A New York minute with Audi’s elusive wagons
Summit Daily auto writer
New York – While the notion of driving in the Big Apple had always loomed in front of me like an exciting motoring challenge, the reality’s a lot closer to Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” than I’d expected.
The city’s roadways are absolutely terrible, pockmarked, potholed catastrophes – the recent “snowpocalypse” evidently didn’t help matters; throw in the utterly fearless and unyielding driving style of several thousand angry cabbies, $50-a-day parking and $13 bridge tolls and … I’d advise you stick to public transit. Fuhgeddaboudit, as they say.
And as the polar opposite of traffic in Summit County (though those ski weekends are getting nastier every day), it was also an interesting venue to stage part of a unique comparison between two similar but dissimilar Audi wagons.
What’s that you say – you didn’t know there were two Audi wagons, much less any remaining Euro wagons, save for the sleek Saab 9-3 and all them Volvos?
Rare as they may be, the Audi A3 and the Avant (wagon) version of the A4 still offer the added roominess and cargo capacity pioneered by your parents’ giant, wood-paneled station wagon. There’s even a third, the larger A6 Avant; Mercedes’ $56,000+ E350 and BMW’s $36,000+ 328i Sports Wagon round out the pack.
A3 is still the baby of the bunch, sleek and powerful, a speedy, stylish machine that might remind you of an upmarket version of the Volkswagen Golf. They share the same platform, so you’re already right.
The A3 has been available in America since 2005 and its underpinnings haven’t changed considerably in that time, though engines have been swapped out and the across-the-line “Singleframe” front grille and more prominent, protruding curb-level airflow treatments are now part of the package.
My five-door A3 hatch featured the regular 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder and a six-speed, paddle-shifted automatic transmission; A3’s other variation is the optional 2.0-liter, 42 mpg turbodiesel, Audi’s only current U.S. diesel offering, save for a diesel version of the gigantic Q7 crossover.
Generating 200 horsepower and almost 30 mpg, the gas engine still kept the little A3 rockin’ on both turnpike and tunnel, though the not-inconsiderable turbo lag meant I had to be extra-careful while flitting in and out of openings in traffic.
Oddly, the base 2.0-liter in the larger A4 I drove the following week here in Colorado has been reconfigured to offer 211 horses and 258 lb. ft. of torque, virtually eliminating lag and ridiculously butter-smooth, thanks to a new eight- (yes, eight) speed automatic transmission. Even with Quattro, and 500 extra pounds, it still had a leg up on the A3.
They’ll both do standard Audi wintertime duty – sticking to snowy roads like a magnet, with the right tires – and their interior creature comforts are practically identical, if not a little more glossily finished in the A4.
The A3 is also clearly more sport- (i.e. youth-) oriented, with comfortable but close quarters, especially in that short-legged back seat; the A4 Avant seemed practically cavernous by comparison, with 28 cubic feet of storage versus A3’s 19.5.
In the end, one’s choice between Audi’s smaller wagons might come down to money, and that’s a sticky issue, especially on a real estate level.
My A3, spruced up with navigation (absolutely irreplaceable while messing around in the East Coast’s convoluted roads), a double, “Open Sky” sunroof package and 17-inch wheels, was more than $35,000.
The larger, still well-equipped A4 Avant I drove, minus navigation and the optional 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang and Olufsen stereo (but still sporting upgraded 18-inch wheels, xenon headlamps and its own gargantuan sunroof), was just over $42,000.
A4 feels substantial and is totally one-of-a-kind in the Avant variation; A3 is wonderful but gets a bit spendy for a vehicle now competing with the Volvo C30 hatch, the BMW 1-Series and various, increasingly larger iterations of the Mini Cooper.
Next time in NYC, I’ll try to wrestle a Mercedes G-Class to duke it out. Here in Colorado, take the wagon you can afford and call it a deal.
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