ROAD TEST - A3 gets A plus

We get our calloused hands on a virtually new 2007 two-litre Audi A3 FSI Tiptronic, and suddenly aspire to join that elite group of scribes known as the Motoring Press.

The Audi A3 we’re testing is not a press car. Ours actually belongs to a para buddy who paid real big bucks for it. So we’re NOT going to do any wheel-spinning acceleration tests or tyre-smoking braking tests. No sir, no matter how much we want to do that, we’re going to behave!

Most beautiful
No more muted elegance and restraint with this one. The face of the new A3 smoulders with slanted headlight eyes, high cheekbone bumpers and the grill a full-lipped, sensual mouth. The back is sculpted hip curves, low shoulders, grooves and lines; all in all a most beautiful creature.

Amazing Features
The car’s full pedigree is Audi A3 2.0 FSI Ambition Tiptronic. It’s this last item on the A3’s List of Amazing Features that gets my attention. The Tiptronic automatic transmission has two modes – the normal DRIVE mode offers six forward gears with the appropriate ratios selected depending on accelerator pedal demand. The other mode is Tiptronic, indicated by a little notch marked + and – on the gearshift gate. This mode provides manual shifting, but without having to stomp a clutch or fling the gear knob all over the place. Just nudge it towards the + to shift up, and to the – for changing down.

The other Amazing Feature is FSI. This is Audi’s acronym for the high-tech direct fuel injection system. FSI constantly analyses the power demands placed on the engine and injects a measured charge of fuel directly into the combustion chamber a millisecond before ignition. The big benefit is enhanced fuel efficiency, and the driver’s reward is a big handful of exuberant throttle response.

Neat and unobtrusive
I say ‘handful’ because this Audi A3 is fitted with a neat and unobtrusive hand control device slung under the steering column by local firm Chairman Industries. The accelerator pedal is completely unobstructed and the brake arm is attached to the left side of the pedal so that the car can be driven normally by an able body.

Other Amazing Features that are standard on all A3 models include electro-mechanical power steering (as opposed to hydraulic) and four-link independent rear suspension. Audi describes the resulting performance as ‘complete clarity of handling’.

All A3s have anti-lock ABS brakes and some form of traction control. On front wheel drive A3 models like our test car, the traction control is called ASR, or Anti-Slip-Regulation. On the superb A3 2-litre Turbo and awesome A3 Quattro, it’s called ESP (Electronic Stability Control).

Unified traction control
ESP is a kind of unified traction control system which combines anti-slip, anti-lock control of individual wheels along with instantaneous engine management settings for ultra-stable acceleration and braking.

Hmmm… All this fancy safety equipment really takes the ‘smoking tyres’ fun factor out of test driving, doesn’t it? In contrast, Audi’s new racetrack-bred DSG twin-shaft gearbox is available on special order. It contains two clutches and is specifically designed for making ultra-fast gear changes without disrupting the power flow. So, um, do you think you’ll need to make ultra-fast gear changes anytime soon?

Well-sorted suspension
Driving the two-litre A3 is definitely going to stimulate your pleasure centres, wherever they may be. The six-speed box is a delight, providing ample ‘thrust’ in the low gears. The well-sorted suspension with ASR and four fat gobs of 16” Michelin rubber “clarify” the A3’s handling, with all-round ABS making everything stop when you want it to. If you mess up, the front and side airbags have intelligent impact sensors for maximum occupant protection.


Cabin access on either side is good, as the doors open very wide and seats are at wheelchair height. The driver’s seat height is adjustable. The door sills are quite wide, but not impassable for most quad drivers.

Would you?
The A3 is a three-door hatchback, so passenger access to the back seats is via the tip-forward front seats. Would you fit a wheelchair roof rack to this car? Not likely. It’ll mess up the aerodynamics and look like Cameron Diaz in a leg brace. So, no roof rack! Then where will you stow your chair? If a helper is handy, it can go in the boot with shopping and groceries on the back seat, or vice versa.

If you’re alone, the chair will have to go on the back seat. The owner of our test car is an agile para who takes no lip from life. She lowers the driver’s backrest flat, then hefts her folded Quickie chair over her body and onto the back seat, followed by the two wheels, then cranks the backrest up again, all in about a minute. The engine purrs then roars as the two-litre streaks away.

Dimensions

 

Length 422cm
Height 142cm
Width 196cm
Boot lid width 87cm
Wheelbase 258cm

Price (base model)R229 000.00

 

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