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Audi A3 S-Line Review

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A Station Wagon for Fun Lovers
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Audi A3 S-Line is a good looking, fast little front-wheel-drive wagon. A dark blue one appeared in my driveway last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. This one has the 2.0-liter, turbocharged, in-line 4-cylinder with a six-speed stick shift – the same powertrain as the VW GTI we reviewed a few weeks ago. That powertrain, I contend, is one of the slickest on the market. This little Audi, though, is a bit pricier than the V-dub, as you might expect.

The A3 is small and the intensely bolstered seat makes it a little hard for this big guy to get in and out. Once in the driver’s seat it’s a bit narrow for me but the average size guy, or of course most youngsters, will feel well contained with all that lateral support. On a long trip I’m sure my backside would be aching. Those leather sport seats are firm. As you might expect from this pricey upscale little sport wagon the materials, fit and finish are excellent.

The controls are not particularly intuitive. I have found myself searching for functions many times this week. That navigation system, for example, stymied me entirely in one regard. All I wanted to do was orient the map with north always at the top. I couldn’t find a way to do it. About this time last year I had an A8 and I remember having to go about three levels deep into the set-up system and still there was a trick to reorienting the map. With this week’s A3 I found the menu right away. It has three options: “North,” “Automatic” and “Direction of Travel”. None of those resulted in reorienting the map the way I wanted. Not only that but I could find no reference in the manual to that function. Annoying.

The climate control caused me grief as well. I have been unable to find a way to get hot air to come out of the center-of-the-dash vents. It’s mighty cold this week and that would have been helpful. Most cars have easily managed functions to direct hot air to one’s feet or face but I can’t find it on this one.

In my view the cost of this slick little machine is a bit higher than it should be. A good share of the cost of this one is in the options. Base price for the A3 2.0T MT6 is $26,300. The sticker’s bottom line is $35,300 but it doesn’t even have power seats. Our dark blue paint with “pearl effect” costs $450 extra. Navigation along with premium Bose sound system is another $3,300. The S-Line sport package includes leather seats and steering wheel, 17-inch wheels and tires, sport suspension, some aluminum trim, fog lights, sport seats, badging, trip computer, and some other trim costs $2,200. We have a $1,500 “Technology Package” on this one which includes light and rain sensors, auto-dimming interior mirror, Bluetooth compatibility, and Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive lighting. The “Open Sky” system (sunroof) is $1,100. And the cold weather package is $700. The latter includes heated seats that actually get hot, not just warm like most. In fact, this seat heater will bake your buns if you leave it on the top setting. I really like that.

Now here’s the fun part. This Audi is powered by the same 2.0-liter, turbocharged, intercooled hoot of a 4 banger that powers the GTI and GLI Volkswagens - in my view one of the best power units out there. Our test car has the slick six-speed stick but it can be had with the 6-speed DSG automatic as well. Both transmissions are as gratifying to drive hard and fast as anything you’ll find. The engine makes 200 horsepower but feels like more. EPA estimates mileage in the range of 23-city and 32-highway. With a 14-gallon fuel tank we have a good cruising range.

The transmission shifts so smoothly it feels as if it is power-assisted – almost as if it is being sucked into each gear. And the engine revs so easily we’re at red line before we know it.

Suspension is independent all around and conventional in design - McPherson struts in front, four-link in rear. Handling, though, like powertrain performance, is better in reality than on paper. It is firm and quick without being harsh or uncivilized. Steering feel is excellent and road manners impeccable.

Audi’s’s warranty is 4-years/50,000-miles for the whole vehicle with free maintenance for the first year, and 12 years on corrosion perforation.

Audi A3 has earned the “Top Safety Pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Smart front and seat-mounted side airbags protect occupants. Doors lock automatically, but don’t unlock all at once. Only the driver’s door unlocks when we shut the car off. I’m not sure if that is something that can be changed or not but I find that annoying as well. I’m always trying to load something into the passenger seat or the back seat before taking off and finding the door locked.

Is this a “station wagon?” Sure is. But, not in the same way a ’59 Ford station wagon was. This one is made for fun with a bit of utility thrown in. The original concept of a station wagon was primarily utility without even an implication of fun.

I like this concept much better.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved