The Audi A3 hatchback is an amalgam of sportiness and practicality. It's an ideal vehicle for a time when buyers are concerned about gas prices and fuel economy.
The American market has often been cool toward hatchbacks. The A3 is an attractive combination of athletic handling, versatile cargo space and premium features.
The A3 is offered only as a five-door hatchback, and prices start at $26,920 for the 2.0-liter turbo. The quattro all-wheel-drive model begins at $30,500. The top model is a 3.2-liter V-6 quattro, and it begins at $36,975.
The test car was a 2.0-liter quattro model. While all-wheel drive is helpful in slippery conditions, the high-performance tires on 18-inch wheels were not very good during last week's snow. Forward traction was good, but braking was not. Winter tires would be a worthwhile addition.
The A3 sits on a 101.5-inch wheelbase, and the overall footprint is fairly small. While the A3 is sized like a compact, it is equipped more like an entry-level luxury car.
The styling is lean and taut. It carries Audi's signature corporate nose with a prominent grille that gives it considerable presence. The sloping roofline tapers to a hatch door.
LED front running lights give the car a distinctive signature while the fiber optic rods give the taillights an unusual look.
The A3's cabin has numerous design elements that are similar to the TT coupe's. The one-piece top of the instrument panel is very much like the one in the TT, as are the silver trim rings on the air vents and the climate control knobs.
The A3's cabin doesn't feel small in spite of its fairly modest overall size. The optional panoramic sunroof has two glass panels that make the car feel big. The front panel is a retractable sunroof while the panel over the back seat is fixed.
The test car's sport seats fit like a glove and had excellent lateral and under-thigh support.
For adults, back-seat legroom is snug but adequate. The split rear seat folds to create a surprisingly spacious cargo area considering the overall size of the vehicle.
The 2.0-liter turbo is a gutsy four-cylinder engine, and its fuel economy, with the automatic transmission, is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway.
Folks interested in high mileage will appreciate the TDI turbo-diesel that will be sold in the first quarter of 2010. It should be capable of 40 mpg on the highway.
The four-cylinder has 200 horsepower, but its fat torque curve gives it excellent throttle response. The turbo produces considerable torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm, and that enables the A3 to step away from a stop with authority. Run the engine to redline in the first couple of gears and its acceleration makes you smile.
Audi has been a leader in utilizing direct fuel injection. Direct injection sends gas into each cylinder via a nozzle rather than through the intake manifold. Combining direct injection with turbocharging was an Audi first.
The A3 handles very well, particularly when equipped with the optional sport suspension. The test car had the optional 18-inch wheels and adjustable shock absorbers. The body was flat in turns, and the electromechanical power steering provides direct communication with the front wheels.
The four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes are firm and powerful, which is reassuring when you're hurrying down unfamiliar pavement that twists and turns like a snake's path.
The test car's base price was $30,500. Options included the sport package with adjustable shock absorbers, 18-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, heated seats and rear-seat airbags. The list price was $37,825.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
2009 Audi A3 2.0T
Engine: 2.0-liter, 200-hp 4-cyl.
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,461 lbs.
Base price: $30,500
As driven: $37,825
Mpg rating: 21 city, 28 hwy.
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