Reviews

2011 Audi A3 Driving Impressions


The Audi A3 suspension is refined beyond the car's price or class and provides both sporty handling and a refined ride quality. And the quattro all-wheel-drive system is ideal both for owners who must brave the ice and snow of winter and also for those who like to get the most out of their machines when the roads are twisty and dry. The intercooled 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is everything a small displacement performance engine should be, while the 2.0-liter diesel delivers a level of torque that is remarkable for a car in this category.

These elements all contribute to a persona that begs for tight, winding mountain roads, thrives in the slice-and-dice of urban traffic, and quietly relieves the tedium of commuter slogs.

The 2.0 TFSI turbo engine's 200 horsepower is underscored by 207 pound-feet of torque, the latter delivered across a wide sweep of the tach needle from 1800 to 5000 rpm, making the two-liter feel as though it had a bunch more cubic inches grafted onto it somewhere. Yet, it's remarkably easy on fuel, with EPA city/highway estimates of 21/30 mpg with the manual transmission and 22/28 with the S tronic automatic.

There's little turbo lag, and the engine revs smoothly yet quickly through its powerband. Just push your right foot down and let the 2.0T deliver. Audi says the A3 2.0T sprints from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, but the raw number doesn't begin to do justice to the engine's throttle response and the chassis' willingness to get from here to there. Torque is ever ready, and the engine is quite happy to reach 6000 rpm over and over again.

But if it's fuel economy you want, you can't go wrong with the 2.0-liter TDI turbocharged clean diesel. The TDI diesel gets an EPA-estimated 42 mpg Highway and has a fuel tank of slightly over 14 gallons, which computes to a theoretical maximum cruising distance of about 600 miles. The TDI diesel produces very useful torque (236 lb-ft) and Audi claims it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 9 seconds; in real-world driving it is quicker than most cars with similar 0-60 stats. The tailpipes are cleaner than the gas-engine cars, and you notice the different noise only at idle.

The transmission choices illustrate Audi's industry-leading technology in transforming engine torque into rolling power. You can't go wrong with either the standard 6-speed manual or the paddle/lever-shifted S tronic automatic. The swiftness of choosing the correct gear with the S tronic feels like magic and makes every driver almost feel like an accomplished race car driver.

Surefooted agility, even with only the two front wheels driving the car, comes easily to the A3, thanks in large measure to its four-link rear suspension. Compactness, low weight and superior handling are all expected benefits of such a refined suspension. The multiple links result in better lateral rigidity for crisper handling and a comfortable ride. It's very good, and is one hallmark of an engineering department at full strength.

Braking is excellent. The four-wheel discs are big enough to handle repeated pedal stabs without overheating, and high-tech electronics ensure optimum braking in all conditions. The latest-generation ABS features a dual-rate servo, which amplifies brake force when it senses the driver's right-footed demand for emergency stopping power. The newest available electronic stability control guides the car's dynamics with astonishing computer power, integrating the functions of the ABS, EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), ASR (traction control system), MSR (engine drag torque control system), EDL (electronic differential lock), hydraulic brake assist and the ESBS (extended stability braking system).

What that all means is that you'll be hard-pressed to find a better-balanced front-drive car. Nor will you find many compacts that make such a convincing sports sedan when the road is right.

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