The navigation system itself is just average. It offers good route guidance, with a list of upcoming streets and good graphics to show the next turn, and it lets you choose from a couple of routes when you enter a destination. But accessing its various features isn't very intuitive. We grew very tired of the voice prompt informing us that no destination had been entered every time we hit the Nav-Info function when the map screen was up. Finding the points-of-interest database was difficult, as it's buried under the navigation's Memory function. Its points-of-interest database isn't as expansive as others we've seen, limited to such categories as parking lots, ATMs, and restaurants.
Our Audi A3 also included a premium Bose stereo system as part of the Navigation Plus and Sound package. This system uses 10 speakers to produce very good sound. It doesn't have very deep bass, a deficiency that might have been helped out with a subwoofer, but it produced nicely separated sounds with a good stereo effect. Highs and mids come through very clearly, even at high volume, and make the cabin seem bigger than it is. We found that the audio maintained its quality even as we raised the volume to very high levels.
For audio sources, the A3 gets a six-disc changer, Sirius satellite radio, and two SD card slots hidden behind the LCD. Although an in-dash changer is available, when the navigation option is present, the changer is in the glove box, a less-than-optimal position. Worse, it doesn't read MP3 CDs, nor is there an auxiliary input. But the stereo will play MP3 tracks on an SD card, a feature unique to Audi. We originally thought this capability would save the A3's stereo system, until we read in the manual that Audi recommends 256MB as the maximum card size to use in the system. We used a 2GB card, which seemed to work just fine, although we didn't put more than 100MB of music on the card. But the worst thing about the stereo is it gives you no way to navigate between folders on an SD card. The stereo starts playing the next folder once it hits the end of the previous one.
The Bluetooth phone system in the A3 is first-rate, as we've found it to be on most Audis. It has a voice-recognition system that consistently understood our commands. It paired up with our Motorola V551 phone easily and, after a short amount of time, made our entire phone book available on the car's LCD. We were able to dial numbers through voice recognition or with the MMI. Call quality was very clear, and we were able to carry on conversations effortlessly. We also like that the car's phone system shows the list of recent phone calls from the phone.
Our Audi A3 included rain-sensing technology that automatically turned on the wipers. We got to test this feature due to a week of rainy weather while we had the A3, and it worked well. The car defaults to turning off the rain sensor, so we had to reactivate the system every time we started up the car, but that merely entailed a pull on the wiper stalk.
Under the hood
The Audi A3's powerplant is a highly efficient turbocharged two-liter inline four, producing 200 horsepower. It has double overhead cams and uses Audi's FSI direct injection technology. That means it injects fuel right into the cylinders, causing a more complete burn. Direct injection can lead to a noisier engine, but we were quite pleased with the growl of the A3 when we stomped the accelerator. There is some lag due to the turbo, which we felt on fast launches, and in the difficulty of maintaining low speeds, where the turbo can't decide if it needs to kick in or not.
We described the DSG above pretty thoroughly. A six-speed manual is also available for the A3, but the DSG is much more satisfying. It maintains the driving feel of a manual transmission but allows the convenience of an automatic. We also mentioned the wheel slip and torque steer above. These issues, combined with the turbo lag, will turn off people who want a car that's easy to control. This is a car for enthusiasts.
The A3 includes the usual raft of roadholding technology, including traction control, a stability program, and brake assist. We made a lot of use of the traction control, even when we weren't trying for a particularly fast start. The windy road handling on the A3 was very good even without Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive. We never felt the back tires break loose around a corner.
We were particularly pleased with the A3's mileage. The EPA rates it at 25mpg city and 32mpg on the highway. We observed 26.1mpg in mixed driving and before our zero-to-60mph testing. It's also a fairly clean engine, getting an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
The 2007 Audi A3, with the turbocharged two-liter engine and DSG, has a base price of $26,820. We added the Misano Red Pearl paint ($450), the S Line Sport Package ($2,200), and the Open Sky System ($1,100), which adds a moonroof over the rear passenger area in addition to the front-row sunroof. For gadgets, we had the Technology Package ($1,500), which brings in Bluetooth and adaptive lighting, and the Navigation Plus and Sound Package ($3,300). The total price, with a $720 destination charge, was a hefty $36,090.
The DSG and handling characteristics made the A3 a very enjoyable car to drive, and it probably would have been just as fun without all the expensive options. It's also a very practical car, with comfortable seating for four adults and ample rear-cargo space. The fuel economy is icing on the cake. Although we like the quality of the premium stereo system and the functionality of the cell phone integration, for the most part we weren't impressed by the cabin electronics. The SD card reader is a neat trick but we would much prefer an auxiliary jack for our MP3 player. And the price, with all that mediocre gear, gets above what we would consider good small hatchback territory. So, gadgetheads that we are, we'll take it stripped down and ready for windy roads.