In Europe the hatchback still rules supreme, but for some reason North Americans just don’t have the same love for them – or is it the manufacturers who tell us we ain’t gettin’ them?! The premium compact class of vehicles is another area that is thriving in Europe, but something we’ve never really taken to over here. For example – do you remember a few years ago BMW came out with the 316 – a little bare-bones hatchback that was reasonably cheap but no one bought them? Acura has abandoned the RSX hatchback last year, while Mercedes has had a bit of success with the C230 coupe. However, things are changing in this segment. First BMW brought us the MINI and then Audi launched the A3 and Volvo is coming out with the new S30 hatchback (it may even be on dealer lots as you read this). BMW are probably going to launch the 1 series over here soon, and there are probably more compact luxury hatchbacks on the way.
The Audi A3 2.0T (turbo) was first introduced to North America in May 2005, and has now been joined by a new A3 3.2 Litre V6 with quattro® all-wheel-drive. According to Audi, the A3 offers “TT-like performance and sophistication with the versatility of its four-door design and cargo area.” In other words: a more usable Audi with room for five, all neatly packaged in a hatchback. If you’ve read any of my previous articles you know how much I favor hatchbacks over sedans, so this A3 should be the perfect car for me, right? Let’s find out.
The A3 takes its visual cues from the A8, the A6 and the A4 with its single-frame front grille, which is now the distinctive mark of all the latest generation Audi’s. Its proportions are very similar to the VW Golf/Rabbit/GTI on which it is based.
Plunking myself in the very comfortable leather seats, I looked around the cabin and it was just as I’d imagined it would be – very similar to the A4. At first it felt very close and claustrophobic, but in reality it wasn’t – there’s plenty of headroom. Grabbing the fat leather-wrapped steering wheel, it felt comfortable in the hands. The wheel tilts and telescopes and has the audio controls positioned in the thumb area. I loved the volume and station controls because they were actually scroll wheels and not the typical buttons that have appeared in just about every car on the road these days. The scrolls wheels work perfectly and allow the volume to be adjusted in tiny increments. The driver’s seat is 12-way power adjustable with 4-way power lumbar, and is set up exactly the same as the VW Jetta, making it one of the best and most comfortable seats available. The 6-setting heated seats were welcome and worked very well during the cold winter days and nights. The front passenger is left to make seat adjustments manually, but still gets a 6-setting heated seat.
After spending all of 2-seconds adjusting the seat and steering, I started the engine and off we went. One thing I noticed right away was the huge dead pedal that is perfectly placed for the left foot, but I found the gas pedal and brake pedal far too close together. Once I’d driven the A3 for a while it wasn’t noticeable, but it’s still something I thought Audi would have been more aware of than most manufacturers after that “60 Minutes” of lies debacle of the mid-80’s.
The 3.2 litre is fitted with Audi’s 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic transmission (available as an option on the 2.0 litre models). According to Audi: “The transmission is inspired by Audi’s racing technology from the rally-cars of the mid-1980’s, allowing lightning-fast gear changes with uninterrupted traction thanks to its electro-hydraulically controlled twin-clutch. The DSG is derived from a conventional six-speed manual gearbox, but with the added qualities of an automatic transmission, thus the driver benefits from acceleration without interrupting the flow of power from the engine.”
For me personally, it was a love/hated relationship. Whether it was the transmission or the drive-by-wire throttle control, I don’t know, but initially the gas pedal moves a good couple of inches before there’s any indication you’re actually in gear. Then it’s suddenly – Whoa Trigger!!! You get the same sensation when stopping as well – it’s like you’re still moving – then you stop abruptly. There’s no happy medium to feather the gas pedal so you don’t send your passengers’ heads bobbling. Making a left turn at the lights is disconcerting too, because you don’t want to tromp on the gas, but at the same time you do want to turn before that dump truck creams the right side of the car! If you’ve ever driven a car with a slipping transmission or a slipping clutch you’ll know exactly what I mean. One way to mitigate the problem is just to give it plenty of welly off the line. Entering the freeway, you get a huge power surge as the needle sweeps to the right and the grin on your face increases proportionately.
