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James Deakin | profile | all galleries >> Cars >> Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo

I'm standing at the driveway of the St Regis hotel in Monarch Beach, where a Mercedes without the initials, "AMG" can look quite pedestrian, waiting impatiently to meet my date for the next 8 days. I was actually quite excited and almost did a self breath check for some reason. Just then, she appeared. Up the flashy driveway comes this wide mouthed Audi, with that gaping new grill that looks like it will devour any subcompact that gets in its' way, and the valets actually gather around. I circle it slowly, running my fingers along its taut curves, admiring its sleek lines and gorgeous set of bright xenon eyes while the porter fumbles with my bags. After trying desperately to get the second suitcase into the rear hatch, he settles on having to shove it into the back seat instead. "Bit cramped for luggage room, but what'll she do to sixty?" he asked, in a Californian drawl. "Somewhere around the low sixes, " I said, handing over a crisp 20 peso bill. "Don't spend it all in one place".

On take off, that claim actually feels conservative; the A3's acceleration is devastating by standards, which came in really handy considering how badly I tipped the valet. You can light up the front wheels without the annoying torque steer that usually comes along for the ride. There's 200 horsepower being fed directly into those sticky 17 inch tires up ahead, and thanks to Audi's awesome new DSG, or Direct shifting gearbox, it is all tax free! In other words, the gearbox is not robbing any of that goodness out of the engine. Comparing it to a Steptronic system, it's the difference between a typewriter and a Mac.

Even the SMG systems employed by BMW are no match, M5 excluded. The last SMG I tried before BMW's local test fleet dried up still felt like dial up compared to this broadband access of lightning quick gear changes. During spirited driving, the Audi rifles through the gears with such painful accuracy and precision, it killed any craving I had left for a traditional six speed stick shift. This is the first time I've ever felt this way about a (foot) clutch less system.

Introduced as an option a couple of years back in the 3.2-liter, TT roadster, the DSG uses a double clutch system that, in layman terms, already prepares the next gear before disengaging the former. The result is zero lag in between shifts, constant forward motion and supposedly better fuel economy as well. Shifting can be executed by simply leaving it in "D" mode, which automatically selects the appropriate gear for the conditions without intervention. The "S" mode spices things up considerably and holds the gears as long as possible, favoring higher RPM, which is particularly useful especially when you decelerate as you approach the apex of a corner without wanting the software to shift up to a higher gear on exit. Or, for real balls-out thrills, you flick the little paddles on the wheel and manually choose your own destiny. One corner at a time.

My test drive incorporated almost 3,000 miles through varied landscapes, driving surfaces, altitudes and climates. Not once was I able to outsmart the system or find fault in it. If it sounds like I'm gushing, it is, well, because I am. Seriously, it is that good. It is groundbreaking, just as ABS was in its time. Even though a lot of magazines tried to find fault in it, they were grasping; it has revolutionized braking technology. This is the next big breakthrough for transmissions.

The coolest thing about the system is it is so adaptive. Usually technology favors a particular style or benefit, but there's always a trade-off just like how auto transmissions were a God-send in traffic, but woeful on a clean stretch of twisties. With DSG, it behaves just like an automatic does, but flick a paddle and it knows you want to play. No need to select a special 'mode'. You override it whenever you feel like it. If you leave the paddles alone for 30 seconds, like when you approach a school zone or a traffic light, the thing reverts back to auto. Simple. Let's be realistic now. As much as I fancy myself as race car driver or master canyon carver, real-world conditions means you play for a while when it is clear, but revert back to auto pilot when things get mundane, or when it becomes unsafe to do so. I have never found a system that understands this concept until now.

But amazingly, the A3 sport wagon is about more than just its transmission. The 2.0 liter, turbo charged FSI, inter-cooled, direct injection engine also found underneath the hood of the latest A4, but mounted transversely here, revs freely, with a deeper, more masculine note than most four-bangers. It can be a little noisy on idle, but this car was born to run, so it makes no apologies for it. Peak torque is piled on from as low as 1,800 RPM, which means you get all the good news right from the word go, and the drive-by-wire throttle ensures that not a single bit of pedal travel is wasted. The engine is so cleverly mapped that the only lag you feel is the one that took you so long to get behind the wheel.

BMW must be kicking themselves. It should have been a fine drive on the twisted back roads leading up to the top of the sales charts, but then this happened. Good morning, Bavaria. This is your wake up call. And, just in case it went by a little too quickly for you, let me run it by you one more time: that fading set of taillights you can see disappearing up ahead belongs to your competitor, the awesome new Audi A3.

