Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Is Audi's A3 Turbo a Wagon, a Hatchback or What? I Just Call it Fun


Actually, the A3 combines elements of several configurations in one package that is practical, refined, comfortable and modestly affordable for most folks. To put it another way, the A3 is quite literally the Audi of fine econocars.

The A3 shares the Volkswagen Golf’s platform and drivetrain, but there are more than enough distinctively Audi elements of this vehicle to insure it is never confused with the Peoples Car Company.

The A3 is also not Audi’s first at-bat in seeking to offer an econo sedan with some higher end trimmings and performance. Folks who remember the Audi Fox and VW Dasher sometimes don’t realize they also shared platforms.

In fact, my very first new car was a cream-colored 75 Fox with a tan interior and I absolutely loved that hot little sedan. It was a little expensive to repair but a complete blast to drive. And in those days, Audis were still fairly rare on American roads and not yet made the target of automotive yellow journalism.

Okay, enough with the walk down memory lane, what about the A3 turbo? It’s a hoot, let me tell you. Serious drivers will appreciate the A3’s handling prowess, the tremendous smoothness and flexibility of the 197 horsepower 2.0 liter turbo four and the refined braking and steering.

Popping 0-60 mph in 6.46 seconds was routine duty for my Lava Gray Pearl Effect A3 2.0 Turbo tester with the Direct Shift Gearbox and Electronic Stabilization Program. This is the kind of car that makes you anticipate Saturday all week, just thinking about the fun you are going to have driving a favorite road, over and over.

I thought the A3 looked a little on the heavy side when it first arrived in my driveway but after driving it a couple of hours I was quite impressed with how agile and maneuverable it felt.
I was doubly impressed when I checked the spec sheet and found its curb weight is slightly above 3,200 pounds.

Considering the conventional nature of its suspension pieces – MacPherson struts up front and four-link independent out back, with anti-roll bars at both ends – the A3 is fast, fun and tremendously responsive. It’s my kind of car for driving fun.

Practicality? Well, the A3 is a hatchback and the rear seats do fold down to expand the cargo capacity. The front seats are comfortable and form-fitting, providing excellent support for long distance touring and daily commuting.

My tester’s sticker bottom-lined at a pricey $34,835, but I could quite happily live with an A3 2.0T without the Navigation and premium sound package for $2,850, the Open Sky System for $1,100 and the XM satellite radio for $350.