Audi has introduced a new twist to the hot hatch formula of a nimble chassis carrying a zesty engine and a do-it-all practical body shell — diesel. Once the relegated to chuffy Mercedes sedans and super duty pickups, today’s diesels are refined, clean, and ready for fun. The 140 hp unit in the Audi A3 may not seem like much, but its 236 lb ft of torque combined with a quick shifting dual clutch transmission keep it on the heels of its gasoline counterpart. In the real world where torque delivers the passing power, the difference becomes almost negligible. What is noticeable is the almost 10 mpg improvement in city and highway figures.
Of course the A3 has always been a premium model in this segment and even at five years young the interior design and materials are a class or two above the rest. The versatile four door hatch configuration makes daily use a breeze and even though the diesel may not be quite as ready to rev as its gasoline counterpart, you’re always having too much fun to notice. The secret is out, diesel is in. We hope the European 170 hp unit makes its way over here soon.
Differentiating characteristics: practicality, fuel economy, refinement with the necessary fun factor
When it comes to pure horsepower and quarter-mile times, there are definitely hotter hatches than the Volkswagen GTI. But the GTI competes for the ‘hot hatch’ title in a different arena; refinement. Don’t get us wrong, the GTI is no slouch in the performance department with its turbocharged 2.0 liter four-banger, but where the GTI really shines is from within. The interior accoutrement and level of luxury belong in a car twice as expensive, and the leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel looks like it should be in an Audi R8. The highway ride is hushed as a luxury sedan, and the versatility of the DSG transmission allows for spirited driving even if your spouse is not versed in the ways of manual transmissions. Then add in the practicality of a hatchback, 30 miles-per-gallon on the freeway and an MSRP of under $30,000 fully optioned, the GTI proves beyond a doubt that although underpowered against its competitors, it’s still hot.
Differentiating characteristics: interior space, excellent handling, the settled ride of a larger car, responsive Direct Shift Gearbox, fuel economy
Completely redesigned for 2009 the BMW 7-series continues to wear the crown of the luxury class. It’s the athlete of the bunch with handling that belies its size and weight. Underneath the hood beats BMW’s biggest and strongest turbocharged engine that offer effortless speed and refinement. Even the styling is now in harmony with its sport luxury sedan focus. None of its peers are close to making the driver’s seat such a rewarding place to be. The 7-series has all of the electronics and features expected from this class, but they don’t intrude the way they used to. BMW has returned to its roots where the experience is once again about the interplay between steering, chassis, engine and brakes no matter how much technology is in between.
So what about Rolls-Royce? Underneath the hood and throughout the body of the new Silver Ghost is plenty of 7 series engineering serving a different luxury mission. Perhaps that kinship and being able let go of the extreme luxury side of the market allows the BMW 7-series to focus on the driver and makes it our best choice in the luxury car category.
Differentiating characteristics: steering – ride – handling, refined and generous power, driver focus