Audi's new-for-2006 A3 compact sportwagon posed three questions: How successfully could this premium German brand descend the vehicular food chain without downgrading its brand image? How good was the VW Group's new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection powerplant? And what would it be like living with its innovative Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG)? The answers proved to be pretty good-and above all expectations.
VW/Audi's old 1.8-liter turbo four was tough and put out good power on boost, but it was peaky and short on torque. The new 2.0, with more displacement and a sophisticated direct fuel-injection system, delivers more power over a much wider rev range, curing both of the 1.8's problems. Most auto-clutch manuals tend toward the jerky side, but the DSG's innovative gearset and clutch design suffers no such drama. Pull the upshift paddle, and the next gear hits quickly and cleanly; when hard on the gas, the shifts are accompanied by a race-car-like burp from the exhaust. Downshifts are rev-matched and butter smooth.
We put several people behind the wheel, asked them to select the Drive (fully automatic) mode, pedal about, and tell us what kind of trans the A3 employed. All but one was sure it was a conventional automatic. It's that good, and became just one aspect staffers most enjoyed about our year with this car.
The A3 also drew high praise for its exterior design; everyone seems to have gotten comfy with Audi's horseshoe-shaped grille, and the fastback roof and tapering window line make it as handsome a station wagon as you'll find. "Such a great package" commented one editor. "Easy to maneuver and park. Room for five. Good cargo space (I like the cargo nets, too). And fun to drive." The last was a comment written many times into the logbook. No lie: The A3 is quick, relatively quiet, and rides nicely for a car that grips and handles so well.
| Our Car |
| Base price || $26,940 |
| Options || Sport Package ($1800: leather sport seats, 17-inch wheels, sport suspension, steering wheel controls, spoiler, foglights), Sound Package ($900: Bose Premium); Convenience Package ($675: Homelink, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers); other options ($1235) |
| MSRP, as tested || $31,550 |
| Total mileage || 19,943 |
| Avg fuel economy || 22.0 mpg |
| Problem areas || Air-conditioning compressor |
| Maintenance cost || $0 (mfr provided) |
| Normal-wear cost || $11 (3 quarts oil) |
| Recalls || None |
Audi is known for delivering among the best interiors you'll find in mainstream automobiles. The cabin designs are attractive and functional, all materials are of good quality, and the fit and finish first rate. While you can tell the A3 is positioned a bit downmarket from the models that garnered Audi this reputation, it's still a nice environment. One editor claimed the dash seems "too plasticky for a car costing more than $30K," but that was a minority opinion. All the plastics, leather, and trim wore well, and the car looked in new condition the day it went home. The Bose premium audio system also had great sound (although it could've used even more power); and, goodness knows, this staff loves its XM Satellite Radio, which made the A3 a popular choice for road trips. That said, two editors mentioned the seats grew uncomfortable during long rides.
The staff was split on the A3's value message. A few felt that Audi charging an additional $450 for metallic paint, $675 for a convenience package of moderate worth, and another $435 just for Bluetooth connectivity was over the top. They argued that you could get much the same car in the form of a VW GTI four-door for $5000-$7000 less. The rest felt the Audi brand cachet, and the extra equipment you can't get on the VW, made it worth the difference in buy-in.
There was but one service issue, although it surfaced twice. The 5000-mile service came and went with no issues, and then the A/C ceased to blow cold at 13,600 miles. The air-conditioning compressor, condenser, and ancillary system parts were replaced under warranty. Not 500 miles later, the same thing reoccurred. The compressor was replaced again (we had the 15K service done at the same time) and all was well for the rest of the Audi's 20,000 mile visit with us. And while it liked a quart of oil or so in between changes, the A3 proved completely reliable in every other way.
The A3, even though it shares its powertrain and some of its underguts with certain Volkswagens, still comes off as an Audi with credibility. The engine was a joy to drive and returned acceptable fuel economy. It handles and feels as only German cars do. Audis aren't known for A/C problems, so write that issue off as a fluke to this particular car. And the Direct Shift Gearbox demonstrates how good an auto-clutch transmission can be. We'd leave off a few of the options to get the sticker price under $30,000. But that would yield an A3 anyone would be happy with for a long, long time.