This was the type of blow you already knew was going to hurt even before Audi started swinging. But it was inevitable. For years now BMW has been lording it over the four rings with its' brilliant new 3 series and benchmark-busting 5, but, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Perhaps they were just caught napping, or simply reveling in the success of their new 3 series to even afford a simple glance in their rear-view mirrors whatever fact is, out of nowhere, comes this little pocket-friendly rocket that has turned their one series into yesterday's news. And now they've got their Xenon bulbs set on the lucrative 3-series.

Inside, Audi has really taken the war right to the doorstep of the enemy. It offers a classier, more involving interior than any of its European counterparts and the fit and finish, as well as cabin materials, are first rate. The 'Open Sky System' double sunroof. extends through the entire length of the roof, giving the passengers the added illusion of extra space. My unit was fitted with a mind blowing Bose system with Satellite radio that delivered uninterrupted, crystal clear, commercial free radio catering to every possible genre covering over 200 channels.

But nothing is perfect, right? So, let me skip to the stuff you won't find on the Audi website.

The four-wheel, independent suspension may be a bit too stiff for our local roads, but makes up for it with razor sharp handling and crisp responses to every input, whether steering or throttle. The only area where it gives a little back to the BMW is in the steering. It is, perhaps, split ting hairs, but the electronically assisted, speed-sensitive power steering loses a little bit of that communication that can really bring a drive to life. It is hard to discern, and even harder to explain, but it is similar to how photographers who shoot on film talk about a certain character or purity compared to digital.

The seats, too, albeit deeply sculpted and handsomely trimmed in black leather, lacked enough adjustments to dial in an involving, yet comfortable driving position. Mine was fitted without the power option, and the idea of putting a rotary knob as a way to adjust the angle of recline is downright cruel and should be banned. The amount of skin I scraped off trying to get my hand in between the B-pillar and the side of the seat while trying to rotate that silly thing to get comfortable could probably match Manny Paquiao's hands after ten rounds. Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. It does not belong in a car this cool.

In fairness, I'm pretty sure PGA cars will only be offering the power seats for local models, but if the A4 is the benchmark to go by, it still lacks the ergonomic appeal and comfort of, say, a Volvo. This won't be so apparent with smaller drivers, but anyone six feet or over will usually rub their knees on the center console, which can get a little annoying on long trips. I settled for pushing the seat as far back as it would go at the expense of a comfortable grip on the wheel. Lastly, the rear seats are best kept for emergencies or children with bad posture. They are flat and firm with very cramped leg room. It's good for luggage though.

But let's keep it all in perspective. You'll never hear anyone claiming they couldn't transport a fridge in their Porsche, so let's look at its core values. As a hot hatch, this thing is unbeatable for its price, prestige and performance. Considering its features, it gives a lot more than it takes. The profile does look a little too much like its' poorer relation, the Volkswagen Golf GTi, but it separates itself by giving its owner a little extra something in every single area.

Rarely does a car come along and win so much praise from so many people. In San Fransisco, while visiting some old friends, each one that had a crack behind the wheel came back with nothing but smiles. It is such a pleasant surprise, sort of like finding money in a dinner jacket you haven't worn for a while. It delivers V6 performance from sub-compact dimensions that can humble the homeboys in their muscle cars yet still manage to fit in the smallest car parks; it can take a weeks worth of groceries in the hatch and a couple of children you're not really fond of in the back seat, plus it can double up as a track day hero all while returning an average of 28 miles to the gallon. Not bad, huh?

Locally, there's no word from PGA cars on pricing or even if it will definitely make it over. Indent orders of course are a different story. This is a real pity because I think this car could be just the kind of kick start the segment really needs. In the US, prices start at $25,000. My test unit, with Navigation, leather, double sky roof, audio package and Satellite radio came in at just under $30,000.

PGA cars are obviously looking at the poor sales performance of the One series as their reason to procrastinate and are trying to peg their marketing plans around that. But Filipinos are fickle creatures, and as consumers, we're as difficult to profile and understand as a jealous mistress that skipped a dose Prozac. By example, if you went by demographics and logic, on paper, we should be one of the lowest volumes of cell phone users in the world. I rest my case.

This here is a wild card. It doesn't need to make sense. That's what Toyotas are for. I say, build 'em and they will come. And don't worry about the competition, this one runs its' rings around them.
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo
Audi A3 DSG, 2.0 Turbo