By on October 16, 2013

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As soon as I arrived at the rental counter in Stuttgart, I realized I’d made a fatal miscalculation. In the weeks and months preceding my trip, I thought the task would be easy – obtain two back-to-back rentals of vehicles that aren’t sold in the US. Simple. But that fickle foe of the flat-earth car enthusiast, globalization, had conspired against me. Turns out that despite my “premium class” upgrade, the EU-spec vehicles made from pure unobtainium that I’d reserved failed to materialize. Instead, my options in Dusseldorf – our first roadside waypoint on this European Vacation® – were limited to either a Toyota GT86 or an Audi A3 Sportback. Great, I thought. Two cars that, despite being sold in slightly different configurations abroad, were still known quantities back home. I went with the GT86 for the first leg because, well, I wanted to tear into it on the mother of all public racecourses, the Nurburgring. You can read how that went here. I also figured that in Stuttgart, there’d be a larger selection of rental vehicles to choose from, since the city’s slightly more populous and naturally the airport must be larger, too.

Whoops – the airport’s not larger. Less passenger traffic by half, as it turns out. In fact, the rental garage has only about a third as many cars as we witnessed in Dusseldorf, and not nearly as many interesting ones. Sauntering up to the counter, I am offered – a Toyota GT86. S#*%! After much begging and pleading my options open up to a Ford Focus diesel, a BMW 3-series, and…..an Audi A3 Sportback. Wonderful. Well, let’s take the car least like something we get in the US (for the moment) and hope it turns out to be interesting enough to write about.

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I say “the least like something we get in the US” because, for the moment, the US doesn’t get this car. Nor are we likely to ever get the 1.4TFSI-powered Sportback version I drove since, with 138 blazing ponies and front wheel drive, it doesn’t quite fit in with the upscale-techie-hip-urban-luxury vibe Audi’s been cultivating in this country for some time now, with moderate success. In Germany, you purchase this car when you’ve graduated from junior to lower-middle management and need the requisite notch up from your Golf to prove it. In America, I’m not quite sure who buys the A3. Not too many people, mind you, but some people. Probably the same people that used to drive Golfs and want more or less the same thing, but with a bit more cachet and a nicer interior. Such is the Audi A3’s raison d’etre, to serve as a cleanly styled and practical stepping stone to other brand purchases down the line, like the A4, A6 and (step on enough corporate throats and cross your fingers) A8.

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Anyway, I’ll dispense with the build-up and give you the car itself – in all its glory. It’s a nice looking thing, the third-generation Type 8V A3 Sportback. I always prefer a hatch to a trunk, so while the A3 sedan we’ll be getting in a few months isn’t exactly frumpy in its 15/16ths scale A4 sheetmetal, it’s just a bit too “been there, done that” for my eyes. Flinty headlights and requisite LED running lamps give the new car a more slimmed down, sleek appearance compared with the previous 8P-generation car. Inside, the Audi is a clear step up in both design and materials over its Mk7 Golf platform mate.

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Comfortable cloth sports seats (good luck ever seeing those again in a US-bound Audi) provided all-day comfort, while the rest of the major touch points in the cabin were all leather-trimmed. There’s a clear absence of buttons and clutter in the A3, with everything besides basic climate controls being handled via the MMI knob and motorized display screen. Everything functions intuitively enough and it’s a nice place to spend time; in traditional Audi fashion, the interior is likely to be the trump card for over BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors for many shoppers.

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Out on the road, the A3 continues to acquit itself quite well. Around town and trundling up to highway speeds, the 1.4TFSI builds speed smoothly and predictably, with little turbo lag or flat spots. Nor will it ignite your loins on the way there, with a quoted 0-60 time of around 8 seconds. Autobahn left lane velocities were achieved with much less fuss than in the Toyota GT86 – the A3 felt more composed at high speeds (130 mph indicated) than the Toyobaru did, with obvious care put into wind and tire noise suppression and overall stability.

