Audi's press materials state that the A3 is "the first 4-door car with the sportiness of the TT Coupe" and while the association is understandable, we hesitate to use the description ourselves. That's not to say it's a slouch on the road, but as Audi enthusiasts we can't help but desire quattro. In front-wheel drive from the A3 is highly capable and fun to drive, with a sturdy body and tight suspension that offers a nice blend of sportiness and comfort. Push hard and it will noticeably plow through a corner; here is where quattro would be nice.
A new electro-mechanical steering system is fitted on the A3, and while it is well balanced a little more resistance in corners would be nice. That being said, the steering system does tighten up progressively as speed increases and has the added benefit of consuming less energy than a conventional system.
Already found in the A4, the 2.0 liter turbocharged engine really excels in A3. With its flat torque curve, providing peak torque from 1800-5000 rpm, the acceleration in smooth and powerful for most driving conditions. Turning off the ESP can result in a spectacular burnout during a hard launch (so long as the driver is prepared torque steer as well). As fun as the A3 with the 2.0, we can't wait for the 3.2 quattro version next year.
From a safety standpoint, the A3 comes standard with all of the Audi amenities: ESP, ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation) traction control, ABS, front airbags, side airbags for the front seats, and Sideguard head airbag system. Rear side airbags are available as a $350 option.
The A3 2.0T Sport, adding $1600 to the base model, is a configuration that we see drawing interest from Audi enthusiasts. Included are bi-colored 17 inch, 16 spoke wheels with high-performance tires, sport suspension, sport seats with leather surfaces, fog lights, aluminum interior trim, a roof spoiler and the sporty multifunction 3-spoke steering wheel with shifter paddles if equipped with DSG.
For an additional $2025 over the base model, the A3 2.0T Premium includes 17 inch, 16-spoke wheels, leather seating surfaces, HomeLink, a storage package, trip computer, auto dimming mirrors, rain sensitive windshield wipers, power front drivers seat, aluminum trim, and the 3-spoke steering wheel.
Stand-alone options include metallic paint ($450), Bose Sound system with 6-disc CD-changer ($900), satellite radio ($350), Xenon headlights ($500), and the clever Open Sky System ($1100). Audi's Navigation Plus ($1950) system and a convenience package ($675) are available as special order options.
The key question with the A3 is what type of reception it will get from its potential target market. With prices that considerably overlap the A4, it's possible that many consumers may choose the larger model over the A3. While Audi enthusiasts may be able to understand that the A3 is not low priced car, on par with a Mazda 3 for instance, it may be more difficult for the general public to overcome this perception.
Audi is positioning the A3 as an all-new model aimed at individuals with an active lifestyle who many not be familiar with the Audi brand. Audi is confident that the customer base is considerably different than those shopping for an A4, and sees the resulting rate of substitution as fairly minor. With the A3, Audi is offering German luxury and performance in a more compact package and affordable pricing.
Another perspective: Audi needs an "entry level" car to help bring young, new buyers to the brand. The thought is that these A3 buyers would then become loyal to the brand and migrate to Audi's pricier models over time.
For Audi fans in North America, we can finally celebrate the arrival of this exciting model that has long been available elsewhere in the world. While we may not be getting our beloved quattro right now, the A3's current and future looks bright.