Feel the ride


Possibly the last generation of xenon headlamps illuminates the road ahead. The march of full LED lights seems unstoppable, especially for the Audi brand.
I cruise along a motorway as if I’d assume that this would be the favourite territory of this car but, given the good s-tronic automatic 7 speed gearbox, I really am looking forward to put the wheels on a twisty mountain road and feel how it will react.

Saturday afternoon, another day, the good occasion for the test.
I sit in the car with the right time necessary to discover all its secrets. Good “touch & feel” quality all around, that kind of “almost-perfection” you anyway expect and give for granted in a German-made vehicle nowadays.
This one I’m driving is possibly going to be the Europe-top-seller within the A3 range, a 1.6 TDI good for 105hp paired with the aforementioned auto s-tronic gearbox.

I have always looked at Audis with a prejudice because their unique “ability” of understeer as the road gets “alive”.
Whether older versions use to have a button to just turn off the ESP altogether, this latest model has the option to select a “sport” configuration, which should set the system in between the off and on positions, allowing the car to go mad but not bananas. And this is a good sign already.

The feel of an exceptionally well trimmed steering wheel sliding in your hands is unbeatable.
I finally set the lever in D and move away. The DSG seems to be the boss of the situation since the engine is just “there” to get the whole thing moving around.

With modern diesels we got used to focus more on the torque figures more than on the power peak so the 250Nm constantly available between 1500 and 2750 rpm are a reasonable figure to move the 1400 kgs machine around with agility within the city and on the motorway.

But what’s going to happen if you claim some fun from this everyday-almost-perfect vehicle?
A few more kilometres of motorway and country road before getting to the twisty mountain road course that will give an answer to my question.

First of all let’s see how it goes with the auto ‘box set on “S”. Here I often happen to not agree 100% with the logic inside the gearbox CPU but I really didn’t get the meaning of this one, holding all gears indefinitely, to times up to the redline set a 5000rpm, when the power peak and the torque distribution would suggest to play just around the 3000. And the sound as well. The noise is never really sporty nor engaging however it also becomes, together with the torque output feel, a little rough above the 3000rpm. So let’s forget about this “S” setting.

Better switch to manual, it’s a double clutch after all!

I’ve always appreciated these kind of automatics, especially because it firmly connects the engine to the wheels without any sloppy fluid messing around with my fun. Having said that I have repeatedly and clearly felt the engaging clutch sliding when using the manual option, always at half to full throttle from 3rd to 4th.
Possibly just a bug in the gearbox control unit.

Here I finally am, a perfect twisty road with an unbeatable landscape lost among the deep cliffs, the sea and the mountains.
Single click on the ESP button to set it on Sport, click to turn off the start-stop system as well and click to turn off the AC to “save” all available ponies.

The first corners introduce me to something unexpected.
It doesn’t understeer as the previous models used to. Straight from the begin the car feels very balanced.
The front wheels follow the instructions given by my steering with precision and stability, while the rear axle feels light enough to allow some fun.

I want to force the rhythm to find its limits, so I need to be very fluid between corners since the power just isn’t there.
Here, now, in this very moment I get to feel this car.
With agility and thus stability it dances between ups and downs, bumps, chicanes, apexes.
It is a very fluid and enjoyable experience what this not-sporty car is actually rewarding me with.
The breaks have a very direct and yet smooth response also because the fluid drive doesn’t really put them under excessive pressure.

The gear changes aren’t fast and the response-time to the selection feels even slower when the speed raises. But this doesn’t really bother the overall experience since the course mainly involve the use of only two gears, playing around with the torque and using the fifth only for the few straights.
The suspension compartment is responsible in good part for the fun, the ride is generally firm for the everyday use, even if this tested trim only sits on sixteens inches, so nothing brutal, but on these roads you can really feel the whole compartment working in harmony with the body.

Maybe it’s the new VW Group “MQB platform” everybody is speaking about, maybe it’s because of the many thousands kilometres of Nürburgring this chassis had to swallow before hitting production. At the end of the day what you feel while driving is an extremely balanced vehicle that marks a big step from its previous generations.
More powerful versions of this new A3 will possibly change few parameters in terms of enjoyment but this intermediate version will be the sales star and reward with a good everyday fuel economy.

It won’t give you the same RWD drive feeling of a BMW 1 Series but it definitely has all the qualities to be in the top of many new FWD compact cars. So I’d say that it feels “balanced”.

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