What's New for 2008
There are no major changes for the 2008 Audi A3. Satellite radio and an auto-dimming mirror are now standard on the 3.2 model, while iPod integration and manual rear sunshades become available on both A3 models.
Like George and Weezy, Audi's entry-level A4 has been moving on up ever since its arrival more than 10 years ago. Back in the 1990s, this entry-luxury compact was big on value thanks to its low $20Ks base price, but today a bare-bones A4 hits the register at more than 28 large before even the most basic options are selected. Thankfully, there's a more affordable way to get in on the Audi ownership experience: the 2008 Audi A3 compact hatchback wagon.
Slightly smaller than its pricier sibling, the A3 is now Audi's least expensive car. Although it has been on sale in Europe since 1996, U.S. buyers didn't get a crack at it until the second-generation A3 arrived here for the 2006 model year. This delay has been attributed to Americans' general dislike for hatchbacks and wagons, but with gas prices and environmental awareness rising (not to mention the A4's price), Audi gambled that its versatile luxury hatchback could win a few converts.
As such, the 2008 Audi A3 is a bit of an enigma. In terms of body style and base price, one could cross-shop it against performance hatchbacks and wagons like the Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 or Subaru WRX. At the same time, the A3's Audi badge puts it into consideration with other entry-level luxury cars, and only the Volvo V50 and Saab 9-3 SportCombi come close to being direct competitors.
Therefore, the A3 should be considered an alternative to both segments, but realistically, only those luxury buyers who can live with its highly compact hatchback layout will find it truly appealing. If you're one of those people, and you can steer clear of the A3's pricey options list, the base A3 2.0T is a pretty good bargain considering its lively performance and handling and high-quality interior. The 3.2 Quattro is a different matter, as its additional standard feature content causes it to start 8 grand north of the 2.0T. In that price territory, we can think of a lot of other entry-level cars -- BMW 328i, Infiniti G35 or Audi's own A4 2.0T -- that would be more satisfying to own.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Audi A3 is a four-door hatchback/wagon offered in two trim levels: 2.0T and 3.2 Quattro. The numbers refer to each trim's engine displacement, while Quattro is the name of Audi's all-wheel-drive system.
Standard features on the 2.0T include 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, one-touch power windows, a trip computer and a 10-speaker audio system. There are a number of packages and stand-alone options available as well. The "S line" Package provides a sport-tuned suspension, foglamps, sport seats with leather upholstery, aluminum interior trim, unique front and rear fascias and a roof spoiler. The Premium Package also includes some of the S line's items like leather upholstery and foglamps, but adds a 12-way power driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers and HomeLink.
The 3.2 Quattro includes almost all of the equipment from the S line and Premium Packages as standard. Satellite radio is also included. Options on both trim levels include bi-xenon headlamps, a dual-pane sunroof, a navigation system, a manual rear sunshade, Bluetooth connectivity, iPod integration and a cold weather package that includes heated seats, windshield washer nozzles and exterior mirrors.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive A3 2.0T is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Blessed with a usefully broad power band, it propels this A3 to 60 mph in just 7 seconds. The 2.0T's standard transmission is a six-speed manual, and Audi's S tronic (formerly "DSG") sequential-shift automated gearbox is optional. With its rev-matching downshifts and lightning-quick gearchanges, the DSG is one of the best F1-style gearboxes currently available, and it offers all the convenience of a regular automatic transmission. Fuel economy is pretty good with this engine as well; the 2.0T with S tronic gets 22 city/29 highway mpg for 2008.
The A3 3.2 Quattro features a 3.2-liter 250-hp V6 that comes paired to the S tronic transmission. Although the 3.2 Quattro's standard all-wheel drive will be an asset for those who face slippery driving conditions, the heavier weight of this A3 means not much is gained in performance; the sprint to 60 mph takes 6.8 seconds. The A3 3.2 Quattro gets 18 city/25 highway mpg for 2008.
A wealth of safety technologies is standard on the A3, including front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and stability control. Seat-mounted side airbags for rear passengers are optional. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2008 Audi A3 earned ratings of "Good" (the highest possible) in both the frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like all Audis, the A3 features a well-crafted cabin with superior build quality and solid materials, though the furnishings aren't quite as nice as those of the more expensive A4. Styling is classically German, with straightforward buttons and controls -- a simplicity some may find preferable to the more complicated, expensive Audis. The excellent steering wheel with its built-in S tronic shift paddles fits the driver's hands perfectly, as does the leather-topped shift knob. The interior's total volume is actually equal to that of the first-generation Audi A4 wagon, and with a maximum cargo capacity of 56 cubic feet, is just 3 cubes shy of the current A4 Avant. Still, most will find the backseat short on legroom.
Whether you choose the 2.0T or 3.2 Quattro, brisk performance is at hand for passing and merging maneuvers. When the curves come up, the 2008 Audi A3's electromechanical steering does a superb job of quelling vibrations and kickback without marring feedback. In typical Audi fashion, the ride is comfortably firm and the A3's handling is just as sporty as its larger siblings'. The junior Audi's well-tuned suspension keeps the car buttoned down in the turns, even as midcorner pavement imperfections try to knock it off line.