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.
The Escort GT2 performance computer is ready to time our runs.
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 gets a thrill from the A3's acceleration.
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.
The navigation system offers good graphics for upcoming turns.
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.
The stereo offers no way to navigate folders on an SD card.
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.
Inputting phone numbers can be tedious with this rotary dial, and it's worse when entering destinations for the navigation system.
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.
The paddle on the right lets you upshift the DSG, while the paddle on the left spoke downshifts.
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.