Road Test

2011 Audi A3 Quattro takes the worry out of winter

The A3’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four makes the V-6 all but unecessary

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM in preparation for a 5:40 AM flight. The radio said conditions were poor – extreme cold with lots of ice.

I wondered about conditions at the airport. Would my flight depart? But I didn’t even think about road conditions and the drive to the airport until I was halfway there – I was driving an Audi.

The sophisticated, full-time Quattro all-wheel-drive system will do that for you. The A3 may be the baby of the Audi family, but it is an Audi with refinement, luxury and that all-important Quattro.

The second generation A3 was introduced six years ago at the Geneva Auto Show as a three-door hatchback. The five-door came along six months later with a longer body that provided more rear seat and cargo space.

The A3 didn’t appear in North America until the 2006 model year. It came in for a mid-life makeover for 2008 with revised styling that featured the signature Audi family nose and eye-brow-like LED daytime running lights.

It’s available with a choice of four or six-cylinder engines, six-speed manual or automatic transmissions and front- or Quattro all-wheel-drive, starting at about $32,000.

My test vehicle was a four-cylinder, automatic with a premium package carrying a $39.950 base price. To this was added a $1,700 audio package, bringing the bottom line to $42,500 before taxes and delivery charges. It is a premium-priced small car.

Audi didn’t cut any corners with the interior of the A3 – it has all the attributes that make this brand the envy of the industry. Fit, finish, material quality and ergonomics are above reproach.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Space in the second row is somewhat restricted, especially if the front occupants are not willing to sacrifice some of their generous legroom. There are provisions for three abreast in back but it would be wise if they were very familiar with each other or slim – preferably both.

The cargo space, with the rear seat in place, is reasonable for such a compact vehicle but the rear seats can be folded to create a massive cargo compartment.

Standard equipment includes six airbags, ABS, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather, heated seats, power windows, central locking, remote entry, 10-speaker audio system and cruise control.

A 3.2-litre V-6 is available, with 250-horsepower and 236-lb.ft. of torque. But the standard four-cylinder engine makes it all but unnecessary.

The turbocharged 2.0-litre four with direct injection belts out a very stout 200 horsepower and even more-impressive 207 lb-ft of torque, peaking at only 1700 rpm and maintaining that level until 5000.

One of the most impressive four-pots on the market, it has lots of low-end grunt for pulling away from a stop and requires only a slight prod of the right pedal to squirt past traffic or up an incline.

Having six speeds to choose from is a bit over the top with this much torque since downshifts are rarely necessary, but it is fun to play with the sophisticated manual mode using the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, if for no other reason than to enjoy the rev-matching shifts!

As mentioned above, the permanent all-wheel-drive system apportions power to all four wheels all the time, varying the torque split front-to-rear according to conditions and available grip. The system is completely transparent, the driver never aware of any of the power-shift taking place.

It should be noted that although it carries the Quattro nomenclature this is a slightly different system than that used in other Audis – but no less effective.

The ride could be described as European in that it is slightly stiffer but much better controlled than many others in this class. The balance between ride and handling is lightly weighted to the latter and the well-weighted steering and strong brakes fit in well.

The A3 may be pricey for a small car in the traditional sense. But this is not a conventional small car. The A3 offers a full dose of German engineering, Audi refinement and available Quattro all-wheel-drive in a compact package.

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