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Edmunds: 2006 Audi A3 3.2 quattro S line Test

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It's the ultimate A3, but hardly the ultimate Audi

By Ed Hellwig

Date posted: 04-20-2006

There are Audi fanatics who consider the quattro all-wheel-drive system a product of divine inspiration. On the scale of man's most important inventions they rank it right up there with movable type and the microchip. Cars without quattro are drivable; cars with quattro handle as if they're being guided by a higher power.

Quattro isn't available on base versions of the A3 hatchback, but on the 2006 Audi A3 3.2 it's standard. Same goes for Audi's Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), another highly revered piece of drivetrain technology. When the A3 debuted there was no way to get both in the same car, but the late-year addition of the A3 3.2 to the lineup not only puts quattro and DSG together, it hooks them to a 250-horsepower V6.

It's the hat trick of technology Audi enthusiasts have been waiting for, especially since you can't get the same setup on the A4 sedan.

Mediocre muscle

We've got some bad news for the Audi faithful. The A3 3.2 isn't the heavenly hot hatch we were expecting. Despite its classic muscle car configuration — big engine in a small car — speed isn't this A3's best attribute.

Consider its acceleration numbers. We measured a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds, and our best quarter-mile run took 15 seconds flat. The last 2007 Toyota Camry V6 we tested ran three-tenths quicker to 60 mph and four-tenths quicker in the quarter-mile. Pray you don't have to find that one out for yourself. Even the last A3 we tested, which was a 2.0T with DSG, was only a few tenths of a second slower in each test.

Track numbers don't always tell the whole story, but the A3 3.2 doesn't feel all that quick on the road either. With 250 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque, you expect it to scare you once in awhile, yet it never does. Instead, the six-cylinder's flat torque curve provides steady acceleration but few thrills. Its dull, industrial drone doesn't help.

Weight is the A3's biggest problem. At 3,660 pounds it's 452 pounds heavier than a Saab 9-2X Aero, another four-door hatchback with all-wheel drive. All those extra pounds not only drag down its acceleration, they reduce its mileage numbers to SUV territory. Despite EPA estimates of 21 city and 27 highway, we averaged only 18.5 miles per gallon.

Another problem is the gearbox. It's great for running up and down the gears on a mountain road, but hard launches don't come easy. It saps some of the off-the-line potential out of what is an otherwise excellent V6.

DSG and a diet

Once up to speed, however, the DSG transmission makes the best of the situation by letting you control the shifts like a true manual. Gearchanges are handled with well-placed paddles behind the steering wheel. There's no clutch; you simply jab one of the levers and the gearbox snaps into the next gear.

It's instantaneous and addictive. Pull for a downshift on the highway and it drops a gear before your finger comes off the lever. Upshifts only take a split second longer. So many transmissions before it have promised similar control, but only DSG delivers.

Leave the paddles alone and the DSG transmission works like a traditional automatic. Drop it into Sport mode and it will quicken up the reaction times and downshift under braking. It works well when you're driving quickly, but leave it in Sport on the highway and it gets too nervous, jumping between gears at the slightest nudge of your right foot.

Quattro comes through

Between the optional Continental Sport Contact 2 tires and the sport suspension that's part of the standard S line trim, the A3 squealed its way to a respectable 0.86g on the skid pad.

Through our tight slalom course the A3 was easy to place and quick to transition, posting a fast 67.5-mph speed on its best run. The quattro advantage was obvious, as the car was faster and easier to control by keeping the power on the whole way through. The last A3 we tested did not have the performance tires or suspension and ran the slalom at 62 mph.

With very little body roll, excellent steering feedback and easily controllable understeer, the A3 also thrives on fast, sweeping turns. The extra pounds that drag it down under acceleration give it a confident, stable feel through fast corners. And when you're not pushing hard the ride quality is excellent, with none of the skittishness you might expect from a small hatchback with low-profile tires.

Braking is another one of the A3's strong points. Its 60-to-0 distance of 116 feet is sports car territory. There was little fade after repeated stops and only minimal ABS system noise.

Nothing to improve on the inside

Positioned as the top-of-the-line A3 model, the 3.2 quattro comes standard with many of the features on the 2.0T's options list, including the S line trim package. Exterior enhancements include revised bumpers, foglights and a roof spoiler. Inside, there are leather seats, dual-zone climate control, metallic dash trim and a Bose audio system with steering wheel controls. Ours added the open sky roof for another $1,100 along with xenon headlights ($800), the Cold Weather package ($700) and Bluetooth phone connectivity ($435).

With a solid design to start, the added extras make for a very comfortable cabin. Seat comfort was never a problem on a four-hour trip and the build quality was perfect throughout.

Rear-passenger room is tight, however, and cargo room is even tighter. The sky roof helps, but if you really need the space an A4 wagon is a better choice. And if you want it quiet, stick with the standard wheels and tires, as the optional performance rubber generates a fair amount of road noise on the highway.

Big bucks for a small car

Putting all of Audi's latest technology into one car takes its toll on the A3's bottom line. It starts at $34,700 and our tester topped out at $38,735. You could buy any number of well-optioned luxury sedans for that kind of money, and none of them would carry the stigma of a hatchback.

Quattro, DSG and a powerful V6 are good, but they're not that good. Save the cash and buy the 2.0T.

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Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...rticleId=110087

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