Our project cars from the past 12 months have leaned a little toward the expensive, so we decided it was time we took on something a little more entry-level. Last year was a great one for cars, sports cars, SUVs, luxury sedans and compacts. A slew of new VWs, a new Mini, and a Volvo hot hatch concept all contributed to fleshing out this latter segment in the last year, but our favorite compact still has to be Audi's A3.
For this project, we've teamed up with Penske Audi in West Covina, California, the newest jewel in Penske's nationwide dealership crown. The freshly built facility has been under construction all winter with the grand opening scheduled for April 1-no fooling. We've gotten to know the guys there pretty well, and we feel it bears mentioning they are genuine automotive enthusiasts. Along with offering a wide range of new and pre-owned Audis, Penske Audi also aims to be a one-stop shop for performance enthusiasts, where you'll be able to buy and install select aftermarket goods from a handful of trusted suppliers, among them future contributors to this project.
Our main goal will be building a street vehicle with improved performance for more exciting everyday driving. It'll also receive certain cosmetic enhancements we'll use to distinguish our A3 from the unwashed masses.For a suitable starting point, we deemed two options essential: a 2.0T engine beneath the hood, and the transmission formerly known as DSG (now called S Tronic) driving the gears. While the 3.2-liter V6 is awfully powerful for this application-you could even say overpowered-the 2.0-liter turbo engine will respond better to aftermarket tinkering. Besides, it's easier on gas. S Tronic is Audi's new label for the VAG six-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG). Different name, same tranny; it still kicks serious ass. Long-time readers will know it's probably our favorite technical innovation of the last five years. This is the one case where you can unequivocally say the 'automatic' is a more sporting option than the manual.
Audi A3s have been on American roads long enough to be purchased pre-owned. We looked at picking up a slightly used example, maybe a lease return. I performed a search for used A3s on Yahoo! Autos (which uses an Auto Trader search engine) and found nine of them within 50 miles of our Anaheim, California, office.
Keep in mind any A3 is still going to be pretty new, the oldest examples being just over a year old. And unless they've got hideously high odometer readings, they'll carry sticker prices close to the original MSRP. Most I found were in the upper-mid-$20k range. A brand-new, base A3 2.0T retails for a little over $25,000; a 2.0T equipped with DSG runs you closer to $27,000.
Unless a couple of grand really makes or breaks the deal, you may simply decide to buy new. That's the route we eventually went, particularly considering the dealership is the major project sponsor. To this end, Penske Audi West Covina located a brand spanking-new A3 at another network dealer in Arizona, 2.0T- and S Tronic-equipped. The other options were the Premium Package with leather-might as well be standard-and a panoramic sunroof, what Audi calls its 'Open Sky System.' We were initially indifferent to this feature, but we've come to like it. Given the metal panels are finished in brilliant Ibis White, the dark glass roof panels make for an interesting contrast, one we intend to play with as we install other aesthetic components.
Due to logistics and various other circumstances-one of those 'buy it now or be forever damned to wonder what could have been' type of deals-we'll be executing this project a little differently than we may have done otherwise. First on our list of mods will be installing a full aero kit. A body kit is usually the final thing to install, due to wear and tear associated with the car going in and out of various places, on and off lifts, jacks, etc., having other components installed. But Claus Ettensberger offered us a kit the week prior to SEMA 2006, and we jumped on it. After that, we'll tackle a few other minor cosmetic issues. Then we'll dig into the mechanicals, starting with suspension.