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THE AUTOMOTIVE COLUMN

Audi A3 offers all the benefits of a good compact

Introduced in Slovakia in September 1996, Audi's new A3 model is a premium compact class car. It offers all the benefits of a compact, including good fuel economy and maneuverability, with the performance and power of a larger model.
Buyers of the A3 have a choice of four engines: the 1.6 liter (74kW/101 bhp), four cylinder with aluminum block and variable intake manifold; the 1.8 liter, five valve unit (92kW/125 bhp); the 1.8 liter (110 kW/150 bph) turbocharged unit with 5 valves per cylinder; and the more economical 1.9 liter TDI (66kW/90bhp). This reviewer drove the 1.9 liter TDI. Audi's direct-injection turbocharged diesel technology (TDI) improves the efficiency of the combustion process and decreases fuel consumption.



Introduced in Slovakia in September 1996, Audi's new A3 model is a premium compact class car. It offers all the benefits of a compact, including good fuel economy and maneuverability, with the performance and power of a larger model.

Buyers of the A3 have a choice of four engines: the 1.6 liter (74kW/101 bhp), four cylinder with aluminum block and variable intake manifold; the 1.8 liter, five valve unit (92kW/125 bhp); the 1.8 liter (110 kW/150 bph) turbocharged unit with 5 valves per cylinder; and the more economical 1.9 liter TDI (66kW/90bhp). This reviewer drove the 1.9 liter TDI.

Audi's direct-injection turbocharged diesel technology (TDI) improves the efficiency of the combustion process and decreases fuel consumption. According to Audi representatives, the TDI engine provides fuel economy that is up to 15 percent better than conventional secondary-chamber diesel engines and up to 30 percent better than petrol engines.

In its early stages, the TDI technology produced plenty of noise under the hood. Audi engineers, however, have developed a surprisingly quiet diesel engine. It still gurgles and clanks, but it's a muted and more refined gurgle and clank.

The A3's engine offers good pulling power and is capable of getting the driver out of any tight situations on the highway. Not once did I experience that dreadful sinking feeling one gets when the accelerator is punched all the way to the floor, but the car doesn't respond with an energetic kick.

Acceleration is strong and smooth. If squealing your tires is a necessary part of your driving experience, the A3 provides plenty of juice to satisfy this need. The A3 handles nicely, taking corners tightly and responding quickly when needed. Steering is crisp and there's good driver-to-road sensitivity.

All engines are supplied with the standard five-speed manual gearbox or for an extra charge, four-speed automatic transmission featuring the Dynamic Shift Program.

The A3's ride is fairly comfortable and stable for a compact, even on long treks. My right knee, however, found a disturbing part of the center console to knock against during the test drive. The back seat does not provide adequate leg room either; two adults would be quite cramped. The car won't let you forget it is a compact.

The interior cabin is smart, smooth and stylish. The instruments and switches are all simple to understand and use. Night driving is enhanced through illumination of the instrument panel with a spiffy red glow.

I never warmed up to the A3's exterior styling. The stylists' efforts to incorporate design samples of bigger Audi models into the A3's lines leave the car with an unfinished look. The rear of the car is especially in need of some rethinking.

Attraction, Ambition, and Ambience stand for A3's three different versions offered to accommodate customer preferences for design, materials, colors, and equipment. Standard equipment on all models are 15-inch alloy wheels, full-size driver and front passenger airbags, anti-lock brake system, fully-galvanized body, electric windows and outside mirrors, central safety locking, and an adjustable steering wheel.

The A3 complies with safety standards everywhere in the world, as well as with forthcoming EU legislation. Passengers are protected by a rigid occupant zone, high impact energy absorption capacity at the nose end, and an efficient restraint system. Side airbags for front seat passengers are also available.

Porsche Slovakia, Audi vehicles' importer in Slovakia, already has sold 12 A3s in 1997; last year it sold 21. "In Slovakia, the A3 is not a volume car because it has only two doors, and it is expensive for its category," said Marta Kučerová, Porsche Slovakia's marketing and public relations manager. Nonetheless, there is an eight to twelve week waiting list for the A3. "The car is very successful in Germany and other Western countries," Kučerová added.

Jeffrey Jones is editor-in-chief of the Central Europe Automotive Report.

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