Audi A3 2.0T

An Economical Car but not an Economy Car

Audi A3 2.0T

FAST FACTS

1. A3 2.0T features a 200hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with front wheel drive and a six-speed manual – or optional six-speed DSG.

2. It’s a real Audi with all the luxury you’d expect but in an economical (and functional) package.

3. For roughly $1,480 more you can opt for Audi’s double-clutch “automatic” DSG transmission, which shifts faster than the manual for quicker acceleration.

While the A3 was built to entice a younger demographic of buyers into Audi dealerships, not all A3s are likely to appeal to this target group. The reason? Price.

With top-line models starting at $36,975, the A3 can be a bit much to swallow – especially when you consider an A4 goes for as little as $32,700.

Thankfully, there is a more affordable A3. The terms “entry-level” or “base-model” are grossly inappropriate when talking of the $26,920 A3 2.0T. Sure it’s a hot-hatch, but it also has a truly European design, along with first-rate materials and a build-quality typical of any German car.

With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 200hp, a front wheel drive setup and a six-speed manual transmission, the A3 2.0T is essentially Audi’s version of a VW GTI. But it is also so much more. Not that there’s anything wrong with the GTI, of course, but the Audi has so much more to offer in the looks department with that huge front grille, stunning interior and, of course, those all-important four rings.

POWER AND HANDLING

With 200hp, the turbo 2.0-liter engine makes an even more impressive 207 ft-lbs of torque. Better yet, all that torque comes on at just 1700 rpm, meaning there is virtually no turbo lag as the car practically idles in boost. Thanks to the immediate thrust, the first three gears fly by quickly and the car shoots to 60 mph in roughly 6.7 seconds.

Performance wise, the 250hp/236ft-lb V-6 is quicker with a six second sprint time, but with the turbo-four’s torque (which is only 29 ft-lbs less) coming on much earlier, the 2.0T pulls like a V-6.

While it’s not as fast as Audi’s DSG system, the six-speed manual is more fun – and $1,480 cheaper. The throws are short and precise and the clutch pedal is easy to live with day-to-day.

As for how the A3 handles, it’s an incredibly fun machine – even without the added grip of Quattro. The steering is direct and the suspension is firm. The package just feels nimble and begs to be tossed around, despite the 3,263-lb curb weight. It’s obvious Audi took a few pages from the GTI handbook when designing a FWD car that handles this well.

If there is one area that needs improving, however, it is in the traction department. A limited slip differential really should be available (if not standard equipment). Add two much throttle in a corner and the standard stability control system slows both front tires and significantly limits the fun.

INTERIOR: BEAUTIFUL BUT POORLY DESIGNED

Incredibly, while the A3 feels light from a handling perspective, it still feels solidly built and doesn’t rattle around. Despite it being the entry-level Audi with a four-cylinder engine, a front wheel drive layout and a manual transmission, the A3 is still an Audi through and through and feels as well-built as any other model from Ingolstadt.

The leather is high quality, the steering wheel is thick and the gauges glow a warm red. The driver’s seat is power adjustable and even features power lumbar support. On top of this, the audio system is impressive with a total of 10 speakers and there is an auxiliary input for an MP3 player.

Unfortunately, while the design of the cabin may be first-rate, the usability and ergonomics still need plenty of work. The climate control knobs (which only move one click forward or backward) look great but are a definite case of form over function, and the power window switches on the door are so far back you’ll develop a forearm cramp trying to reach them. As for the heated seat controls, the six-way adjustability is excessive (often requiring more than six scrolling motions to get to maximum heat) and is made more difficult by the tiny surface area of the dial and its hard-to-reach location at the bottom of the stack.

NEW FOR 2009

For 2009 the A3 remains mostly unchanged. The front grille changes slightly, as does the design of the headlights and taillights. Most notably, the headlights get Audi’s “light-bar” LED eyebrows.

THE COMPETITION

With the A3, Audi offers a car that almost has no competitors in the marketplace, well, no real direct competitors anyway. The Volvo C30 is more than $3,000 less with a more powerful turbocharged five cylinder engine and a slightly worse 19/28 (city /highway) mpg rating – compared to the A3’s 21/30. Volvo also offers the V50 wagon at almost $3,000 more but it comes with just 168hp. To get the same 227hp as in the C30 you need to spend $35,000.

In regards to storage space, the A3 boasts 19.5 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat for a total of 55.6 cu.-ft. with the rear seats down. As for the C30 and V50, they rate 12.9 cu.-ft. (33.1 total) and 27.4 cu.-ft. (62.9 total) respectively.

Finally, it’s no hatch but those looking for a sporty entry-level German car are likely to also have the BMW 128i in mind. It certainly doesn’t have the storage space and does cost almost $3,000 more but it does have a 230hp 3.0-liter inline six, the same (if not more) cachet and a 19/28-mpg rating.

THE VERDICT

While it’s hard to justify the cost of a V-6 Quattro A3, the 2.0T seems like a steal. And what you get isn’t that much less. Sure, there’s no all-wheel-drive system and it’s down a few ponies, but the vastly less-expensive 2.0T is luxurious and well built, with all the interior and exterior design of a European car with, importantly, a German brand badge on the rear.

Even if you don’t need the space… or don’t need it that often (as we suspect is the case for most owners/buyers of A3s) you aren’t compromising anything by getting this hatch. In fact, you’re getting more. It may be an economical luxury car but it’s far above an economy car.

POSITVE

2.0T package gets you a real Audi for a steal Nimble handling and fun to drive Impressive torque down low gives surprising level of grunt

NEGATIVE

Interior ergonomics and layout issues Higher-end models significantly more expensive No limited slip differential