create an air of understated luxury. With a starting price under $25,000, the A3 appears to be an upscale bargain. However, a series of attractive option packages can push that tab up around $30 grand, within spitting distance of an A4 Avant. Bigger is not necessarily better in this case, and if the A3 can meet your needs for interior utility, expect a bargain of a sport luxury ride.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The A3 comes in one four-door hatchback body style. The generous array of equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, one-touch power windows, keyless entry and a 10-speaker, 140-watt audio system with satellite preparation for both XM and Sirius. If you're after more than that, a Sport package provides stiffer suspension tuning, foglights, sport seats, aluminum interior trim, a roof spoiler and leather seating surfaces. The Premium package also adds leather, plus a power driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers and HomeLink. Other available extras include xenon headlights, a dual-pane power sunroof, a navigation system and an upgraded Bose sound system.

Powertrains and Performance:
The heart of the A3 is the same 2.0T FSI engine introduced in the 2005 A4. This engine combines direct fuel injection with a high-compression ratio (10.5-to-1) to offer the type of low-end torque usually reserved for larger, normally aspirated power plants. With 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque on tap from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm, the A3 scoots to 60 mph in just 7 seconds before blasting through the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 93 mph. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while Audi's six-speed DSG (Direct-Shift Gearbox) is optional. The DSG uses two clutches to preselect the next gear before disengaging the active gear. The result is a truly automatic-like crispness between gears on upshifts, with rev-matching and rapid-fire responsiveness on downshifts.

Safety:
A full complement of front and side airbags is standard on the A3, including torso-protecting side-impact airbags for front passengers, and head-protecting, full-length side curtains. Torso side airbags for rear passengers are optional. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and stability control are standard.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The A3's interior features a classy combination of styling cues found in the TT, A4 and A6. Materials quality is excellent, and headroom abounds up front. The total interior volume is equal to the previous-generation A4 Avant, and despite the shortened cargo area behind the C-pillar you can still carry 13.1 cubic feet of luggage with the rear seat in place. Fold the 60/40 second row flat and cargo capacity jumps to 36 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions:
With 200 horsepower on tap, the A3 is certainly no slouch on the road. The 2.0-liter four doesn't suffer from turbo lag, and the optional DSG tranny effectively reduces BMW's SMG, Toyota's SMT and Ferrari's F1-style transmissions to second-tier status with its smooth and fast gear changes. The electromechanical steering does a superb job of dampening out unwanted road vibrations and kickback without marring feedback, and the well-tuned suspension keeps the car buttoned down in the turns, even as midcorner pavement imperfections try to knock it off line.

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