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Granted, the Toyota got to those speeds more quickly, but once there, the Japanese coupe was far less happy. It’s one thing to “feel” the German-honed qualities of a car on pedestrian American highways and byways, but out where they are truly in their element, you gain a newfound respect for the difference in where engineering attentions are paid for the Audi versus the Toyota. It might not make a lick of difference in terms of long-term resilience or the ability to crack 200k miles without putting a dent in your retirement account, but at the very least, for regular Autobahn cruising it’d be hard to recommend the Toyota over the Audi.

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In terms of driving involvement though, there’s no contest. The A3 is as isolated as the GT86 is involving. Being that they’re not competitors, these differences are beyond academic. But it highlights an interesting quandary that cross-shoppers of the upcoming Mk7 GTI and FR-S/BRZ will face – what type of driving pleasure do they value? The damped responses and rounded edges of the GTI, a car that will cruise happily at 150mph all day long and take up a back road in stride, but leave the driver wondering whether all that ground he just covered was actually curvy or straight? Or a car that will strain every sinew in the hunt for more enjoyment and send all that feedback directly to its driver? It’s an interesting difference, and one I felt was worth pointing out.

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Unlike the GTI, the A3 is no hot hatch. Nor does it pretend to be. It is comfortable transport that’s as happy pootling around in congested urban centers and shutting itself off at every stoplight to save fuel as it is soaking up the autobahn at 130 mph. The perfect car for Germany, then, and a pretty damn good car for the rest of Western Europe and Asia. It’ll be interesting to see how that character translates when it makes its way back across the pond to the US. Hopefully the larger engines and heavier options necessitated by our new car marketplace don’t blunt the inherent “rightness” of the relatively basic version tested here.

 

2013 Audi A3 Sportback S-Line 1.4 TFSI 6MT (Mad-tite Euro Edition)

Base Price: 28,700 EUR

Powertrain: 1.4-Liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive – 138 horsepower, 184 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 31 mpg US

This vehicle was rented, insured and fueled on the author’s dime. Photos by the author.

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18 Comments on “Nurburgring Diaries, Part II – Audi A3 1.4TFSI Sportback...”


  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    We are getting the A3 sedan next spring in gas and TDI, but unfortunately no stick…lobby AUDI USA frequently and loudly and maybe enthusiasts will be heard!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    looked real hard at an A3 TDI hatch 2 years ago , loved the car, did not love the price , about 7 ,000 more than a Jetta TDO sports wagon, same engine, same tranny. yeah the audi was nicer, a lot nicer inside but not 25% nicer, took the Jetta wagon. I for one like having a car you do not see everyday here on the east coast, the A3 fits that bill nicely.

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      My wife has an A3 hatch. 2006 gasser with a lovely cloth interior. Happy to say that it got her 100k miles with little issue, and argubly far less issue that even my 2002 Tacoma did to the same point. I for a while had a 2010 Jetta TDI sportwagon, and I’m shocked that you’d say the interior on the A3 is nicer. I always thought the Jetta interior was nicer. For what it’s worth, the A3 was within pennies of the Jetta for cost when we bought them. I think we paid $24k on a $27 sticker for the A3, and $25k for a $28 sticker on the Jetta.

      that being said, the A3 has been a wonderful car over 100k miles. in the 11k miles I had the Jetta, I hated it more than any car I’ve ever had, except possibly that red 2010 Corolla. Oh, wait! I almost forgot! I didn’t actually own that Corolla, it was just the loaner car I had for weeks on end while VW kept trying to fix that mierable POS Jetta and it’s broken radio, broken seat electical connections loose front subframe bolts, broken sunroof, failed ABS, part throttle stalling, leaking turn signal light housings, tdi injector resonance thingie, occasional check engine light, failed window switches, and installing the bluetooth unit they lied about and said was already in it. Other than that, it was fine.

  • avatar
    Brick317

    Numbers seem to indicate that this is the same engine in the Jetta Hybrid

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I like the lazer-bright nature of the climate controls, but I find the rest of the interior very base model looking, and less than attractive. The vents look like cheap little AA battery powered fans from Target, and I hate flat-bottom steering wheels.