Once the A3 has decided to move forward, it does so with a rush that almost feels like it’s turbocharged. The power comes on with such a rush you’ll be breaking speed limits in no time! It’s a fantastic engine with gobs of power. The gearbox has a sport shift mode to it where you can shift the gear lever to the right and go up and down the gears yourself. Alternately you can use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The beauty of this system is that you can use the paddle shifters at any time – you don’t have to move the lever and then operate the paddles – you just use the paddles any time you want to, so the fun can begin without an ounce of planning or preparation. However, it is noteworthy that when I used the paddle shifters to gear down while going downhill, I went to fourth gear and left it there – the car then geared back up to sixth all by itself! I couldn’t figure out why the revs suddenly dropped and we were picking up speed – at least not until I looked down at the shifter numbers and realized the car was back in D! Talk about useless! If I wanted it in D, I would have left it in D!! I looked in the manual to see if I could make sense of such madness, and as it turns out, whenever you use the Tiptronic option of the transmission, you have to use it every 30 seconds or less – otherwise, it reverts to automatic D. In the case of my downhill trip though, it shifted back into D within 10 seconds!
Moving back to aesthetics â€¦ immediately in front of the driver is the DIS (Drivers Information System) that houses the digital speedometer, digital clock with outside temperature, and in the case of the test vehicle with the SatNav system the directions are also shown there – very handy! To the right is the speedometer with the digital odometer & trip odometer along the bottom and to the left is the tachometer – which houses the clock and for some strange reason the date?! The fuel and temperature gauges are just above the info center, and in general everything looks very clean and uncluttered. The cruise control lever is on the left, just below the turn signal lever. Normally that isn’t a problem for me, but for some unknown reason I kept hitting the turn signal instead of setting the cruise control! People behind me must have been very confused because the turn signals incorporate a lane-change feature, so every time I touched it the signals would flash for at least three times. :>)
The top of the dashboard is covered in a high-quality plastic material that has a fine-textured finish, and it blends nicely into the centre console. The centre stack has two large round vents; similar to the TT coupe. Below them is the large satellite navigation screen that also doubles as the stereo information center. To the right of the screen is a round toggle switch that allows you to scroll through the various menus. I personally found it very irritating and not all that intuitive. For a SatNav system to be truly useful it must be simple and easy to use – this one is not difficult, but it was more than annoying on a few occasions. We tested it out on one of our trips and used it to guide us home; we came to a point where we were to turn left to get on to the on-ramp and enter the highway, but it told us to turn right, onto an exit ramp from the highway! We ignored the misguided guidance system and turned into a parking lot. Once we continued on our journey home we didn’t hear a squeak from the system until we were almost home – we’d forgotten we even had it on! When we jumped in the car the following day it started to give us directions again, so apparently, you have to manually stop the crazy thing if it doesn’t think you arrived at your destination, though my wife tells me that’s normal.
Now, take a look at the stereo system – can you see the buttons for the channels, or the volume control, or can you even tell where the stereo is? The volume button is the tiny round one on the right, but all other operations have to be done using the larger control toggle dial/switch. Talk about confusing and stupid! What happened to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for my channels? Is there a shortage of buttons in Europe, or are they so expensive it’s just not worth putting them in cars anymore? The VW Golf/Rabbit is half the price of this A3 and the stereo is very simple to operate and works great! I don’t understand why this is such a big problem – as soon as a car is considered “luxury” everything gets far too complicated!
And while I’m on my rant – check out the climate control system. The automatic climate control system has good and bad points. The good: it’s dual-zone, however the rest of the system is comprised of tiny buttons that are neither logical nor intuitive to operate. Added to that is the placement of said buttons – way down by the gear shifter. To me is just stupid and dangerous. This car is designed and built to drive at high speeds, but make sure you don’t have to adjust the temperature in the cabin because you’ll drive off the road trying to see which button you want to use! Have a look at the picture and think about what button you’d use to make the heat come out of the front vents. It’s the little button between the up and down arrows – and what would they be for? Perhaps increasing/decreasing the fan speed? Nope. That’s what the ”+“ and ”-“buttons are for. No – the arrows are for the floor vents (arrow down) or the window vents (arrow up). Wouldn’t a rotary dial have been a hell of a lot easier to use!? Those big round dials you see are for raising the temperature – one degree at a time. One thing that I liked though was that everything lights up and is actually easier to see at night. Also located here are the 6-setting bum warmer dials, as well as the front and the rear window defoggers and traction control off switch.
