2006 Audi A3
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Some entry-level cars aren't very desirable outside of their lower prices because their producers cheapened them to keep their cost down. But that isn't the case with Audi's new entry A3 sedan.
An early 2006 model, the compact A3 is the most conveniently sized Audi for parking and such. It's slightly smaller than Audi's top-selling A4, but offers most of the A4 sedan's attributes for lower prices.
Pricing for a 2005 A4 sedan begins at $27,350. The A3 costs $24,740 with a 6-speed manual transmission and lists at $26,220 with Audi's race-car-inspired Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission. The DSG is derived from a conventional 6-speed manual gearbox and essentially is a clutchless manual transmission that can be set to shift like an automatic.
The DSG in my A3 test car provided lightning fast gear changes with an electro-hydraulically controlled twin clutch, although it was mostly left in "drive" mode because it shifts smoothly and efficiently in that mode.
The approximately 3,300-pound A3 resembles a small station wagon, although Audi knows that's an unwanted description in America. So it calls the A3 a "premium compact sedan with the sportiness of the Audi TT coupe sports car."
Whatever. The A3 actually could be described as a utilitarian crossover vehicle because of its hatchback and generous cargo area, especially with the split rear seatback folded forward.
There's decent room for four 6-footers, but legroom becomes tight behind a 6-foot driver who moves his seat more than halfway back. The right rear passenger doesn't have that problem, although neither rear passenger has a surplus of room.
Fun to Drive
The steering becomes progressively firmer to provide a reassuring feel at highway speeds and requires less energy than a conventional steering system.
Touchy Brake Pedal
The all-independent suspension of my test A3 provided a ride that was supple but firm. I suspect that it would have been firmer if the car had the optional ($1,800) Sport package. That package adds a stiffer sports suspension, higher-performance tires, aluminum interior trim, front sports seats, leather covering for all seats and a roof spoiler.
My test car did have the $2,025 Premium package. It contains a power driver's seat and most features of the Sport package—except for the stiffer suspension, performance tires, spoiler and sport seats. Still, the standard front seats could be mistaken for sport seats because they provide excellent support.
My advice? Forget the Sport package and opt for the Premium option unless you like to drive really hard.
Occasional Tire Noise
Some audio and climate controls are small, but the dashboard is nicely designed and nothing inside the car shouts "cheap."
That technology was in the Audi R8 that won the famous 24-hour Le Mans endurance race in France. It allows good responsiveness in all speed ranges, with maximum torque of 207 pound-feet available across a wide engine speed range—from 1,800 rpm to 5,000 rpm.
Engine revs are higher than in larger-engine cars above 65 mph with the DSG transmission, but the engine is relaxed even at 75-80 mph, with reserve punch for passing.
Decent Fuel Economy
A 250-horsepower V6 with 237 pound-feet of torque will be offered with the DSG transmission and Audi's well-proven quattro all-wheel-drive system early next year, along with optional 18-inch wheels. That engine probably isn't really necessary, but America is horsepower-crazy.
A $700 Cold Weather package probably doesn't seem like a "must-have" option in the spring, but will be appreciated in northern winters with its heated front seats, windshield washer nozzles and exterior mirrors.
Fresh air and open-sky fans might go for the $1,100 "Open Sky" sunroof system; it consists of two glass panels—the front one opens and the rear one over the back seats is fixed. Both have sunshades.
Entry-level cars are mostly designed to convince owners to eventually move up to an automaker's larger, more expensive models. The A3 should do a good job in that regard.