2005 Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 FSI
– Handsome exterior
– Attractive interior styling
– Quiet highway ride
– Expensive for its size
– Some quality issues
– Limited model choices
When we first came across the Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 FSI, we thought it looked like an attractively-styled 2-litre economy car that should be a good alternative to something along the lines of a Toyota Corolla. But when we heard the price of one, our collective jaws dropped–it is more expensive than a loaded top-of-the-line Toyota Camry V6 Grande. So we set out to discover if this handsome car is actually worth all that money.
Audi has chosen to sell only the 2-litre five-door version of the front-wheel-drive A3 in most Middle East markets, and that too with an automatic transmission only. Many other countries, and a handful of local markets, get a huge range of engines, including a 2-litre turbocharged inline-4, a 3.2-litre V6 and even a 1.9-litre turbodiesel, with choices of a manual or a racing-style automanual DSG transmission, and even Quattro all-wheel-drive on some models.
First impressions were favourable. The exterior was very tightly screwed together, with nearly invisible panel gaps, flush-fitting side windows and perfectly moulded plastics. It is a rather good-looking hatchback design that tries to look more like a sporty wagon, and hides its somewhat tall height well. The front and rear overhangs are kept in check, and the aerodynamic efficiency of the flat-sided design is evident.
Audi is renowned for their well-built interiors, and this car is no exception. We did not find even one visible flaw in the fit and finish, and the materials were of a very high quality. However, we expected the upper door panels and dashboard top to be made of soft-touch materials rather than harder plastics. There were also some fake aluminium trimmings made of plastic. It all still looks great, but seems out of place in a luxury-biased car. All gauges and digital screens were well-placed and within reach. There were lots of buttons on the centre console, but we deciphered most of the important ones in a few minutes. The stereo unit was a simple affair, with a red-lettered display and a cassette player. A CD changer is hidden in the glove box, taking up a lot of space. The stereo speakers were very good, with adequate bass adding life to tunes. But radio reception was poor on all frequencies, no doubt due to the small antenna. The fancy air-conditioning system was excellent at cooling us down, and better than many other European makes, including Mercedes-Benz.
Interior room is quite adequate for a car this size, although there may be issues in the back. Headroom is more than enough. Front legroom is good, but back legroom may be tight for very tall people. The front seats have good bottom side bolstering to hold you in, but the seat backs are not as body-hugging, obviously to fit overweight passengers, but not helping enthusiast drivers. The seats are manually adjusted, with no electric seat option. The rear seating is more like a bench, with three headrests and no pull-out armrest. The seat material is some grooved type of cloth. There is no leather option, which is another surprise in this compact luxury car. Compared to the Audi, a Toyota Corolla, for example, is taller, longer, has more luggage trunk space, and even has leather as an option. The A3 is only wider and maybe easier to park.
Storage compartments inside are plenty, which is a relief after driving large expensive cars that do not even have a place to keep a mobile phone. There are spaces in the doors, on the centre console, and even the front armrest. There is a hidden cupholder under the front armrest, and one more than flips out of the dashboard at the single touch. At one time, the flip-out cupholder refused to flip out, which flipped us out, but that problem fixed itself.
The economical 2.0-litre engine in our test car is an able high-revving motor, with peak power of 147 hp reached at a high 6000 rpm, and ample torque along most of the rev range, hitting 200 Nm at 3500 rpm. The engine idles at a high 900 rpm, but it cannot be heard until the higher revs are reached under full throttle, when it sounds a little coarse. Acceleration is more than adequate for city driving, helped by a smooth-shifting automatic transmission that has as many as six gears. Traction control, which can be turned off, kills wheel spin under power. An automatic sport mode allows for higher rpm gear changes, but the A3 2.0 is still no drag racer. The soft pedal feel made us move off jerkily at times in stop-and-go traffic, and the manual shift function of the tiptronic gearbox did not co-operate much, as the system mostly ignored our shifter inputs.
Cruising along at highway speeds, the engine is barely above 2000 rpm, with almost no wind noise thanks to the slick aerodynamic body. Only road noise is audible at 100 kph, but we also noticed a slight rattle from the dashboard which we could not trace. Maybe the fit and finish is not that perfect after all, at least in our test car. Steering is light, but not annoyingly so.
The A3 rides on four-wheel independent suspension, MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear, and the ride seems to attempt a balance between sporty stiffness and soft comfort. Most bumps are soaked up easily, but we hit a rough section of a highway where the car wobbled excessively. It also wobbled when a rear window was inadvertently left open slightly at highway speeds.
Great driving dynamics are a requirement for any high-priced German automobile. It is the only factor separating the Germans from the Japanese when it comes to passenger cars. So we were a little disappointed with this front-wheel-drive A3, which is based on the VW Golf. It expectedly handles better than a wobbly Toyota sedan, but it falls short of cars like the Peugeot 206 and Ford Focus. Cornering is composed, but the limit is reached quickly, even with decent tyres wrapping the 16-inch alloy rims. Braking during corners helps to tighten the turning circle, aided by an ABS system that electronically applies different braking forces to each wheels.
The brakes themselves are excellent, but the pedal feel is soft, making for unintentional hard braking. Also, there was a loud groan in our test car every time as we eased off the brake pedal–a condition we last experienced in a 15-year-old used car. Experience also tells us that this groaning is caused by age rather than brake pad wear, and our test car, with 11,000 kms on the odometer, also has a brake pad wear indicator that showed our brakes were fine.
The A3 is loaded with safety features. Most notable are numerous airbags, whiplash-resistant headrests, tyre pressure sensors, the aforementioned ABS with EBD, and a strong frame. The limited electronics package includes power windows and mirrors, keyless entry with anti-theft system, automatic door locks and a button-operated a/c. The automatic door locks in our test A3 went crazy from the time we picked up the car. First all doors lock up and then they remain locked even when the unlock button on the driver’s side door is pressed while the car is parked. Picking up passengers required opening the passenger door by hand from the inside, like in the good old days of cheap cars with no central locking. On top of that, they kept locking and unlocking at regular intervals as we drove along, making whirring noises as they did so.
Well, we picked out a number of niggling faults in our test car. The A3 2.0 overall is a very comfortable upscale cruiser, but it is no sport hatch. Considering that a rear-wheel-drive, but ugly, BMW 120i or even a fully-equipped, but boring, Japanese midsize sedan can be had for the same money, Audi may be gambling with its Middle East pricing and limited options.
Dh 95,000-96,000Current Model Introduced in:
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