Road Test: 2011 Audi A3 2.0T

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September 6, 2011

By: Kris Hansen

It would appear that not everyone wants or needs a big car like an A6 or Q7, or even an A4, and not everyone needs or wants the complexity and powertrain drag of all wheel drive. Luckily, Audi has just the car for such a buyer. This A3 is as simple as Audis come really, but it’s still an Audi, so there are plenty of creature comforts. Our A3 2.0T Premium Plus had all of the features that the big Audis have, such as great leather seats, HID headlights (with LED running lights), 3 spoke sport steering wheel, dual zone climate control, Bluetooth phone integration, and more. This is one cool little car!

Starting as we tend to do with the exterior, we find that the A3 is a great looking small hatchback. It is decidedly chunkier than most other Audis, but we find the proportions to be perfect. We debated about whether we thought it was a hatchback, or a small wagon (as the EPA calls it), but ultimately, the A3 is a very functional car no matter what type of car it is.

Even though it’s relatively small, we found the interior room to be very generous. As is typical with most Audis, there’s enough room for very tall drivers. Hip and shoulder room is very good as well, though the small triangular trim piece which join the center console and the lower dash interfered with some drivers knees so badly that we considered looking for ways to remove it, or pad it somehow. Why a hard plastic piece with radiused edges would be put in that location was baffling to us. It forced some larger drivers to modify seating positions to change the bend in the right leg to prevent the knee from resting on it. Luckily that was our only issue with the interior of the A3. The back seat is surprisingly roomy, and the trunk room is excellent.

Thanks to the Open Sky sunroof, headroom was excellent, and the overall feel of the interior was airy and bright. The simplistic dashboard looks great with its stylish and functional silver rings around the circular vents. High atop the center stack of the dash is the NAV Plus system, Audi’s first type of all in one full color LCD display NAV system. It’s been updated with the 3D maps, but that’s about it. It’s a very simple system, but it works incredibly well.

The HVAC controls are really simple, with old fashioned looking knobs, which actually function as buttons (as opposed to actually turning them around the dial, these turn only a few degrees either direction). While great for making small temperature adjustments, larger adjustments require a lot of wrist turning one degree at a time. The AC in our car was positively arctic, which we loved considering we were in the midst of a heat wave here in the Northeast.

The A3 is relatively simple as Audis tend to go, and because of that, it ends up being one of the lightest Audis you can buy, at 3296 lbs. Only the TT Coupe is lighter. Steering feel is very pure and precise thanks to the old-school MacPherson strut front suspension. The rear multi-link suspension keeps the car in line correctly following the front wheels.

The A3 has a firm and somewhat sporting ride, but it absorbs big bumps perfectly well. For daily commuting, it’s a great blend of nimble and comfort. Body roll, squat and dive are all well controlled. Cornering is very good, though again, with only drive through the front wheels, understeer is fairly pronounced.

The 2.0TFSI turbocharged direct injected engine puts out good power, and the A3 is able to make the most of it in sporty driving. Because the car is so light and nimble, there is much less need to slow for turns, though it does struggle for ultimate grip on exit. The instantaneous shifting from the dual clutch Stronic transmission (our car had the steering wheel mounted shift paddles) ensures that the engine will always be in its optimal power range.

Since our finely calibrated test drivers aren’t used to front wheel drive, we found this car to be a little tricky to drive in certain situations. We’re used to being able to stomp on the gas pedal with reckless abandon, and having nearly endless grip. Thanks to the smooth but immediate engagement of the Stronic’s clutches, and the 2.0TFSI’s generous 207 lb/ft of torque, the A3 has the ability to actually spin its front tires with ease – especially if the tires are not pointed straight ahead, which is not something we’re used to being able to do. There were several instances where we burned rubber pulling out of driveways and side streets.

All in all, the A3 is a great little car. The fit and finish is 100% Audi, make no mistake. The fuel economy is excellent, and it’s fun to drive. It’s cute and roomy, and has all of the right options. We really like the car. It does everything perfectly well, without breaking the bank.


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