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2008 Audi A3 Test Drive Review

Picture of 2008 Audi A3

Do you value German engineering, tastefully restrained design, and the practicality of a hatchback body style? Then Audi has a car made just for you.

6.8 /10
Overall Score

Giving aspirational buyers on a budget a pathway to Audi ownership, the 2008 A3 is a compact 5-door hatchback available in 2.0T and 3.2 trim series.

For 2008, the A3 offers new wheel designs, an iPod integration feature, and optional rear window sunshades, while the 3.2 Quattro adds standard satellite radio and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A new Titanium Package is also available, adding a blacked-out grille, piano black interior trim, a black headliner, and larger 18-inch wheels.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

Reframe your Audi A3 vantage point from hatchback to wagon, and this upscale entry-level luxury car is instantly more appealing. After all, the term ‘hatchback’ carries the stigma of the econoboxes of yesteryear, while ‘wagon’ is ultra-niche cool with car enthusiasts. See? The design problem has been solved.

Speaking of design, a no-nonsense Germanic ethos guides both the A3’s exterior and interior styling. Austere even as Audis go, the A3’s muted cabin is nevertheless an artful collection of round reference points, consistent tones and textures, and genuine aluminum accents.

Performance

7/ 10

A turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard in the A3 2.0T, and it makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, the latter available from a relatively low 1,800 rpm. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, with Audi’s S-tronic 6-speed sequential manual automated transmission an option. S-tronic includes paddle shifters and downshift rev-matching for a more engaging driving experience. Official EPA fuel economy estimates measure 24 mpg in combined driving with the manual, and 25 mpg with S-tronic.

The A3 3.2 Quattro has a 3.2-liter V6 engine making 250 hp and 236 lb-ft, comes with a standard S-tronic transmission, and includes standard Quattro all-wheel drive (AWD). This version of the car costs substantially more ($9,000) and it also weighs substantially more, so if you don’t require AWD skip the 3.2 Quattro. Acceleration is only slightly quicker, and this model gets worse fuel economy, averaging 21 mpg in combined driving according to the EPA.

Either version of the 2008 A3 is relatively speedy, getting to 60 mph before 7 seconds have elapsed, and S-tronic is remarkably satisfying to actively use, even if it can feel unnatural when driven in fully automatic mode. The A3’s steering is light but delivers plenty of feedback, and the car strikes a terrific balance between ride quality and handling capability.

Form and Function

6/ 10

With a starting price of nearly $26,000, you’re paying mainly for the four rings on the A3’s grille and not for a substantial upgrade in terms of equipment. For example, while dual-zone automatic climate control is standard, leather upholstery is an option.

Of course, you can pay extra to equip the car with lots of features, commensurately inflating the price tag. The S-line option package adds sportier styling details and a sport-tuned suspension, while the Premium package equips the car with 12-way power-adjustable front seats and a long list of convenience features. Both packages include leather seats.

In addition to its V6 engine, standard S-tronic transmission, and AWD, the A3 3.2 Quattro includes S-line and Premium equipment, helping to justify its price premium. Options for the A3, depending on the model, include an Open Sky dual-pane glass sunroof, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity, a navigation system, and a Cold Weather package that installs heated front seats, side mirrors, and washer-jet nozzles.

Get inside the A3, and you’ll find somewhat snug but supportive front seats. High windowsills can make the cabin feel claustrophobic, but people who prefer a low, sporty driving position will like the sensation. Practical storage space is lacking, but the door-panel bins and the glove box are usefully sized.

Backseat room is downright cramped. This is not a good car for carrying passengers unless they’re children who’ve grown out of their car seats. And then, they will complain loudly about not being able to see out the windows. Given what a poor choice the A3 is for carrying people, the new side window sunshade option seems like a wasted effort.

What the A3 is good for is hauling cargo. Behind the rear seat, the A3 offers 19.5 cubic feet of volume when you stack luggage to the roof. Folding the 60/40-split back seat down produces an uneven load floor but allows the A3 to swallow up to 56 cubic feet of your junk into its trunk.

Tech Level

8/ 10

Right out of the box, the 2008 Audi A3 has dual-zone automatic climate control, a CD/MP3 player, and a decent 10-speaker sound system. As part of its long list of standard features, the 3.2 Quattro also has a 6-disc CD changer, satellite radio, and a Bose premium sound system.

Options include a navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone pairing for making and receiving calls, and a reversing camera that shows the driver what’s behind the A3 while backing up.

Safety

10/ 10

While the A3’s standard stability control and optional reversing camera are great for preventing a collision, the car’s standard dual front, dual front side-impact, and side curtain airbags help occupants to survive a crash. Audi also offers rear side-impact airbags as an option.

In safety testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2008 Audi A3 earns a Top Safety Pick rating.

Cost-Effectiveness

3/ 10

The Audi A3 is a niche-oriented vehicle designed for a specific kind of person. People seeking a fun-to-drive hatchback can get more thrills for fewer bills by choosing the brilliant Mazda Mazdaspeed 3, the redesigned Subaru WRX, or the iconic Volkswagen GTI. If the 3.2 Quattro is enticing, keep in mind the price tag puts the A3 into direct contention with more luxurious sports sedans like the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G35, and Audi’s own A4.

Still, the combination of German engineering and tuning with conservatively artful design and an eminently useful hatchback configuration could prove irresistible to a specific kind of buyer.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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