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Audi A3 Turbo S Review and Road Test By Steve Purdy

2012 Audi A3 S Turbo (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Audi A3 S Turbo

Audi Buyers Guide - Audi Specs, Prices and Comparisons

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The cute little Audi A3 landed in my driveway at a great time – the week of the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City,(see Steve's C.A.R. MBS Reports) a three-hour-plus drive north of here along Michigan’s Gold Coast. Regular readers will have seen the stories I posted from this important auto industry conference held in one of Northern Michigan’s most beautiful resort towns. As you might guess, the roads up there are rather spectacular as well.

Our test car is the 2.0 TFSI, front-wheel drive (as opposed to the popular all-wheel drive quattro) with S-tronic® (dual-clutch with manual mode) 6-speed automatic transmission. TFSI refers to the 2.0-liter, turbocharged, fuel injected, 200-horsepower engine with cast-iron block, aluminum heads and lots of engine technology to make this one mighty efficient engine. With 207 pound-feet of torque this compact wagon, or hatchback, if you prefer, makes plenty of power for whatever you want to do – haul a load, climb a mountain, pass on a country road or outrun the Mounties.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Speaking of outrunning the Mounties, the A3’s suspension, while of entirely conventional design with McPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear, is firm and tuned for amazing handling. For a little hatchback, or wagon if you prefer, it handles like a sport model, though makes no such claims. While I certainly wouldn’t try to outrun the authorities this would be a great car to outrun a redneck overcome with road rage when this little German car scoots around him.

Starting at close to $29,000 we can fit this into a category of ‘premium’ compact cars. Though much more technologically simple than many of its larger Audi siblings it still has a nice premium look and feel. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels on low-profile (45-series) tires fill the wheel wells nicely. The “S line” trim (cooler bumpers, a rear spoiler and some badging), halogen lights, an athletic stance and gaping grille give it a distinctive sporting flavor.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Inside, we find a four-spoke, leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel with intuitive controls. Everything inside has a simple, functional look and feel. So simple, in fact, that we can forget we’re in the premium category with this one. The one-piece dash shows no embellishment or fanciful detail like the larger Audis but everything fits impeccably and functions easily. The center stack, with deep, useful bin at its base, houses the standard dual-zone HVAC and audio controls then extends back to engulf the shifter.

Interior volume, as measured by the EPA, is a good 89 cubic-feet. The rear seat feels cramped (this is after all a small car) but the 60/40 split seat backs fold easily to make 39.0 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seat backs in position we still have 19.5 cubic feet of space to fill.

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Two engines are available in the A3, this 2.0-liter TFSI gasoline engine with turbo making 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, and a diesel unit. Audi claims a zero-to-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds for the TFSI and mileage of 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway for this 3,200-pound car. We found our mileage to be entirely within that range, though we did a bit better than the 28 mpg on longer stretches of easy two-lane going about 60 mph. With a 14.5-gallon fuel tank we have about an average range of over 350 miles. Audi recommends premium fuel, by the way.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The Turbodiesel TDI engine with 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque gets to 60 from a dead stop in 8.9 seconds but gets 42-mpg on the highway. Premium fuel is required and with the 14.5-gallon fuel tank we can expect a range of around 550 miles. I like that idea. Figure just about three-grand extra for the TDI over the TFSI. Run the numbers and you might find it advantageous if you are a high mileage driver.

Both engines come with what Audi calls S Tronic®, their version of the quick-shifting, dual-clutch automatic transmission. We first experienced this slick transmission in a couple of VW products a few years ago and we were impressed. The technology is becoming more common and involves the transmission’s ability to preselect the gear on either side of the one you’re in to give you lightning-fast (0.2 seconds) shifts. That’s quicker than you can shift a manual gearbox. And, fuel mileage is equal to the manual as well.

We give good marks to the A3 in all categories of drivability. The tight 35.1-foot turning radius makes it easy to maneuver in any situation. Acceleration is excellent with very little turbo lag. The throttle and brake actuation are touchy but we got used to it quickly.

Our 2011 A3 2.0 TFSI FWD automatic test car shows a base price of $28,750. The vivid blue paint costs $475 extra and a Bluetooth Value Package (Bluetooth, multifunction leather steering wheel and power driver seat) adds another $600. The Cold Weather Package at $500 and the destination charge of $875 brings our total to $31,200.

Safety features include 4 airbags, ABS, Electronic Stabilization Program (stability control) and tire pressure monitoring.

Audi’s new car warranty covers the car bumper-to-bumper, including powertrain, for 50,000 miles or four years. The first scheduled maintenance at 5,000 miles is free.

For 2012 we’ll be getting a revised A3 on a new modular VW platform with two more bodies – a 2-door hatchback and a cabriolet – and updated styling with LED light strips in front like the A3’s larger, more expensive siblings.

Also for 2012 look for Cadillac’s new ATS the challenge the premium small car market along with BMW’s 1-Series and Mercedes A-Class.

Don’t you just love all this competition? It sure gives me lots of great cars to test.

Audi Buyers Guide - Audi Specs, Prices and Comparisons

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved