2011 Audi A3 car review road test: Adds ‘sport’ to ‘premium compact’

2011 Audi A3

2011 Audi A3

The Audi A3 inhabits a market segment called “premium compact” and Audi claims, in fact, to have invented term. We’re not about to invoke Marquis de Queensbury rules on the origin of the segment, but we will state that it’s something of a misnomer for the A3. “Compact” doesn’t indicate “fun” to us, and “premium” doesn’t either. And fun is one of the best reasons for driving the Audi A3.

Of course, we have a certain fondness for small performance sedans, if for no other reason than they fit so well on the narrow winding roads we like to frequent. And we’re also not averse to well-equipped and well-finished sedans either. The latter, of course, fits the 2011 Audi A3 that’s the subject of this car review.

The exterior of the Audi A3 doesn’t shout and it’s clearly not the head turner that is, say, the Audi A5 (coupe or convertible) or the Audi A8. In fact, except for the distinctive Audi grille, the 2011 Audi A3 could be considered stealth, the Audi four-ring logo on the rear hatch the only indication that this well-proportioned five-door hatchback is anything but another well-proportioned five-door hatchback.

Our 2011 Audi A3 tester came in “Premium Plus” trim, equipped with Xenon headlamps with eyebrows of LED daytime running lights (not usually found on compact sedans), but that’s almost like cheating when it comes to attention grabbing ability

The interior of the 2011 Audi A3 gets high marks, however, as do all Audis, for design and comfort. The dash isn’t squishy soft when it comes to the soft-touch test, but instead the A3’s dash is covered with a thin coat of rubbery-like plastic that almost looks like “crackle paint” except that it’s not hard. With the raised dash vents, business-like buttons and knobs, and precision instrument-like gauges, the interior of the A3 has an efficient and professional look. Controls all have the proper weight and heft, not always found on the common compact car.

Our 2011 Audi A3 tester, however, beguiled with the playful attitude. Equipped with the 2.0 TFSI engine, front-wheel drive and the S-tronic six-speed automatic transmission, the A3 was a corner charger and deceptively quick. The transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine is rated at only 200 horsepower, a rather mild number these days for a turbocharged direct injection engine. Torque doesn’t come with a particularly impressive peak output either, at only 207 lb ft. The turbo two-liter of the 2011 Kia Optima SX, for example, cranks out a reputed 276 horses. The redemption of the Audi A3’s two-liter, however, is its broad spread of its maximum torque with a plateau from 1800 rpm to 5000 rpm. It’s acceleration on demand.

The Audi S-tronic transmission is a clear bonus as well. Although capable of wholly automatic leave-it-in-drive operation, the S-tronic is a dual-clutch gearbox that, unlike a conventional automatic transmission, is a conventional manual transmission that, thanks to an electronically-controlled shift system with two clutches. Because the clutches can “overlap”–one disengaging as the other engages–the S-tronic transmission can change gears, Audi says, in as little as 0.2 seconds. Or in other words, faster than we could time with our stopwatch.

The transmission has a sport automatic mode, but for a truly sport fashion there’s the full manual mode, activated via tip-shifting the shifter lever or the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

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