2009 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro Review
"Compact luxury" is an accepted concept in Europe, but a small niche in the USA, land of super-size. Where "luxury car" has traditionally been synonymous with "land yacht". And if the sedans have gotten smaller since the 1950s, they have been replaced with SUVs even larger.
Still, not everyone who wants premium transportation craves something huge. If sports performance is a requirement, mass is the enemy. And, while there is no shortage of small cars high on performance and low in cost, those little pocket rockets are usually lacking in long-distance comfort, and in cachet.
Enter the Audi A3.
Audi created the premium compact sports category in Europe when it introduced the first-generation A3 there in 1996. A second generation debuted there in 2003, and here in 2005. 2009 sees the first changes since that time. Outside, a subtle styling freshening aligns the A3 with newer high-performance Audis like the S5 and R8, while interior revisions add to its premium nature. Under the hood, things are the same for now, with a choice of a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder turbo engine or a 250-hp 3.2-liter V6. But the core-model 2.0T is now offered in all-wheel drive quattro form -- and a turbo-diesel model is coming for model year 2010.
As always, the A3 as sold in the U.S. is a versatile five-door hatchback. Or is it a micro-wagon? Does that matter? I think not. It's a space-efficient car that is small on the outside, and much larger than you might believe on the inside -- it has as much interior space as earlier A4 Avant wagons. The A3 offers all of the usefulness and versatility of a small crossover, with road manners that no crossover can approach. And with quattro now available in the 2.0T, it also offers the all-season competence of a crossover -- although quattro is far more than a system to deal with inclement climate and road conditions. It gives superior traction in all conditions, wet or dry, paved or not.
It has been a few years since I've driven an A3, and it has gained competitors in that time. But after a recent week with a well-equipped 2.0T quattro, I'd still place it at the head of the class. There are larger, smaller, quicker, and better-known competitors, but none combine style and substance, space, performance, and efficiency in the manner of the A3. quattro (the "q" is lower case) all-wheel drive is an added bonus - not only can it help get you to the ski slopes in winter, it's really meant to add traction and therefore performance all of the time. The quattro is quicker in acceleration than its front-wheel drive counterpart, despite a little extra weight. And in corners... let's just say that whenever Audi has competed with quattro in any racing series, its cars have ended up outlawed for the quattro advantage.
Can a prestige-performance luxury car be small? If it's an Audi A3, small is beautiful.
APPEARANCE: Tasteful subtlety is an Audi hallmark, and as applied to the 2009 A3 keeps what might otherwise be an old design fresh. Still a space-efficient five-door hatchback (er, "sportback" in Audi lingo) with long, lean proportions, a seemingly minor restyling has resulted in better definition of its lines, particularly at the front. The grille and front bumper are better-integrated, and , if the optional bi-Xenon lights are specified, LED daytime running lights in the manner of those of larger and more expensive performance Audis add an unmistakeable look. At the rear, fiber-optic rods in the taillights mimic the effect of the front LEDs.
COMFORT: Interior styling and appointment levels in the A3 are unmistakably Audi. TT influence can be seen in the air vents on the dash and the bars at the juncture of the console and center stack, and the instruments and controls have had a minor redesign. Useful space abounds, and the five-door body style and 60/40 split folding rear seat allow excellent access and versatile use of that space. No sedan trunk opening can compare to the rear hatch in size, especially when loading bulky items. Materials used as as high in quality as in other Audis. Leather seating is now standard, and a folding front armrest/console box adds convenient storage. The steering wheel is manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach. With the some option packages, the standard four-spoke design is changed to a three-spoke, with convenient auxiliary audio controls using rolling switches on the horizontal spokes. The front seats provide very good comfort and support, and the rear has adequate space for two real adults. An option in my test car that could interest sky-lovers is the ``Open Sky System'' double sunroof, which allows both front and rear passengers a view of the sky.
SAFETY: Dual-stage front, front seat-mounted side, and side curtain airbags are all standard in the A3. So are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, the ESP stability control program, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Despite any functional resemblance to a small crossover, the A3 is a sports car at heart. Add the Sports Package, as in my test car, with "plus one" 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/40 high-speed Y-rated tires, firmer springs and "audi magnetic ride" shocks with electronically-variable (via magneto-rheological viscosity changes) dampers and it's a wonderful high-tech sports car. The fully-independent MacPherson strut/multi-link suspension works well, and quattro all-wheel drive gets the power to the ground better than front- or rear-wheel drive only, for sure grip and excellent drive.
PERFORMANCE: The A3's turbocharged and intercooled twincam 16-valve four-cylinder FSI direct fuel injection engine has been unchanged since the car's debut. No problem there, it's a gem, with both excellent power and fuel economy. Direct fuel injection allows a higher compression ratio without detonation. The 10.03:1 compression ratio is as high as that of many naturally-aspirated engines -- and maximum boost is 1.8 bar, 26 psi, fairly high for a street engine. This explains the torque curve -- with 207 lb-ft available from 1800 through 5000 rpm it's hardly a curve... and horsepower characteristics are similar, with 200 between 5100 and 6000. What this means is that engine revs are of little concern -- power is available right now in any gear, often a gear or two higher than you might think. That's if you use the shift paddles for manual shifting. The S-Tronic gearbox -- which is the only choice in the quattro, used to be called DSG, and is similar to the gearboxes in Audi's championship-winning endurance racers and Formula 1 cars -- is quite capable of shifting itself, and can do so as quickly and smoothly as the best conventional torque-converter automatic. quattro full-time all-wheel drive gets the power to the ground, helping acceleration, braking, and cornering. Fuel economy and performance are often at odds, but not here. The EPA listing is 21 mpg city, 28 highway, and my week with the car showed that to be not only accurate, but slightly pessimistic.
CONCLUSIONS: With the Audi A3 2.0T quattro, small is beautiful.
2009 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro
Base Price $ 30,500 Price As Tested $ 41,700 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 5100-6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 1800-5000 rpm Transmission 6-speed S-Tronic automated manual Wheelbase / Length 101.5 in. / 169.0 in. Curb Weight 3461 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.3 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline for best performance, unleaded regular permissible with reduced performance Tires P225/40R18 92Y Bridgestone Potenza Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, ESP standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ independent 4-link Drivetrain transverse front engine, full-time all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 25 0 to 60 mph 6.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Meteor Gray Pearl paint $ 475 Sport Package with audi magnetic ride - includes: sport seats, sport suspension with magnetic ride shocks, 18" alloy wheels with summer performance tires $ 2,550 S-Line package - includes: 3-spoke multi-function steering wheel, brushed aluminum trim, roof spoiler and front foglamps, S-Line badges and bumpers, storage package and illumination package, power front driver seat, Bluetooth® phone preparation $ 2,000 Audi Navigation System with glovebox 6-CD changer $ 1,950 Convenience Package - includes: auto-dimming interior mirror w/compass, rain and light sensor, Xenon-plus headlights with LED parking lights, Bose® premium sound system $ 1,800 Open-Sky System $ 1,100 Cold-Weather Package - includes: heated front seats, windshield washer nozzles, exterior mirrors $ 500 Destination Charge $ 825