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

The Audi A3’s shifting is not only sub-second quick but it also has a right now immediacy that doesn’t require planning ahead or any anticipation where the tachometer needle will be, as with most paddle-shifted automatic transmissions. Tap the up or down paddle and the next gear is simply there, with the added fillip of a neat rev-match blip of the throttle when picking up a lower gear.

2011 Audi A3

2011 Audi A3

Upshifts at redline (or kick-down shifts) can be done fully automatically, even in manual mode, by pressing hard on the throttle pedal. In general driving in full-automatic mode, most shifts are kitty purr smooth though the transmission was occasionally confused by what we wanted to do at a particular moment, and it was frequently grumpy for the first couple of shifts when stone cold.

The whole, as they say, is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s where the A3’s fun comes in. Our test 2011 Audi A3 2.0 TFSI S-tronic had the same Calvin and Hobbes-like enthusiasm for the road as the Audi A4 Avant we tested, only in a yet more pint-sized container. With the A3, “nip and tuck” isn’t a surgical procedure, just the way the A3 drives.

The engine is very smooth at idle and growls on acceleration, most of the sound coming front the rear end of the car, though never feels stressed. Anyway, the 2.0-liter’s torque spread makes tight back roads easy.

Our choice of Audi A3 would have been quattro-equipped, all-wheel drive negating torque steer and all that, but Audi’s suspension design makes the steering wheel kick-free, with the loss of traction at a front wheel, such as on runoff at the inside of a tight corner, just means a loss of traction, not the car going off towards an alternate universe. We’d still choose quattro if it were our car–if for nothing but all-weather traction–but we were impressed by the 2011 A3’s front-drive performance.

In addition to the 2.0 TFSI/S-tronic/front-wheel drive configuration we tested, the 2011 Audi A3 is also available mix-and-match with quattro all-wheel drive and with a conventional six-speed manual transmission. The 2011 Audi A3 is also offered with the 2.0 TDI clean diesel but only with front-wheel drive and the S-tronic transmission.

The Audi A3 comes standard with leather seating, “one-touch” power window front and rear and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat that unfortunately doesn’t fold flat. Our tester came with “navigation plus”, which we found easy to operate, unlike the standard audio which, at the very least, will require study to figure out. The Premium plus package adds killer Xenon headlamps that do for high beam that lesser Xenon headlamps do for low beam , and more, including Bluetooth, power driver’s seat and special option-specific wheels. The optional “Open Sky” two-pane panoramic sun roof has translucent fabric for a sun shield that unrolls manually.

We’re surprised, however, that a vehicle with a base price of $28,750, optioned up to $35,250, with standard leather seating doesn’t have heated seats.

Still, we were engaged with Audi’s A3 2.0 TFSI with S-tronic and front-wheel drive, but if premium compact doesn’t fully describe the A3–and it doesn’t–may we suggest a new sub-niche and call it premium compact sport? That’s the Audi A3 and we’ll even let Audi have dibs on it.

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