Monday, July 18, 2011

I love Zipcar...and the Audi A3

Audi A3 Zipcar
Fun fact about me - I live in the city and do not actually own a car. Instead, I am a faithful Zipcar subscriber, which allows me to drive about 15 different cars whenever I want. Zipcar pays for gas, cleans the cars on regular basis, and repairs the cars as necessary. Each car has its own parking space in a secure area. In many ways, Zipcar allows for more fun, less hassle, and significantly fewer costs than owning a car in the city. I know I sound like a Zipcar commercial, but it's true!

You may have seen a few Zipcars on the road - they are not the typical bland cars you'll find at Hertz or Avis (such as Toyota Corollas, Dodge Avengers, and Chevy Impalas). Instead, among the cars you will find are the BMW 3-Series, Volvo S40, Mini Cooper Convertible, VW Golf, and my personal favorite, the Audi A3.

I love everything about the A3, and I feel that the little sport-hatch doesn't get the attention it deserves. Recently I drove the A3 on a long trip involving a good mix of highway and twisty mountain roads; click through to see my impressions.


I had the pleasure of driving a 2011 A3 TFSI Premium 6-speed S tronic automatic, with front-wheel drive. In other words, the base model (plus a really cool optional panorama moonroof and grey meteor paint). Still, even this base model cost Zipcar a cool $32k based on my estimates. This rental had 20k miles on it and was in great condition, despite being "shared" by so many people. The engine is a smooth 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder with 200 horsepower. This model gets 22/28 mpg city/hwy.

Brand Recognition
The A3 has unexpected scarcity value - you do not see many on the road, so it gets quite a bit of head-turns from car enthusiasts and random onlookers. I think the reason why the A3 is often overlooked is because station wagons are still not perceived to be "cool" in the US (unlike everywhere else in the world). When I mention the A3 to friends who are in the market for a $25-35k entry luxury car, they usually scoff at me. That's a shame, because I wouldn't classify the A3 as a traditional station wagon - it's more of a notchback. It reminds me a lot like the first-gen Subaru Impreza wagon, which had a much more angled trunk than the larger Legacy. The A3 has plenty of space in the trunk for the average person, but has a much sportier side-profile than the more traditional A4 or A6 Avant.

Typically I prefer the European styled door handles you would find on the A4, but the touch of chrome on the top edge of each handle of the A3 makes these traditional ones work well. The headlight fixtures on this base model are not as spiffy as the LED ones on the Premium Plus model, but they are still up to par with Audi's current design language.

The wheels are nice, although plain-jane 5-spokes would look even better...

Ride & Handling
Now that I have driven a number of cars in this price range, I can honestly say the A3 is a blast to drive. As a former second-gen Saab 9000 driver, the TFSI engine has comparatively much less turbo-lag, and when the turbo kicks in, the car blasts off. I know that's a bad comparison, but it's the closest example of a turbo I've driven! The A3's engine is incredibly efficient, and I never felt like I was guzzling gas to make the car go fast (like you might feel driving an S6 Avant). The suspension is responsive but soft over bumps, and the car is nimble in stop-and-go traffic. On a twisty mountain road, the A3 had excellent grip, especially for this front-wheel (non-Quattro) model. Adding AWD would make the grip even more amazing.

The Interior
I realize that the A3's interior pales in comparison to the A4, A6, and A8, but who cares? I think it is awesome in its own right. It feels like a super-premium VW Jetta (in its better days...not the poor craftsmanship of the current model) but with the prestige of the Audi logo on the steering wheel.

The steering wheel controls are simple and convenient, allowing me to flip between Sirius XM radio stations and change the volume without taking my eyes off the road. And yes, the Zipcar comes with satellite radio, which is a godsend for long trips. Once you try it, you will never go back. The perfect reception and lack of commercials is quite pleasurable. The MPH is displayed in a digital display as well as the traditional dials, and the cruise control was very intuitive (once I managed to find the little stick hidden behind the steering wheel). The automatic dual-zone air conditioning is top notch. My favorite feature is the double paned panorama roof, which makes the car airy and bright. When the moonroof is retracted, it is as close as you can feel like you're in a convertible, without actually being in one.

One minor gripe I have to note - after the car sits in the sun for an hour or so, the metallic-covered shifter gets so hot that it will burn your hand. You can see the heat beaming down on it in the picture below...yikes!

The car has S-Line badges everywhere - on the shifter, on the sills, and on the exterior beside the doors. While these badges don't mean that the car has "S" level performance, it adds a touch of prestige to the car. Think of the badging as an equivalent to the Corolla S, AMG package on non-AMG cars, and Sentra SR - the upgrades are cosmetic only.

Door sill
Door panel
Utility / Final Verdict
I take the A3 grocery shopping quite often and find that the trunk and rear seats are perfect for hauling a heavy load. I could probably fit 10 decent-sized bags of food in this car (not that I would ever need to). Could I fit a kayak in the back? Probably not. Could I fit 5 kids in the back? Definitely not. That's where the Q7 would come in handy. But for the average guy (or girl) in the city or suburbs, this car is the perfect blend of fun and functionality. I would buy this car in a heartbeat, but thanks to Zipcar, I don't have to.


  1. I agree with everything you said -- this car drives nice and tight, is very responsive, and looks sharp! If I had the money, I would have a hard time choosing between this and the Volvo S60.

  2. Zipcar is a great way to test-drive cars before you buy. I love this little Audi. It is sporty looking and fits in anywhere - in the country or the city. Room for golf clubs but small enough to look good in a corporate parking space.

  3. If the seats fold just as well as my old mk v GTI, it won't just be golf clubs Warren. I moved Amelia's whole philly apartment with that little thing. Of course that was also the day before I killed it...accidentally!

  4. great review! Being from Brooklyn, Zipcars are hugely popular here.....but i'm a car enthusiast and like owning my own---but i love the A3 quattro so much that i just bought one. pics and a review here:

  5. @ iedei: Thanks - enjoyed reading your review as well. Very jealous of your car - you will have a blast!!

  6. @Archangel571: Tell us again how you "killed" your GTI.

  7. I think maybe you mean 'fastback' for the design description? A notchback is a 3-box type design like a sedan. Otherwise, I get what you're saying about this car. Tight, funcitonal and almost exactly as one might design their own upscale hatchback. It's a bummer that Audi has said they will NOT sell the hatch in the next iteration. Lame. Maybe reviews like yours will convince them otherwise.

  8. @ Pickles: You are right, fastback is a better descriptor here.

    I don't understand why the US doesn't like 5-doors! Maybe those '90s Buick Roadmasters and Ford Taurus wagons had something to do with it...haha. What a shame!

  9. I am with you on the Zipcar thing. Five years ago, I decided to let go of my Nissan Maxima that was causing me a great many headaches to join Flexcar (now Zipcar).

    Over two blissful years were spent riding my bicycle to work during the week and blasting out to the country on the weekends in any number of available Zipcars.

    After I got married, I caved in and got a car--a 2002 Volkswagen Passat. That car has now cost me over $2200 a year in unexpected repairs. I can't even pass emissions because the engine computer refuses to talk to any OBD-II scanners that the emissions places use.
    Apparently, that has something to do with the ABS module being broken.

    I am selling that car and going back to Zipcar, especially since they now have nicer cars here in Atlanta, GA. Boy, I can't wait to take that A3 out of town.

  10. @ BrokenSpoke: Thanks for the comment. That is exactly the same reason why I don't get a car - the headaches with repairs, parking, insurance, depreciation, gas, and the list goes on. You are definitely making the right decision to go back to Zipcar!