    But I do like the exterior, it’s tidy and not garish.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    We drove an A3 in Germany a few months ago also. It took us a whole half hour to figure out the intricacies GPS, but the car itself was fine. I see by the GPS photo that you were in the neighborhood of Fussen. Did you make a stop at Neuschwanstein, or were you just passing through?

    Our car, a previous generation A3, was good, but just not very involving. My wife’s WRX, though not as refined, is more fun for the money.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I’ve had an A3 since 2008. When car shopping I was probably going to get a Subaru 5door but there some things I didn’t like about it, so I stalled. The website http://myproductadvisor.com recommended the Audi and after a test drive loved it. When I found a used one for a decent price I went for it and haven’t regretted it since. Well except for buying premium gas and expensive maintenance. My only other VAG product was a 1962 and a 1966 Beetle.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    It is interesting how speed limitless autobahns change several paradigms. A few years back I got a rental pedestrian BMW three series with an eight valve 115hp 1.8 motor, if that car was here in the US, you would say it was hopelessly low geared. At US interstate speeds the motor was already turning pretty darn high rpm’s, mid 3000′s I’d venture a recollection.. If I could have that same car USA I would want higher gearing. As it turns out though on the autobahn it was perfect because the car could achieve redline in fifth gear which was 125 miles an hour.
    This brings up another different paradigm of driving in Germany with autobahns, and that would be you will spend lots and lots of time with the motor at redline in top gear and at full throttle, a very alien operating parameter here in the USA.
    There is no doubt that lack of speed limits in Germany clearly really affects the engineering of their cars, and I would say for the better.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I had a similar experience with a MKIV Jetta with the “2.slow”. From a stop light or even a 30 mph roll, it might be the slowest thing I have ever driven. However, once it was up to about 65 mph, it had an inexplicable amount of passing power. Yet the gears weren’t obnoxiously short. If the engine was actually living at 3500 rpm, I didn’t notice (unlike the Mazda Protege I had). It was a surprisingly capable highway cruiser, despite the reputation of the engine.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Anyone who does not appreciate German cars really needs to drive one on their home turf. It becomes immediately obvious why they drive the way they do. You NEED that level of stability when you are in a construction zone in a lane narrower than you thought possible with a concrete barrier 6″ off your left mirror and a semi-truck 6″ off your right mirror. Then the road opens back up and it is right back up to an easy 135mph, and you might be at that speed for an hour or more. not a 3 minute white knuckle thrill sprint like over here… Then a car with Polish plates pulls out in front of you a bit too close and you find out why the brakes are so good too.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Hey, I just read that whole article based on a quick scan of the headline and am left thinking, where’s the nurburgerkingring action?

    [Yes, I know that was in the earlier article and you are now in a different part of the country, but I did read through to the last sentence expecting some mention of how the car did or did not handle the world\'s most famous car test track]

  • avatar
    Old_WRX

    Ah, cloth seats — always my favorite for comfort. Vinyl sucks. Leather doesn’t breath all that well. And, both are too slippery. But, you can’t get cloth here much anymore because of the leather = luxury (mis)perception.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i’ve driven a few of these of various ages, some turbs some n/a all auto (again i dont think they sell manuals here not than any of the high society types who buy them would ever shift themselves)

    they all struck me the same way…. smooth and quiet and supple at all speeds but rather lethargic at urban speeds

    i’d rather a turbo Cruze or something with more strike power around town

    but i had had an A3 up at 100mph+ and the really excel there (but tear up your license)

    i do like the looks of a manual A3 even one with only 138hp

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    31 mpg with runs up to 130 mph? Not bad…

  • avatar
    ukkelo

    A3 with 1.8 litre engine driving with all fours has proved been a perfect choice for an aged driver, showing its worth in slippery conditions in Finnish winters. It’s got the extra kick lacking from the 1.4 engine. A bit dull to drive as it goes precisely where intended without any fuss.


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