Between the front seats is a two-level storage compartment/armrest. The compartments are quite small and ideal for items such as sunglasses, but you’ll have to store CD’s in the door pockets or the glove box (according to the car manual, the driver’s door pocket is for the manual but there’s plenty of room in the glove box for it). Inside the lower storage compartment is a powerpoint and a cigarette lighter. Also between the seats are two cup holders or should I say can holders. If you want to use travel mugs you’ll have a hard time fitting two in there because the space between the holders is very small. The car manual made it abundantly clear that you’re not to store hot drinks in the cup holders because you may burn yourself if you get in an accident or have to stop quickly, so – you have been warned!
The Bose sound system is unbelievable. My wife had it cranked up so loud I thought my ears were going to bleed, yet it was still crystal clear. The 10 speaker AM/FM radio has a 6-disc CD changer located inside the glove box. Most cars that have SatNav systems usually have the changer in the dash (behind the screen), but that’s where this unit keeps the disks for the navigation maps (it also has slots for compact flash drives there too). Fortunately, there’s a nice large glovebox that has a separate shelf for storing the CD’s as well as room left over for the manual or anything else. All in all it’s a very useful setup.
In the back seat, there’s a small hump on the floor between the seats, it’s ideal for two but definitely uncomfortable for three because of the large hump on the floor which eats into foot space. The rear seat sits a little higher than the front, but because of the front headrests, it doesn’t help the view out the front window. I’d consider the A3 a 4-seater, maybe a 5-seater in a pinch. Leg, hip, and foot room are good and the folding armrest (with a pass-through and pop-out cup holders) made it very comfortable for two people, however headroom may be a problem for those over 5’10” tall. The rear seat folds 60/40 and completely flat, making the A3 very adaptable. The rear luggage capacity is acceptable at 12.4 cu/ft. with the seat up and 55.6 cu/ft. with the seat folded. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a big fan of hatchbacks, and the A3’s VW GTI/Rabbit roots are very evident in this handsome hatch. Entry and exit to the rear passenger area is effortless thanks to the wide-opening doors.
The seat cushion is firm but very comfortable, offering plenty of support for long drives and the seatback angle is also very good. Like its VW siblings, the doors lock automatically above 10 mph and it’s a two-stage unlock feature to get out of the car – the first pull of the handle unlocks the door and then the second pull actually opens the door. I found this a much better feature than the passengers having to fight with the driver and his speed to unlock doors. An unusual button is located on the back of the centre console between the front seats – it’s a lock button. Unless someone uses the rear seats on a regular basis, they’d never know what the button is for, besides the doors lock automatically so what’s the point in having this button? If anything my wife feels it would be a hazardous item to have – especially if you have kids back there – how easy would it be for them to lock you out of the car with this handy button!?
The Open Sky system (a two-part glass sunroof where the front glass segment can be raised and slid back just like a traditional moonroof and the rear section gives rear passengers their own fixed sunroof) works well and is a nice option to have for a reasonable cost too. For the front occupants it’s a sunroof that is nice and quiet when open; thanks to the little screen that pops up to deflect wind noise. For rear passengers it’s an opportunity to have more light in the cabin and it reduces any notion of feeling cramped. Unfortunately, though, this type of sunroof system doesn’t allow the rear passenger sunroof to open – perhaps in the future a manufacturer will figure out the solution to that dilemma. If you’re feeling the need to block out the daylight, there are two separate screens for the front and rear glass panels, however, there are no actual solid covers to block out light completely as we are accustomed to with traditional moonroof configurations. Another down-side is the fact that because the screens are of a spring-loaded design, you only have two options to block light – opened or closed – no half-way measures.
Noise levels are exceptional in the A3. While traveling at speeds of 100 mph [160 kph] it was completely quiet and hushed. The steering is very sharp and responsive, communicating everything the driver needs to know. At parking lot speeds it’s very light, but it firms up as the speed builds. My biggest worry while driving the pothole infested roads of Ontario were the 45-series tires.
There are three A3 models on offer – the 3.2 Litre V-6, plus two 2.0 litre models. The 3.2 Litre V6 is combined with Quattro all-wheel drive and Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic transmission with steering wheel paddles and drive-by-wire throttle control. The A3 includes numerous standard features such as: leather steering wheel, heated outside mirrors with a lane-change feature (touch the lever briefly and the turn signals flash 3 times) dual-zone automatic climate control, 16-spoke alloy wheels with 225/45R 17â€ performance tires (all-season tires in Canada), tilt and telescopic steering, roof spoiler, fog lights, comfort close and open (using the key in driver’s door, turn and the windows and moonroof open or close), power windows with 1-touch down/up and pinch protection on all four windows, 60/40 folding rear seat, steering wheel-mounted radio and telephone controls, fog lights, locking glove box, anti-theft immobilizer, FOB with a built-in folding key, automatic door locks, dual vanity mirrors with lights, and a Bose audio system with a 6-disc CD changer.
