xochitl: (success)
[personal profile] xochitl
Why I love the Audi A3.

And yes, I know, the venerable folk at Top Gear have said only c*cks drive them, but still.

The problem with pretending to be a car reviewer is that my car repertoire is pretty pathetic. In terms of breadth and depth of experience both. In all, I've driven--hmm. Let's see.

* 1989 Ford Escort station wagon
* Late 1990s Ford Econoline van (through Times Square, hello street cred)
* Late 1990s Mercedes Benz something-or-other belonging to one of the most unpleasant celebrities I've had the "pleasure" to meet (this merits a story of its own, which I will share on request)
* Early 2000s Mazda Protege
* Early 2000s Ford Focus
* Mid 2000s Nissan Altima
* Mid 2000s Pontiac Aztec (cringe)
* Mid 2000s Nissan Maxima
* Mid 2000s Ford Falcon ute (grand total 4 minutes)
* Late 2000s Dodge Caliber
* Late 2000s Mazda 6 hatchback (grand total 7 minutes)

Not the list of veteran drivership. I can't even claim Playstation driving games. No Nurburgring for me.

So it will come as no surprise that I adored the A3. It made me happy in so many ways it's hard to express. There were two drawbacks, though: one, the brakes were the tetchiest I have ever encountered. I mean, seriously. "Oh hey I'd like to stop so I'll just plant my ERK--"

It may be that I've only driven crummy cars created for the crummy American market. But the ute didn't do this, and the Mazda 6 sure as hell didn't. All I had to do was simply contemplate touching the A3's pedal, and like a Segway it instantly interpreted my desires and brought the whole vehicle to an instant stop. I had my gall bladder stuck in my teeth. I actually had to pull off on some side street (on the left on the left on the LEFT) and adjust the seat to prevent my leg from being too coiled up, or I'd be hitting a virtual brick wall. I was braking with my ankle. Tippy-toes.

The second drawback: right hand drive. And the whole driving on the left thing. Honestly, I was all right within half an hour of driving, save the roundabouts ("stay left stay left stay LEFT") which have some pretty arcane signalling rules that change every two years so no one really knows what any indicator really means. Fortunately, the turn signal was on the left, so I didn't end up starting up the wipers every time I wanted to turn.

Once I got over the madhouse braking that made me look like I was stalling an automatic, and once I got over my mild "don't screw this up" panic at driving on the left, the Audi was...magnificent. It was motorway driving for most of the trip, which was fine; I'm trying to accumulate driving experience for when I get my Queensland license (I have yet to determine if I have to take the written and road test, or just the written), and just generally be comfortable driving if we rent a car and go somewhere for the heck of it.

The steering felt a little removed, which struck me mainly because it had to have been pronounced enough for my inexperienced hands to feel it, but I also think that can be attributed to how new the car was. New cars these days, with their new-fangled chips, learn their driver's habits, and then adjust to them. This backfires entirely in a rental. I'm guessing the car was still trying to "learn" its driver's style, not knowing the cruel trick that was being played upon it by fate.

Acceleration was fantastic, but the car I drove the most in my life was a 1.x liter four-cylinder station wagon (it is simple cruelty, putting that small an engine in something ostensibly a cargo vehicle), so I'd have to downshift just get any real speed up a shallow hill. Being pushed in a wheelchair would probably register to me as having more accelerative oomph.

The interior was leather, which kills me in weather like this. Yes, leather's awesome, but that's when you're not in a climate where your thighs can melt to car seats within 20 seconds, even with pants on. Surprisingly, though, the leather breathed better than I thought. Just good seat design? Matte finish made a difference? Damned if I know. And the seats were controllable over all axes. Except perhaps yaw. Those with uneven buttocks are out of luck. But the thing I loved the most was that I could tilt the flat part of the seat forward, relieving blood constrictions on the backs of my thighs. I don't know why it happens, but it sometimes does. And I think that also helped relieve potential knee troubles, too.

