While waiting to get my hands on an A3 for a bit, I decided to run down to my local dealer to check them out. It was certainly worth it. The sales person was friendly, easy to work with, and knowledgeable about the car. A very pleasant experience overall. There have been a lot of comments flying around about how expensive this car is. Some pundits pigeonhole the car as a fancy VW Golf. Seeing the A3 first hand you get a totally different impression.
First of all, it is a heck of a lot bigger than the marketing materials or the press pictures let on. You would do yourself a favor if you try to ignore the fact it shares a platform with the new fifth generation Golf/Jetta. The interior and exterior trim put it a head above those mainstream cars. Sure the new VWs are nice, but the A3 is in a whole other league. The Jetta has a lot more hard plastic in the interior and the car simply is not as sporty. The A3 is more of a driver?s car. The controls are all at your fingertips. The steering wheel is thick and covered in perforated leather, the gear shift is placed right where it should be, and even the switch controls for the windows are purposefully placed.
Back to the size issue, this car is more in line with the late-nineties A4 as far as size is concerned. It?s SLIGHTLY smaller, but you would be hard-pressed to notice a difference from the driver?s seat. With the new A4 pushing well into the mid-30s and significantly larger in size, the A3 fits right in at the bottom of Audi?s range.
There were a couple of things that really jumped out at me. First, VW/Audi?s DSG is a technical marvel. The DSG or Direct Shift Gearbox uses a unique dual-clutch mechanism to allow for quick shifts. The transmission is referred to as a clutch-less manual, but it does have automatic shifting mode. Its special use of two clutches allows for nearly zero loss of power during upshifts. Its shifting mechanism also allows for manual or automatic shift, giving the drive the choice between paddles behind the steering wheel, using a right side gate on the shifter, or letting the car handle the decision making.
I have friends and family who do not drive manual transmissions. I prefer driving a manual car, in fact my current car is a manual. If for some reason, I wasn?t able to drive my car I would feel better if my car was an automatic. If I was in the market for a small car with a four cylinder, I would not want an automatic. Sure, most new electronically controlled five speed automatics offer decent performance, but rowing your own gears is much more satisfying with smaller engines in small cars. The DSG offers a more direct shifting experience versus other automatics with manual gear selection. The DSG is not the same as the trusty H-pattern, but still better than a regular automatic. It is also touted to provide better fuel economy than a regular automatic, but that doe not matter if you keep the right pedal buried.
Another thing that struck me was the stereo. This little car is packed with ten speakers, and it delivers excellent sound and power. Audi?s steering wheel controls are well thought out, and the inclusion of radio information into the gauge cluster is a nice touch.
On the lot, they had about 3 different cars. Two were DSG?s with sunroofs and leather, and they were just over $30,000. They had a base model with the 6 speed manual and cloth seats, and it was around $25,000.
Considering the size, power, and the price of the A3, I would put it up against the Acura TSX, Saab 9-2X, and Volvo S40/V50. If you look past the sportwagon form and put it against its competitors, it is apparent that this is a European luxury sport not a fancy VW Golf. Once I get a chance to take it down my favorite back roads, I will have a better idea if I would drop $25-30K for one.