Short Term Test Drive and Comparison: Audi A3 1.8T and 2.0T quattro

Back in March, I had the opportunity to drive an Audi A3 1.8T as a service loaner, while my S5 was in to get its summer wheels and tires put back on. My first impression of the A3 1.8T was relatively positive, with high notes being the new MMI Touch infotainment system and the 1.8T can pack a bit of punch for city driving. That said, it wasn’t all roses with the lack of oomph when trying to pass or moderate acceleration on the highway and the S Tronic transmission loving to hang on to low gears for a long time in S mode. I still really wanted to drive the A3 2.0T quattro to compare how much power the 2.0T packed and if the S Tronic transmission shift points were any better.

Audi A3 For The Love Of Audi
Audi Wilsonville – #ForTheLoveOfAudi

Fast forward two months and I got a chance to get the keys to a Glacier White A3 2.0T quattro from Audi Wilsonville for the Memorial Day weekend. Initially, my hopes would have been to get the keys to an A8 L 4.0T for one or two quick day trips. Unfortunately, another customer already had dibs on it and the A3 2.0T was the only other choice. Well, I take that back… there was a Q7 TDI wearing Black Optics available, but I’ll spare you my thoughts on the Q7 and most crossovers (hint: I despise crossovers and SUVs for various reasons).

Like the A3 1.8T that I got to drive, the A3 2.0T was equipped with the MMI Navigation plus package. The Cold Weather package that was included was not put into service due to the mild to warm weather that hung around almost all of the weekend. Every time I get to drive a newer Audi with Bluetooth audio streaming, I curse Audi for not including or providing a proper, OEM Bluetooth audio streaming option for the 3G MMI in my S5. That said, I didn’t really make too much use of the two SD slots that the MMI Navigation plus system afforded and found that the coin slots behind the MMI Touch knob to be perfect SD card holders.

Coin Slots Double as SD Card Holders
Coin Slots Double as SD Card Holders

On the way back home from Audi Wilsonville, I took the on-ramp to the freeway and used it to see how much of a difference two-tenths of a litre and quattro can make… and boy, they did! The extra two-tenths of a litre not only provides an extra 50 HP and 58 lb-ft of torque, it can also shave just under 1.5 seconds off of the 0-60 MPH time. The quattro set up also helped send the power to the wheels without the front tires slipping, even on dry pavement.

All of that gave the A3 a nice wallop of grunt off of the line and when accelerating to pass traffic at highway speeds. The feeling of turbo lag and delayed throttle response in the 1.8T is mostly gone in the 2.0T quattro. Within a few minutes of driving the 2.0T quattro made my thoughts about the 1.8T being a bit underpowered became that much more clear.

The A3 2.0T is also mated to an six-speed S Tronic transmission, though now with quattro all-wheel drive bits and bobs. It also seemed like there isn’t much of a difference between programmed shift points and S mode shifting behavior. In normal D, the transmission loves to shift into higher gears as soon as possible; while, in S mode, it will hang on to gears as long as it can even when not trying to accelerate further.

For instance, I can be cruising on I-5 between 45 and 50 MPH in S mode and the transmission won’t budge out of 3rd gear until I hit around 55-58 MPH. Having said that, switching between D and S modes is easy as bumping the gear selector back to get the transmission to shift to a more sane gear. The downside of having the engine running at 3000+ RPM is that the engine can get a wee bit noisy and clattery. We’re not talking about Subaru boxer or late-1990s Volkswagen TDI kind of clattery, but it isn’t quiet either.

Audi A3 Waiting to be Driven
Audi A3 Waiting to be Driven

For the 48 or so hours that I had the Audi A3, which is around 12 hours longer than I had the Audi R8 for my #WantAnR8 weekend, the A3 was driven around the Portland metro area as a grocery getter and for scoping places around the NW Industrial area for future photography spots. The jots over to NE Portland included a stop at Salt & Straw on NE Alberta to get a few pints of awesome ice cream and sorbet.

The A3 may not be a tiny city car like a Smart ForTwo or a Scion iQ, but it was still about the right size to squeeze into a few tight parking spots. Since the A3 did not include any parking assistants, be it parking sensors or auto-dipping side mirrors, the slightly larger than expected blind spots made parallel parking a wee bit hairy. Late on Sunday afternoon, I popped on over to the local Trader Joe’s to pick up some last minute groceries for dinner. When I got there, I noticed that there was a parking spot open next to a black Audi A8. Not only would create a contrasting pair for photos; but, it also reflects what I might have been able to drive that weekend.

Contrasting Audis: Black Audi A8 and White Audi A3
Contrasting Audis: Black Audi A8 and White Audi A3

By the time I got home, the estimated fuel economy was hovering between 24 and 25 MPG in a roughly 60% highway, 40% city driving mix. At no time was I trying to hyper-mile or gun for fuel economy; instead, I had the transmission in S mode for a good part of the time while in the city and kept the transmission in 4th or 5th gear while on the highway.

