2009 Audi A3 Review – Compact, but capable sport wagon

Audi Expert Reviews

2009 Audi A3
>> Review by Peter Newton | >> Photos by Derek Mau


  • Taut and controlled handling
  • Roomy cargo for a compact car
  • Cool-looking LED DRLs
  • Just above average Bose sound system


  • Too few controls available on steering wheel
  • Sunroof cover did not fully block light
  • Trip/car computer non-intuitive
  • No iPod integration

Audi has long been the forgotten ‘other’ German luxury car brand- known, but frequently ignored. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have long held the premier positions in the pantheon of sports sedans and plush, if agile, country cruisers. Working hard to get out of the shadow of these giants, Audi has tried to show that they are equal or superior than their more popular rivals. This decade, they have had some success by using some pretty cool styling (see the TT) to show how they are different from their two big brothers. Notably, Audi share in the North American market has been increasing in 2009, largely due to their crossover SUV, the Q5 and the A5 coupe, so they have been doing something right. How has that carried over to the A3, their entry-level compact coach?

2009 Audi A3

Driving Impressions
I drove a top of the line 2.0T S-tronic Quattro, loaded with most of the optional packages. They do offer a 3.2T version with an extra 50 horsepower, which would have been nice to try, but I figured 200 horses with a turbo boost should provide some good fun for a small car like the A3. The extras drove the price up to a lofty $40K, but they did push the car into the luxury experience. The Bose sound system delivered a solid, but not exceptional music experience. The heated seats, Bluetooth® support and dual zone climate control were similarly expected on a car in this class. But the real boost came in the sport suspension with magnetic ride. I found that this small car offered some outstanding handling, with either the standard or the sport suspension modes selected. Combined with the minuscule turning radius, this car could challenge the Mini for the best go-kart experience (although it would be the most expensive and luxurious go-kart on the block).

The A3 I tested showed excellent workmanship with no detectable blemishes, either inside or out, thereby holding up the German reputation for quality workmanship. Lots of vinyl accented nicely with brushed aluminum and a fair amount of leather. All in all, it makes for an upscale minimalist décor in the cockpit that would make Dieter proud – severe but functional.

2009 Audi A3

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Most of my complaints have to do with the interior of this car. In all fairness, these can all be brushed under the hood of a very fun car to drive, and these are the little annoyances that I would either get used to or drive me to a fast trade-in. The basic controls were all there and easy to understand and access. The steering wheel offers only two embedded wheels to adjust the infotainment system — one for mode and one for volume. While simplicity sounds nice, two knobs were insufficient to really control the stereo systems options, let alone all the satellite stations. I found myself frequently stabbing at the center console controls to get to what I wanted to hear.

The Audi navigation system does provide the basics of navigation, but Audi’s Multi-Media interface (MMI) is similarly too spartan to easily or intuitively use all of the functions. I spent a fair amount of time poking though each screen and still wasn’t able to find all the information I was looking for. As a final note on the infotainment system, I was quite surprised by the lack of iPod integration on this class of car — disappointing to say the least.

Audi A3 interior Audi A3 cool air vent Audi A3 dual panel sunroof

The Open Sky sun roof was very cool and does provide an open feeling. When the sun was directly overhead and I wanted complete shade, however, the provided screen cover is only a mesh and unable to fully block the sunlight. The cargo space is sizable compared with most cars in the small-and-fun-to-drive category. There is lots of room to easily carry a bike or other oversize gear that just won’t fit into a BMW 1-series.

I found the drive on the A3 just slightly disappointing. While the 200 ponies with a turbo boost provide sufficient power to deliver a minor adrenaline rush, they lack the extra force to really put you back in your seat throughout acceleration. Other cars in this luxury segment can and do deliver that extra punch, which takes a slight sheen off of this model. The A3 remains a thrilling driving experience, especially in the sport mode. Gas mileage tanks, but the fun ramps up! And the S-tronic gearbox delivered smooth and rapid downshifting for quick passing acceleration. While in the standard drive mode, the gas mileage is quite respectable, even with my heavy foot. Observed gas mileage was 22 mpg. The ABS with brake assist quickly brought the small car to a complete, if not abrupt stop.

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  • Derek says:

    Thanks for the reality check Michele. Something to be aware of when it comes time to purchase a new car.

    FYI, I generally purchase used cars with service records I can review before buying. So far, I’ve been fortunate not to experience any major repairs with the cars I have owned in the past – both Japanese and European.

  • Michele says:

    Be mindful Derek, I have an 2007 A3 with 50,000km and in the last twelve months, I’ve had to bring it to the dealership for engine work. Their coil system broke down three times in less than a year. Needless to say, these unexpected breakdowns from a new car is no fun. I’m disappointed.

  • Derek says:

    The A3 TDI is coming to the U.S. and will reach showrooms beginning in November 2009. Clean diesel technology, excellent fuel efficiency, and superb driving dynamics – I think this will be my next personal car.

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