The Canadian version has more standard features than the U.S. model but they can be kitted out pretty close together. Here’s the break down as best as I can figure: Open Sky system $1,100 ($1,500 Cdn); Audi Navigation plus $1,950 ($4,000 Cdn); Cold Weather Package (heated front seats/heated washer nozzles /ski sack) $700 (incl. Cdn); S-Line Package (includes leather seats) $2,200 (standard in Canada, leather seats stand-alone $1,500 Cdn) and Technology Package (Drivers Information Display (trip computer with compass, outside temperature, miles til empty fuel display), Rain sensor + auto-dimming mirror /Bluetooth Phone Preparation with Voice Control /Bi-Xenon Headlights with self-leveling feature /Adaptive Front Lighting System) $1,250 ($1,800 Cdn)
It goes without saying that safety features are in abundance in the Audi such as: SideguardÂ® airbag system, ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) with EDL (Electronic Differential Lock), ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation), full-time traction control, ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program), quattro® – permanent all-wheel-drive system, front seats with active head restraints, seat belts with pre-tensioners in all five locations and force limiters on the front seats, First aid kit in storage compartment under the passenger seat (it was actually located in the rear seat armrest), automatic lock/unlock doors, automatic headlights, heated side mirrors, EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), ESP (Electronic Stability Program), security system with Immobilizer and Bi-Xenon high intensity low/high beam projector beam headlights.
The Audi A3 S-Line is a beautiful car that’s fun to drive. I loved it. It’s solid and quiet at any speed and gives you plenty of confidence no matter how fast you’re traveling. The seats are extremely comfortable and the steering and suspension make it a joy to drive, but there’s a lot of annoying things that make the car frustrating to live with. The 6-speed Tiptronic transmission is a toy that’ll get tedious quickly, so you’ll end up just leaving it in automatic. The sudden lurch when taking off from traffic lights or stop signs is embarrassing and very annoying. You already know what I think of the climate control system so I won’t revisit that. Personally, I can see no reason what-so-ever to walk past the VW Jetta, GTI or Golf and purchase the A3. The VW’s are just as much fun, they’re much cheaper and the warranty is just as good, plus the idiosyncrasies of the Audi are completely missing.
All Audi’s come with a comprehensive 4 year /50,000 miles [80,000 kms] Bumper to Bumper warranty – including no-charge scheduled maintenance and 4 years/ unlimited distance Roadside Assistance.
Pricing for the 2007 Audi A3 S Line:
As tested: $38,980 [$54,490 Cdn]
Base price starts at: $33,980.00 [$45,690 Cdn]
Fuel Consumption: [Premium Fuel – 91 Octane]
The 3.2 Litre V-6 is rated at 21.5 mpg City [11.3 L/100 kms] and 30.5 mpg Highway [8.0 L/100 kms]
I averaged 21 mpg [11.6 L/100 kms] in combined driving and 22.3 mpg [10.9 L/100 kms] during 100% Highway driving.
Audi’s no-charge scheduled maintenance for 4 years
Sweet engine that just loves to go
Outstanding build quality
Very comfortable seats
Useless Tiptronic transmission
Automatic climate control
Would I Spend My Money On It?:
No. I’d buy a manual transmission Jetta 2.5 AND an Eos!
Back Seat Driver Test: 8.5 out of 10
“Plenty of room back here for two, definitely not for three though / The seats are really comfortable, the angle is perfect for long drives / Getting in and out is very good. The wheel-well doesn’t interfere – that’s very good”
Infinity G35 coupe, Mazda RX-8, Saab 9-3 Sportcombi, VW GTI
By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.2 Litre V-6, 6-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic transmission, quattro® – All-Wheel Drive system
Horsepower: 250 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 236 @ 2,800 rpm
0 – 60 mph 5.7 seconds
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
8 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
9 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
4 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
6 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy
Total: 133 / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published on PaddockTalk.com