The Audi A3 inhabits a market segment called “premium compact” and Audi claims, in fact, to have invented term. We’re not about to invoke Marquis de Queensbury rules on the origin of the segment, but we will state that it’s something of a misnomer for the A3. “Compact” doesn’t indicate “fun” to us, and “premium” doesn’t either. And fun is one of the best reasons for driving the Audi A3.
Of course, we have a certain fondness for small performance sedans, if for no other reason than they fit so well on the narrow winding roads we like to frequent. And we’re also not averse to well-equipped and well-finished sedans either. The latter, of course, fits the 2011 Audi A3 that’s the subject of this car review.
No shouting The exterior of the Audi A3 doesn’t shout and it’s clearly not the head turner that is, say, the Audi A5 (coupe or convertible) or the Audi A8. In fact, except for the distinctive Audi grille, the 2011 Audi A3 could be considered stealth, the Audi four-ring logo on the rear hatch the only indication that this well-proportioned five-door hatchback is anything but another well-proportioned five-door hatchback.
Our 2011 Audi A3 tester came in “Premium Plus” trim, equipped with Xenon headlamps with eyebrows of LED daytime running lights (not usually found on compact sedans), but that’s almost like cheating when it comes to attention grabbing ability
The interior of the 2011 Audi A3 gets high marks, however, as do all Audis, for design and comfort. The dash isn’t squishy soft when it comes to the soft-touch test, but instead the A3’s dash is covered with a thin coat of rubbery-like plastic that almost looks like “crackle paint” except that it’s not hard. With the raised dash vents, business-like buttons and knobs, and precision instrument-like gauges, the interior of the A3 has an efficient and professional look. Controls all have the proper weight and heft, not always found on the common compact car.
The play’s the thing Our 2011 Audi A3 tester, however, beguiled with the playful attitude. Equipped with the 2.0 TFSI engine, front-wheel drive and the S-tronic six-speed automatic transmission, the A3 was a corner charger and deceptively quick. The transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine is rated at only 200 horsepower, a rather mild number these days for a turbocharged direct injection engine. Torque doesn’t come with a particularly impressive peak output either, at only 207 lb ft. The turbo two-liter of the humble 2011 Kia Optima SX, for example, cranks out a reputed 276 horses. The redemption of the Audi A3’s two-liter, however, is its broad spread of its maximum torque with a plateau from 1800 rpm to 5000 rpm. It’s acceleration on demand.
The Audi S-tronic transmission is a clear bonus as well. Although capable of wholly automatic leave-it-in-drive operation, the S-tronic is a dual-clutch gearbox that, unlike a conventional automatic transmission, is a conventional manual transmission that, thanks to an electronically-controlled shift system with two clutches. Because the clutches can “overlap”–one disengaging as the other engages–the S-tronic transmission can change gears, Audi says, in as little as 0.2 seconds. Or in other words, faster than we could time with our stopwatch.
The transmission has a sport automatic mode, but for a truly sport fashion there’s the full manual mode, activated via tip-shifting the shifter lever or the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
The Audi A3’s shifting is not only sub-second quick but it also has a right now immediacy that doesn’t require planning ahead or any anticipation where the tachometer needle will be, as with most paddle-shifted automatic transmissions. Tap the up or down paddle and the next gear is simply there, with the added fillip of a neat rev-match blip of the throttle when picking up a lower gear.
Upshifts at redline (or kick-down shifts) can be done fully automatically, even in manual mode, by pressing hard on the throttle pedal. In general driving in full-automatic mode, most shifts are kitty purr smooth though the transmission was occasionally confused by what we wanted to do at a particular moment, and it was frequently grumpy for the first couple of shifts when stone cold.
Sum of the whole The whole, as they say, is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s where the A3’s fun comes in. Our test 2011 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI S-tronic had the same Calvin and Hobbes-like enthusiasm for the road as the Audi A4 Avant we tested, only in a yet more pint-sized container. With the A3, “nip and tuck” isn’t a surgical procedure, just the way the A3 drives.
The engine is very smooth at idle and growls on acceleration, most of the sound coming front the rear end of the car, though never feels stressed. Anyway, the 2.0-liter’s torque spread makes tight back roads easy.
Our choice of Audi A3 would have been quattro-equipped, all-wheel drive negating torque steer and all that, but Audi’s suspension design makes the steering wheel kick-free, with the loss of traction at a front wheel, such as on runoff at the inside of a tight corner, just means a loss of traction, not the car going off towards an alternate universe. We’d still choose quattro if it were our car–if for nothing but all-weather traction–but we were impressed by the 2011 A3’s front-drive performance.
In addition to the 2.0 TFSI/S-tronic/front-wheel drive configuration we tested, the 2011 Audi A3 is also available mix-and-match with quattro all-wheel drive and with a conventional six-speed manual transmission. The 2011 Audi A3 is also offered with the 2.0 TDI clean diesel but only with front-wheel drive and the S-tronic transmission.
The Audi A3 comes standard with leather seating, “one-touch” power window front and rear and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat that unfortunately doesn’t fold flat. Our tester came with “navigation plus”, which we found easy to operate, unlike the standard audio which, at the very least, will require study to figure out. The Premium plus package adds killer Xenon headlamps that do for high beam that lesser Xenon headlamps do for low beam , and more, including Bluetooth, power driver’s seat and special option-specific wheels. The optional “Open Sky” two-pane panoramic sun roof has translucent fabric for a sun shield that unrolls manually.
We’re surprised, however, that a vehicle with a base price of $28,750, optioned up to $35,250, with standard leather seating doesn’t have heated seats.
Still, we were engaged with Audi’s A3 2.0 TFSI with S-tronic and front-wheel drive, but if premium compact doesn’t fully describe the A3–and it doesn’t–may we suggest a new sub-niche and call it premium compact sport? That’s the Audi A3 and we’ll even let Audi have dibs on it.
2011 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI FWD S-tronic, prices and key specifications, as tested
Base price: $28,750
- · Deep Sea Blue pearl effect paint: $475
- · Navigation plus, incl. Audi music interface w/ iPod cable: $2,050
- · Premium Plus: Xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth, multifunction leather steering wheel, power front driver seat (incl. 4-way power lumbar), illumination package and storage package, aluminum “Medial” belt line trim, 17-inch alloy wheels w/ all-season tires: $2,000
- · Open Sky sunroof: $1,100
- · Destination: $875
Body style/layout:4-door hatchback, front engine/front-wheel drive
- Type: 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC I-4
- Displacement, cc: 1984
- Block/head material: ironm/aluminum
- Horsepower: 200 hp @ 5100 – 6000 rpm
- Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1800 – 5000 rpm
- Recommended fuel: unleaded premium (91 oct)
- Fuel economy, EPA est.: 22/28 mpg city/highway
- Fuel economy, observed: 22.8 mpg
- Performance (0-60 mph):6.9 sec (source: Audi)
- Top speed: 130 mph (electronically limited)
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox
- Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / four-link
- Wheels: 17 x 7.5-inch alloy
- Tires: 225/45R17 all-season
- Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 12.3-inch dia. front/11.0-inch dia. rear
- Steering: vehicle speed-sensitive electromechanical power assist rack-and-pinion
- Turning circle: 35.1 ft.
- Wheelbase: 101.5 in.
- Length: 168.98 in.
- Height: 56.24 in.
- Width: 78.54 in.
- Curb weight: 3,296 lbs
- Trunk volume:19.5 – 39.9 cu. ft.
- Fuel tank: 14.52 gal.
Warranty:4-year/50,00 mile powertrain; 4-year/50,000 bumper-to-bumper
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