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2006 Audi A3

In A World Of Unleaded Regular, This One Is Premium

    It isn’t often that a car in our fleet is referred to as brilliant. Nor is it often that we sing the praises of one that is deemed “entry-level”, featuring an automatic tranny, front-wheel drive, and merely a four-cylinder engine. But the A3 brings out the best in all of these descriptions.
     The Audi A3 is entry-level in terms of luxury, not as in econobox. Similar dimensions it may share with lesser cars but purpose it does not. The A3 was bred with sportiness in mind from the beginning, not a plastic-body-kit add-on afterthought. Styling is subtle yet attractive. At least as attractive as Audi could be with the shape they had to work with. You will immediately recognize it as an Audi, likening it to a shortened A4 Avant. Yet the A3 is its own entity. For example the 2.0L FSI Turbo motor is mounted transverse rather than longitudinally and only front wheel drive is currently offered. Audi says that both a quattro and 3.2 V6 model are on their way to our shores, while the 3-door and diesel variants will remain only on the other side of the pond. The five-door body style is handsome, especially in black with its flared wheel arches and forward sloping beltline. The 16-spoke 17” wheels enhance the image much better than the standard 5-spokes. At 168.7” long and 77.1” wide, the A3 gives up 11.9” and .3” respectively to its larger A4 brethern as well as 2.8” in wheelbase at 101.5”. Track widths are near identical 59.8” the 4 being .1” wider. The A4 also wins in overall height by .2”, but advantage goes to the A3 here where the hatchback provides easier access to cargo.
     Audi continues to impress inside where many manufacturers stop at “good enough”. The dash is molded out of a soft, deep-grained plastic. Our particular model featured the two-tone black and beige interior that everyone around here liked. The upper skin of the doors, instrument panel, and center console were in black with the seating, carpeting and the headliner in beige. Splashes of metal throughout brighten things up even more. Our favorites are the chrome accent rings around the gauges. Switchgear, buttons and knobs are up to typical Audi quality possessing solid feel and reassuring action that everything works the way it should. Casting light on the situation is what Audi calls the Open Sky System. Open Sky is basically what it sounds like, a big sunroof open to the sky. With dual paned glass, both front and rear seats have a clear view of the heavens. Only the front pane retracts to allow for fresh air movement, however. Simple screen shades manually deploy to provide shading and privacy. Headroom was never an issue, but packing three fairly robust fellas in the back proved shoulder and hip room came at a premium. No such concerns appeared upfront.
     The real gem of this car, however, is its powertrain, specifically the Direct Shift Gearbox. Upon getting into the car, one can easily pass off the transmission as merely another automatic transmission, judging by the lack of clutch pedal and common shift gate shared with all automatic Audi’s. Once settled, a glance at the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters gives but a slight hint that something is different, but then, even some standard Audi slushboxes possess paddles. It isn’t until you are heading down the road and put your right foot down do you realize it doesn’t shift like any old automatic. The DSG is by definition a manual because of its use of a clutch rather than a torque converter. Actually, it uses two clutches, without a clutch pedal. The computer takes care of engaging and disengaging the gears. While one spindle is engaged and driving, the other has the next gear pre-selected and waiting. The system snaps off shifts like no one’s business in a little under .2 seconds each. Power delivery is incredibly smooth and linear as a result. Paddle shifting is the way to go, especially when downshifting, as the computer blips the throttle to match the revs perfectly each time. The combination 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo and DSG provided excitement in every mile. With 200hp available at 5100 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque on tap 1800–5000 rpm, this motor pulls through all 6 gears with authority. The turbo provides up to 1.8 bar (or 26.1 psi) max boost. All in all, Audi claims that this 3329-pound car can sprint to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. We believe it. We are anxious to get Quattro thrown into the mix for some sharper handling and to put the power down better, but complaints about the front-wheel drive were kept to a minimum. This is likely because torque steer was kept under check and the A3 possesses a pretty stout chassis.
     What won our hearts over was the amount of technology and class packed into the A3. We estimate our model to sticker at just over $32 large, and for an entry-level vehicle it had tech, class, and materials usually found only in more premier automobiles. The A3 is a car whose shadow we’d want darkening our driveway anytime. In the words of Editor Dye, five minutes before publishing, “I want that little bugger back.” Further proof that you don’t need to own the most expensive car on the block to feel like you own the most expensive car on the block.

The Good:
Brilliant transmission, handsome styling, superb fit, finish and function.
The Bad:
Only front-wheel drive is available to start.
The Verdict:
We love it; can we order our 3.2 quattro model now?


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