Daydreaming and I'm thinking of you

2006, Audi, A3

He stood in front of a podium, a projector in front of him, a big white screen in the middle of the theater. As he talked he drew, not talking to us, but to the drawing; as he talked we watched an artist bring a car alive, brush stroke by brush stroke. "As long as I could hold a pencil I've drawn. I used to draw drums, but when I was young my Father owned an Audi, I have always wanted to design Audis," says the Diplom Designer, Gary Taleek, exterior designer for the Audi A3.

Design is what sets one vehicle apart from another vehicle. In the bustling activities of life, there are few cars that make one stop and take notice, especially during rush hour traffic when you're on your way home from work after just picking up your children. It's the new front or the sleek side-look that catches ones attention when you have coffee in one hand and you're watching out the other eye for a stray intruder into your lane.

SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks cannot be easy to draw if you're trying to exude sporty or sexy, but Taleek has taken the exterior profile and made it look aerodynamic and sporty. The rendering, done in less than 10 minutes, shows the important aspects of the design; a sweeping roofline, strong haunches, melding of metal and design that can punch through the traffic at warp speed. The production vehicle shows the sweeping roofline with its fold-back sunroof and panoramic view from the top, allowing the kiddies to look up and tell you what that big billowy cloud looks, usually their favorite animated character at the time.

Styling is unmistakably Audi, with the large single frame grille charging towards you. The current DNA for the grille is a stylishly elegant horseshoe, or in Audi's case more like a bullshoe (no, they don't really shoe bulls, Virginia), and has been seen previously seen on the 2005 A6 and A4. Flanked by a row of headlights on either side and grand rectangular intake valves the front of the car is just looking for something red to charge.

The A3 is breaking new ground in an entry-level premium group that should have competitors such as their German rivals, BMW or Mercedes. The Audi A3 2.0 TU sportback five-door hatchback is available in three trim levels, 2.0 T, 2.0 T Sport and 2.0 T Premium, all riding in on the European Golf platform.

The Audi A3 2.0 T is front-wheel drive and powered by the new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pushing out 200 horsepower. Two transmissions are available on the 2.0 T: a standard six-speed manual or optional Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic.

The Audi A3 2.0 T Sport package costs only $1,800 but adds on features such as 16-spoke bi-color alloy wheels wrapped with 17-inch performance tires (all-season radials are a no-cost option), sport-tuned shocks and springs to tighten up the handling, and a roof spoiler and front fog lamps. Leather on the seat surfaces and sport seats with manual height adjustment add to the interior. After you have hurriedly dropped the kids off for a night on the town you can still check your makeup in the illuminated vanity mirrors. Alloy inlays and aluminum trim accent the interior and make the three-spoke steering wheel stand out just a little more. If you've got guests or just need to look at directions you can use your driver or passenger reading lights. The 0-60 on the sport is 7.0 seconds.

The Audi A3 2.0 T Premium package will run an extra $2,025 but the list is substantive. Leather seating surface is great for wiping off the little messes easily. Staying inside, a trip computer and light rain sensor with automatic dimming interior mirrors and a homelink garage door opener make life in and out of your car a little easier to maneuver. Inside the cockpit are alloy trim and that three-spoke steering wheel. A powered driver's seat with lumbar support is the easy sell. Outside, you get front fog lights and 16-inch spoke silver alloy wheels.

Optional must-haves are; an upgrade of the sound system ($900) with Bose electronics and an in-dash six-disc CD changer; a Cold Weather group ($700) with heated front seats, ski sack, heated windshield washer nozzles and heated exterior mirrors (the newest addition to the cold-weather package that I usually get just for the heated seats).

Ala Carte options include Audi Navigation ($1,950) and Navigation plus Sound ($2,850) (which is the upgraded sound system mentioned above). The "Mom I want to feel the air in my hair and dream" open sky sunroof will run you $1,100. Audi doesn't offer XM or Sirius like GM and Ford do, but for and extra $350 they will prep your car for satellite radio. I believe that if you have children you should do all you can to protect them and for a mere $350 you can add rear side airbags.

Safety features that are standard, for those folks with those kids dreaming in their chauffeur driven hatchback, include front and side-impact airbags for the front-seat passengers. All five seating positions get three-point belts with automatic pre-tensioners and an adjustable headrest; the front seat belts feature height adjustment, automatic pre-tensioners and belt-force limiters.

If you liked the 1.8 previous Audi engine you'll love the little 4-banger Audi has produced. Audi took cues from their R8 Le Mans race cars and combined turbocharging with FSI. A regular intake system has fuel injected through an intake manifold. Audi has their injector located on the intake side in the cylinder head, then the FSI delivers the fuel directly into the combustion chamber. The camshaft controls a high-pressure pump and there is a pressure reservoir that is shared by all cylinders. This is the same engine as the latest A4, but mounted transversely in the A3. What does this direct injection system mean to you? How about better performance, better fuel usage and less turbo lag. If you've never experienced the optional DSG take the Audi for a spin and see the nimbleness, especially when you're driving the hills off the Pacific Coast Highway. Zipping up the hills or passing someone at 40 mph were all easily done, without the need to put the pedal to the metal and pull yourself forward like you do in some of the competitors.

The four-wheel discs were more than enough in our stop and go drive. Combine that with ABS, EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), ASR (traction control system), MSR (engine drag torque control system), EDL (electronic differential lock), hydraulic brake assist and the ESBS (extended stability braking system) and it's hard to believe you're driving a $30,000 car.

This is not the first Sportback hatchback for Audi, it is the first time they have brought it to the United States. Europe loves hatchbacks and if you have a small family and love taking to the road or just having room to haul the kids and their stuff around you will love the Audi A3. If you want a more sporty feel get the 2.0 T Sport and for more luxury go for the 2.0 T Premium. The A3 combines the versatility of a small crossover SUV with the performance of a sport coupe-compact, packaged in Audi's elegant design and luxury specifications. The A3 is a good combination of sporty handling and performance and hatchback practicality all at an attractive price.

Available later in the 2006 model year is the A3 Quattro with all-wheel drive and the 250-horsepower 3.2-liter V6.

By Lou Ann Hammond

More Audi car reviews?

Images of the 2006, Audi A3

The rendering and the final product
The rendering and the final product
A bullish front for the A3
A bullish front for the A3
Plenty of room inside the A3
Plenty of room inside the A3
racing away in the Audi A3
racing away in the Audi A3