Audi features some excellent technology on its roster of performance tech, the top three being its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, and magnetic ride-suspension control. For 2009, the previously deprived Audi A3 gets this performance tech as a hand-me-down from its bigger, badder brothers. Now the A3 can take its proper place in Audi's performance legacy.
Unfortunately, it's still saddled with Audi's second-string cabin tech, which means a Multimedia Interface (MMI) controller on the stack instead of the console, no iPod interface, and mediocre navigation. However, it does have an excellent Bluetooth phone system.
On the road
Getting ready to set out in the 2009 Audi A3, we put an MP3 CD into the six-disc changer, which resides in the glove box, and watched as the onscreen CD interface showed nothing. This disc player can't read MP3 CDs. But there are SD-card slots behind the LCD, which do read MP3s, although the screen only shows file names, and not track tags--all in all, a primitive interface.
We settled on satellite radio and took off. The car immediately delighted with sprightly movement: nimble handling and responsive acceleration. We knew there would be some lag from the turbo, forcing air through the car's 2-liter four-cylinder engine, but it wasn't immediately apparent.
Befitting the bottom end of Audi's model line, the ride quality shows some harshness, but it's not bad. Cruising on smooth pavement at speed down the freeway, the A3 proved comfortable.
Exiting onto roads that demanded more driver input, we pushed the button marked with a shock absorber on the stack and put the shifter into Sport. That button puts the A3's magnetic-ride control into sport mode, resulting in a stiffer ride that could be felt in the cabin.
The transmission's Sport program proved very aggressive in stepping down to lower gears and holding them, leading us to attack corners to see what the A3 could do. Typically, the computer-controlled dual-clutch manual transmission stepped down from fourth to third as we hit the brakes before a turn, putting the engine's power to the wheels. Accelerating through the corner, the suspension's sport mode kept the car stable while Quattro transferred torque to the wheels that needed it most.
Switching to manual mode, the car delivered the kind of hard shifts we would expect from a dual-clutch transmission, without the slushiness of a torque converter. We also ran the car through a little mud, rally style, and were impressed how easy it was to keep the A3 in line.
But knowing that turbo lag lurked somewhere in this power plant, we set out to find it, first by doing a fast launch. There it was, lasting just a second as we pushed the gas. Similarly, while coasting on the freeway, we hit the gas and had to wait for full power to spool up. The A3 does exhibit some turbo lag, but it's far from debilitating.
In the cabin
With the navigation option in the 2009 Audi A3, the car features the same cabin gear we've seen in Audis for years. An update to this cabin tech is on the way, coming first to the new Audi Q5, but for now you're stuck with this older system.
Where the A4 moved the unique MMI controller from the stack to the console with the last model update, the A3 still uses plastic switchgear on the stack. And where the A4 picked up the Audi Music Interface, which offers excellent iPod integration, in its last update, the A3 just gets an auxiliary-input jack.