The Audi A3 is a premium hatchback that competes with models like the Saab 9-3 SportCombi and Volvo V50. It receives minor changes for 2008, including a new Titanium Package that features 18-inch alloy wheels, a black grille and black interior trim. Front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the five-seat A3 are available. Newly available options include manual sunshades for the rear seats, an iPod adapter and new wheel choices. The 3.2 trim level now has standard Sirius Satellite Radio and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The A3's single-frame tapered grille — patterned after the one on the company's A6 — dominates the front end and is flanked by clear-lens headlights. Audi says the front end imparts an "extremely self-confident and forceful character." The A3's profile gets flatter toward the rear, like a coupe. Round wheel arches enhance the A3's stance.
Rear-end styling includes dual exhaust outlets and wraparound taillights. MacPherson struts are used for the front suspension, while a four-link independent suspension is used in the rear. Electromechanical steering offers speed-dependent power assistance. Alloy wheels hold standard 17-inch tires.
Audi says a low seat position is reminiscent of sports cars. It couples with a tall, wide center console. The steering wheel contains a trapezoidal central element that matches the shape of the A3's grille. Round air vents have aluminum surrounds. Aluminum trim is evident on the door and glove box handles. Wide-opening rear doors are intended to ease entry and exit.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control. An optional two-section "Open Sky" glass sunroof includes separate blinds to keep the interior from overheating and to guard against the sun's glare. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights also are an option. The new Titanium Package includes a black headliner and shiny piano-black accents.
Under the Hood
Audi's turbocharged 2.0T FSI four-cylinder produces 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 pounds-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm. The 3.2-liter V-6 generates 250 hp and 236 pounds-feet of torque. Four-cylinder models can have a six-speed manual gearbox or the Direct Shift Gearbox sequential manual, which is standard with the V-6. Four-cylinder A3s have front-wheel drive, but Quattro all-wheel drive is installed in V-6 models.
Side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and electronic stability control are standard. Rear side-impact airbags are optional.
Apart from its wagonlike cargo versatility, handling is the A3's No. 1 attribute. Steering is on the light side, but it's precise and yields good maneuverability. You get a nice ride with the regular suspension; you feel bumps, but it's not bad.
Audi's Direct Shift Gearbox works surprisingly well by shifting smoothly at appropriate times. You can feel it move from gear to gear like a manual transmission, with a little engine-rpm loss between each ratio and an occasional jerk if you're accelerating hard. Still, it cleverly combines the benefits of both manual and automatic shifting.
Audi's six-speed manual gearbox is reasonably smooth, but the clutch doesn't quite cooperate to yield the gentlest takeoffs. The manual transmission works better between higher gears and coming out of curves, but there's no compelling reason to pick it over the Direct Shift Gearbox.
Few luxury touches are evident in the down-to-business interior. Large instruments are easy to read. Excellent seats deliver good support and their bottoms are fairly long, but the windowsill is so high that the driver can barely rest an elbow on it. Front space is a bit snug, but headroom is great and elbow space is acceptable. Some drivers might find their right knee resting against the center console.