I spent most of the remaining hours on Monday doing a driving tour of Yamhill County, soaking in all of the beautiful wine country and farm land views. The A3 felt just about perfect with the suspension quelling some of the rougher small roads while not feeling floaty and disconnected. I was fairly surprised at how well the A3 2.0T quattro could take some of the curves on Wilsonville Road on the way back to Audi Wilsonville. The lack of standard flappy paddles kind of stuck out when going through a series of tight turns. The 3rd to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd changes were crisp and the aforementioned engine sounds actually fit in with the spirited part of the drive.

Audi A3 Instrument Panel
Audi A3 Instrument Panel

By the time I filled up the A3 with petrol and brought it back to Audi Wilsonville, the Monday wine country trek returned an estimated average fuel economy of 28.2 MPG. That’s not too shabby for a mix of spirited driving, leisurely highway cruising and a bit of stop-and-go traffic in Dundee (there’s no escaping stop-and-go traffic in Dundee).

Throughout the weekend, I only noticed the front tires slipping a bit when accelerating a bit aggressively from a dead stop before quattro kicked on. Both times, the road was a bit damp and the tires were pretty cold. In contrast, the front wheel spin-happy A3 1.8T had enough pronounced tire slippage/wheel spin to make clean, spirited launches hard to pull off. That also hampered the 1.8T a bit while taking sharp turns while getting on to highway and freeway on-ramps.

Audi A3 Round AC Vents
Audi A3 Round AC Vents

Something I had mentally noted while driving the A3 1.8T and sort of forgotten about until I sat in the A3 2.0T was the center display in the instrument display. The color display that is included with the MMI Navigation plus package seems to have a red hue to the white text and graphics. Although the display may not seem to be as crisp as the one that is used on my 2011 Audi S5, the red due caught my eye enough to make it look a wee bit out of place against the bright, crisp white of the tachometer and speedometer numbers. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, but hoping it is something Audi could possible correct in future revisions of the A3.

I had been considering replacing the 2004 Audi A4 3.0 quattro that my mom is currently driving with an A3 TDI (Sportback, please!), I really wanted her to check out the A3 while I had it for the weekend. She thought that the A3 looked quite nice and already is loving the looks of the TDI Sportback even more just based on the photos posted online. The only thing that she wasn’t entirely sold on were the looks of the round AC vents; but, she felt it was a lot easier to quickly make minor adjustments to aim the direction of the air coming out of the vents (compared to the ones in the A4). The only other bit that the A3 would have to have, in her books, is a dual-zone climate control and a rear parking camera. Dual-zone climate control is standard on the Premium Plus trim and the Driver Assistance package provides the camera for Premium Plus (standard on Prestige trim).

A3 2.0T quattro Monroney Sticker
A3 2.0T quattro Monroney Sticker

The A3 2.0T quattro, as configured, comes in at $38,540.00 with destination charge and before sales taxes (none in Oregon). That is a bit more than the advertised starting price of $29,990 for the base A3 1.8T Premium and is getting close to the $40,000 mark (or more for places that have sales tax). The reason why I mention the $40,000 mark is that one can buy an 2014 Audi A4 2.0T quattro Premium with MMI Navigation, Cold Weather and S-Line packages for around $2,500 more than this particular A3 2.0T quattro, once you include destination charges in the A4 pricing.

That extra $2,500 does buy you more rear seat room, a larger trunk and a more traditional quattro all-wheel drive setup. On the other hand, the 2014 A4 does not have the updated MMI Navigation with touch and the extra size and weight makes the A4 feel a bit more sluggish compared to the A3. The A3 also gets a nice leg up on the A4 in terms of fuel economy (24 city/33 highway/27 combined for the A3 and 20 city/29 highway/24 combined for the A4 2.0T quattro).

As far as comparing and recommending the A3 1.8T versus the 2.0T quattro, it would be hard for me to really recommend the 1.8T for anything but city, extra-urban and limited highway driving. The 1.8T’s lack of oomph throughout the “power band” and mitigating front tire slippage on damp/slick/wet road surfaces kind of deadens the overall driving experience. If you don’t need all wheel drive and don’t plan on having a couple of passengers in the A3 most of the time, the 1.8T should suffice.

Audi A3 Rear View
Audi A3 Rear View

The 2.0T quattro remedies both of those points and then some for a moderate price bump ($3,000) and you get just about the same fuel economy as with the 1.8T. That’s right, the 2.0T gets the same combined and highway ratings from the EPA (the 2.0T gets one extra MPG in the city). I think a lot of that reflects the underpowered and slightly overworked 1.8T engine in the base A3.

I’m really excited to see how the new A3 TDI sedan performs compared to the previous generation A3 TDI Sportback and the A3 1.8T sedan. I’m even more excited to see the new A3 TDI Sportback come over to the US next year, even if it doesn’t have quattro.

I want to thank Audi Wilsonville for letting me drive the A3 2.0T quattro for the extended weekend.

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