Because of an emergency, we were forced to drive the Audi on a day when sane people were hunkered down in their homes. Our problem solved, we headed home, up our twisting, hilly road, which was buried under a foot of snow.
The Audi pushed through, grabbing snow with its front end and tossing it in a thick blanket up and over our windshield, like snow flung from the blades of a state plow. The traction control did not even kick in as we powered through the mess.
It was one of the most amazing performances I've seen in my years of testing cars -- especially considering that the A3 S-line is billed as ''premium compact" by its manufacturer.
And with the V-6 engine (250 horsepower and 237 lb.-ft. of thrusting torque), its quattro all-wheel-drive system, and its sport sculpted exterior, it is also billed blatantly as a performance car.
Keep in mind that the car with which we plowed snow can zip from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds.
The S-line has just come ashore in the United States to join Audi's 2006 stable of four-door hatchbacks. (Lesser-powered A3s were already available here.) The A3 has been sold in Europe for more than 15 years, but with some serendipity Audi's smallest car arrived in the United States just as gas prices became a factor in consumers' purchasing decisions.
But the car's small appearance can be deceiving.
A tall and lanky pilot friend of mine was considering an A4 recently when he spotted the A3 parked in my yard. He loved it, but thought it might be too small. But he found that the front seat accommodated his 6-foot-4-inch frame. He sat in the back seat and reached the same conclusion. Then he opened the trunk and saw a virtual cavern (with ski-through center pouch and folding rear seatbacks).
When I drove the basic A3, which is billed as a ''Sportwagon," I figured it could properly be called a hatchback. But after feeling its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine perform, I recast it as a ''hot box."
That model had a six-speed manual that matched up perfectly with the power plant. Similarly, the six-speed ''Direct-Shift Gearbox" of the S-line finds a perfect mate in the transverse-mount V-6 engine, which sets the car to rocketing. A direct-shift (also known as a sequential manual) shifter is basically a manual transmission without the clutch. It can be set on automatic, or shifted either with a center console stick or paddles mounted aft of the steering wheel spokes.
The engine was a twin-port exhaust burble of pure power that pushed the car smoothly and oh-so-quickly out to pass on the highway, holding a steady surge in hard cornering. The quattro system, aided by standard traction and skid control, kept all four wheels in harmony.
The exteriors of Audis have always been subtle, and the S-line is no exception -- unless it's compared with the base version A3. Then you notice the big air intakes added to a front bumper, which sits atop a saucy spoiler. And, walking to the rear, you spot a muscular valance skirting undercarriage views at the bumper.
Inside, stitched sport seats set the S-line apart.
Audi controls and gauges, as usual, are stark yet sporty.
Standard features on the S-line include fog lights, a roof spoiler, leather seats, a three-spoke, multifunction steering wheel with those delightful paddle shifters, a Bose sound system with six-CD changer, and front side air bags.
The S-line is snappy, solid, fun. Despite these great traits, it is also utilitarian.
Did I mention it can plow snow?