From the logbook:
"Excellent power and off-the-line torque. The DSG is stellar, so seamless, whether in manual or full auto mode. The throttle blips are addictive."
- Ron Kiino
"Plenty of college grads end up in Golfs or Jettas, making the A3 a perfect car for a few years after school, as they climb the corporate ladder."
- Brian Vance
"DSG is badass. End of story."
- John Kiewicz
"L.A. to Phoenix in six hours, doing 90 most of the way. One full tank of gas. Smooth all the way, although some road noise is obvious. Oh, yeah, and plenty of room for all my camping gear."
- James Dryden
"For the most part, this car is spot on. Acceleration and shifting are so smooth, there's very little turbo lag, and the steering is so responsive. The interior is ergonomic and comfortable, but wish it had seat heaters."
- Julia LaPalme
| 2006 Audi A3 2.0T |
| POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS |
| DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT || Front engine, AWD |
| ENGINE TYPE || Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head |
| VALVETRAIN || DOHC, 4 valves/cyl |
| DISPLACEMENT || 121.1 cu in/1984 cc |
| COMPRESSION RATIO || 10.0:1 |
| POWER (SAE NET) || 200 hp @ 5100-6000 rpm |
| TORQUE (SAE NET) || 207 lb-ft @ 1800-5000 rpm |
| REDLINE || 6500 rpm |
| WEIGHT TO POWER || 16.7 lb/hp |
| TRANSMISSION || 6-speed auto-clutch manual |
| AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIOS || 4.06:1/3.74:1 |
| SUSPENSION, FRONT;REAR || Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar |
| STEERING RATIO || 16.2:1 |
| TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK || 3 |
| BRAKES, F;R || "12.3-in vented disc11.3-in disc, ABS" |
| WHEELS, F;R || 7.5 x 17 in, cast aluminum |
| TIRES, F;R || 225/45R17 94Y Pirelli PZero Rosso |
| DIMENSIONS |
| WHEELBASE || 101.5 in |
| TRACK, F/R || 59.9/58.8 in |
| LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT || 168.7.0 x 77.1 x 56.0 in |
| TURNING CIRCLE || 35.1 ft |
| CURB WEIGHT || 3350 lb |
| WEIGHT DIST, F/R || 61/39% |
| SEATING CAPACITY || 5 |
| HEADROOM, F/M/R || 38.1 in |
| LEGROOM, F/M/R || 41.2 in |
| SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R || 54.3 in |
| CARGO VOL BEHIND, F/M/R || 19.5 cu ft |
| TEST DATA |
| ACCELERATION TO MPH |
| 0-30 || 2.4 sec |
| 0-40 || 3.4 |
| 0-50 || 4.7 |
| 0-60 || 6.4 |
| 0-70 || 8.4 |
| 0-80 || 10.8 |
| 0-90 || 14.1 |
| QUARTER MILE || 15.0 sec @ 93.0 mph |
| BRAKING, 60-0 MPH || 118 ft |
| LATERAL ACCELERATION || Lateral acceleration 0.84 g (avg) |
| MT FIGURE EIGHT || 26.9 sec @ 0.63 g (avg) |
| TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH || 2400 rpm |
| CONSUMER INFO |
| STABILITY/ TRACTION CONTROL || Yes/yes |
| AIRBAGS || Dual front, front side |
| BASIC WARRANTY || 4 yrs/50,000 miles |
| POWERTRAIN WARRANTY || 4 yrs/50,000 miles |
| ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE || 4 yrs/unlimited |
| FUEL CAPACITY || 14.5 gal |
| EPA CITY/ HWY ECON || 25/31 mpg |
| MT FUEL ECONOMY || 16.4 mpg |
| CO2 EMISSIONS || 0.71 lb/mile |
| RECOMMENDED FUEL || Premium |