The mister was incredibly indulging of me during the trip. There's a little place called Mt. Tamborine that I'd been to once before with family, and it's a proper road that winds (fairly loosely--no hairpins) up the side of a mountain. Sixty kilometer detour? WHO CARES!

The particular Audi I drove is a configuration not available in the US, and I can't be bothered finding the Australian specs. But the cool bit was that it was a Quattro, which means it was all-wheel drive. Now, I'm no idiot; I haven't driven all that much in recent years, and I've certainly never driven a windy mountain road (hello, Atlantic coastal plains!). I didn't go crazy on Tamborine. But I sure pushed my boundaries. The Quattro system clings like a mutha; there were places where I should have rightly heard tire squeal, and not a peep. I had enough confidence to go faster than I honestly should have (though within the law enough so that my fine wouldn't be too exorbitant had I been radar gunned). The engine was happiest buzzing up and down hills and around curves, and the muddiness I felt on the motorways was gone on the mountainside. And it was a lovely engine noise, too, all smooth and light and tightly rumbly.

I even played with the dreaded flappy-paddle gearbox. Yes, this Audi was equipped with the Formula 1 wannabe flappy paddles of wankishness. I know, I know. I ought to just be driving a manual, since I know how, and that's what I grew up driving. Well, let me say this: either I concentrate on staying left and following the contradictory rules of friggin' roundabouts, or I concentrate on not trying to shift the door and remember that the stick's under my left hand. First proper driving foray in Australia was going to be in an automatic, for my sanity and for public safety.

The paddles...were awesome. Oh, yay. There was a bit more delay between pulling the paddle and actually getting the transmission to do what I'd asked, but I spent the steepest decline on the mountain braking solely with the engine, which made me feel all smart and competent and awesome and stuff. Oooh, I thrill just thinking of it now. Six speeds felt a bit much, but I'm used to American cars that have four gears and an overdrive but only because you snarked about it. My dad's hot rod has three gears, not including reverse. But six gears means you get the most out of the engine. It also means it has a narrower torque range than I'm accustomed to, but I don't recall having to deal with a madly spinning engine and little power. It shifted pretty well on its own, but like most manual drivers, I found myself getting vaguely annoyed in those moments when I wanted it to shift now no NOW dammit what's wrong with you?

All in all, a lot of fun, and a cool way to drive an upscale car that I will likely never be able to buy. Just how good is it? Well, comparing it with the other cars I've driven, it is clearly more refined, designed with better detail, more attention to the driver. --Though it did lack a cupholder, which just proves Jeremy Clarkson's point about Americans. Dammit.

But in terms of price-to-drivability? I'd probably be quite happy with a Mazda 3 or 6, to be honest, and I know I'd be happy with a Ford Focus, particularly if I could get my hands on one of the soupier versions. In comparison with the Merc, I'd take the Audi hands-down, but that's because the Audi was a sportback (by law cooler than a hatchback, apparently) and the Merc was a saloon and I'd much rather have that extra bit of carrying room. And honestly, I think the Audi drove better, but I did drive the Merc in midtown New York rush hour traffic and wasn't allowed to move the seat back to drive properly.

So, that was my adventure with the Audi. I enjoyed it very much, but if I ever were to buy something on the scale of an Audi, I'd rather wait a little bit. I think I'd prefer to try my hand at a used car first, something that you can't get in the US that easily, or at all. There are beautiful old Holdens knocking around that have no analogs in North America, and there are things like original Minis that are almost reasonably priced. Maybe an Alfa for real cred, particularly since I can actually fix it when it inevitably steams itself into uselessness at the side of the road. And there are truly obscure cars available as well, like Vanden Plas Princesses (an import from the UK). That said, it will be a while before we get a car, partly due to lack of severe need, and partly due to funds.

That doesn't stop me from daydreaming, though. And who knows what the future will bring.

And that's my Audi A3 review. Ha!
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March 2010

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