The navigation system itself is the same as what you get in other Audi models, even up to the pricey Audi A8. DVD-based, it handles the basics and shows decent-looking maps, but is devoid of advanced features. Address entry is tedious, whether you are using the rotary dial to input letters or trying to pinpoint a location on the map. Labeling is odd, too; for example, putting points of interest under a menu called Special Destinations.
We mentioned above how the six-disc changer doesn't read MP3 CDs, which means MP3 playback is relegated to the SD-card reader. The interface for SD cards is very rough, with no artist or song title display.
Even if music sources are limited, the 10-speaker Bose audio system sounds very good. This system produces audio with a light touch, not overpowering the music and letting the higher frequencies come through clearly. It could use a little better separation, but this system is overall very good.
Audi has offered an excellent Bluetooth phone system for some time now, and makes it available in the A3. With the navigation system present, the phone system makes your phone book available on the LCD. Our only complaint is that the phone book and recent calls are under a menu labeled Memory, which isn't terribly intuitive.
Our review car also featured the A3's new Open Sky System, an option that puts a sunroof in front and a moon roof over the rear seats. It's a nice touch that adds an open feeling to the cabin.
Under the hood
The performance tech in the 2009 Audi A3 is excellent, combining the efficient and powerful 2-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, which uses Audi's direct-injection technology, with the S-tronic dual-clutch manual transmission. As this transmission uses clutches rather than a torque converter, shifts have that solid manual feel, although there is no clutch pedal. The computer-controlled clutches allow for two automatically shifted modes, plus the manual mode, which lets you change gears using the shifter or the paddles mounted to the steering wheel.
The engine's peak 200 horsepower comes on at 5,100rpm, while its 207 pound-feet of torque makes itself felt at 1,800rpm. That high torque figure at relatively low engine speeds accounts for the minimal turbo lag. Audi claims 6.7 seconds to 60 mph with this set-up, which is actually faster than the non-Quattro version.
The EPA rates the fuel economy at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, numbers that comported with our observations. With a bias towards highway driving, and a good chunk of twisting roads, we came out with 25.3 mpg total. Emissions are a good story with the Audi A3, too, as the Quattro 2-liter turbo version earns a ULEV II rating.
The suspension uses a rheological fluid in the shocks that responds to electromagnets. A computer monitors road conditions and the way the car is moving to determine how much juice to give the electromagnets, tightening up the suspension when needed. That computer monitoring works in the overall program you set for the car, normal or sport.
Steering is responsive, and the Quattro system keeps the car from sliding around, traction control alternately minimizing wheel slip where needed.
Our review car was a 2009 Audi A3 with the 2-liter, turbo-charged engine, S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, and Quattro, which comes in at a base price of $30,500. The A3 is also available with a bigger, 3.2-liter, V-6 engine, for about $6,000 more. Magnetic-ride control came as part of the Sport package, a $2,550 option, while the navigation option, which includes the six-disc changer, added $1,950. Bluetooth, strangely enough, came as part of the S-Line package on our car, which adds sundry other features, for $2,000. And the nice dual sunroof option is an additional $1,100. With all the options and the $825 delivery charge, our total came out to $41,700, just a few thousand short of a fully optioned Mitsubishi Evo X.
In rating the A3, we give it an excellent score for performance tech, as it delivers superb handling, little turbo lag, and decent fuel economy. It fares less well in cabin tech, however, only gaining points for the Bluetooth and audio systems.
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