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The 2007 Audi A3 is a good-looking little car, and particularly noticeable with a Misano Red Pearl paint job, which our test car had. Our car also came with the S Line Sport Package, new this year, which gives it a bevy of cosmetic options, along with sport seats, a trip computer, and sport suspension. However, don't let the S Line fool you, it's not an Audi S3, as that European-only car gets a more powerful engine than either the two-liter turbocharged four cylinder or 3.2-liter V-6 available in the States. The S3 also gets Quattro all-wheel drive, which isn't even available on the turbo four-cylinder A3.
But performance is still in the equation. Our test car, a 2007 Audi A3 with the two-liter turbocharged engine and the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), proved fun off the line and in the corners. Front-wheel drive meant traction wasn't all it could be and torque steer was a factor, but that added to our rowdy Audi's character in our estimation, though it might throw off more timid drivers.
The cabin of the car isn't bad, either. Ours came with all the gadget options, including a navigation system, a Bose premium stereo, and voice-command Bluetooth cell phone integration. Our main complaints in the cabin centered around the tedious interface for navigation, difficulties in music library organization, and lack of MP3 compatibility in the CD changer.
Test the tech: Timed runs
The deciding factor for this car's test was its DSG. The DSG is a race car-inspired manual transmission that uses a computer to activate its two clutches. The driver doesn't get a clutch pedal, instead selecting to upshift or downshift with paddle shifters or the stick. The car engages the clutch and performs the shift in 80 milliseconds, faster than any human could manage it. Because of this automation, the manual DSG also can act like an automatic transmission, performing the shifts for the driver. Although the driver interacts with the DSG just as they would with an automatic transmission, the car feels like a manual as it shifts gears.
To test the car, we performed zero-to-60mph timed runs with the car in Sport mode, letting it decide when to shift, and in manual mode, letting the driver shift. Editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy each did two runs. We wanted to get an idea whether the driver or the computer could get to 60mph faster. To time our runs, we used an Escort GT2 performance computer. The GT2's accelerometer knows when the car hits 60mph and records the time from zero mph.
In our first run in Sport mode, Wayne Cunningham stomped the accelerator and let the car do the work. The front wheels repeatedly broke free from the pavement, only to be brought back in line by the traction control. Torque steer also made it necessary to keep a strong grip on the steering wheel. A little lag slowed the initial launch, but the turbo kicked in at about 2,000rpm, boosting the car forward rapidly.
In our second run, we used the car's manual mode. Again, wheel spin fought with traction control while torque steer threatened to take the car off its line. Wayne upshifted between 5,500 and 6,000rpm, keeping a solid buffer from the car's 6,500rpm red line.
Kevin Massy took the wheel next for his two runs. In both runs, the car showed the same rowdy behavior off the line and had to be firmly controlled. Kevin made his shifts closer to red line, just after the tachometer hit 6,000rpm.
Here are our zero-to-60mph times:
Sport mode: 6.82 seconds
Manual mode: 6.37 seconds
Sport mode: 6.75 seconds
Manual mode: 6.73 seconds
From these results, we could see that a human could achieve better acceleration than the car's Sport shifting program. We didn't make any runs in normal Drive mode as it would have been slower than the Sport mode. We did make one run with traction control turned off, but the excessive wheel spin led us to believe that the car would have had slower times than actually letting the tires grip the pavement.
In the cabin
Having reviewed a number of Audis, the interior of the Audi A3 was very familiar. This familiarity is somewhat unfortunate in that the cabin electronics have remained unchanged over the last three years. The A3's interior trim and construction are very nice, keeping up Audi's quality reputation even at the low end of the model line. The sport seats, part of the S Line package, are very comfortable, but are all manual. Our only gripe about the manual adjustment for the seats is that the recline control is a difficult-to-reach knob. We would have preferred a lever with a spring-loaded seat back.
Equipped with Audi's navigation system, the A3 gets a good-sized LCD mounted in the center stack. To the right of it is Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) controls, a click knob surrounded by four buttons. The MMI lets you control music, navigation, and telephone functions. It's a fairly quick system to learn, merely requiring you to associate the four buttons with function labels that appear in the four corners of the screen. Our only problem with the MMI is that inputting text or numbers can be tedious. You're presented with a radial text chooser on the screen, and you have to turn the click knob to choose each letter. Fortunately it has predictive entry, which narrows letter choices, to make spelling street and city names easier.