I'll get the easy bit out of the way: this is probably the "best" car I've owned, if you look at in a tot-up-the-scores, scientific kind of way.
Opening miles: 9,600 (July 2009)
Miles now: 18,600 (November 2010)
Average MPG: 29.2
Costs: Ł560 tyres x 4, Ł230 service & MoT, Ł350 detail, Ł240 car tax
Price: Ł15,000 (July 2009)
With a little one on the way, 5-doors was the sensible way to go when choosing my new car in summer 2009 - but I still wanted something practical around town and reasonably engaging to drive / own.
After quite a long search, I found a late 2006 2.0T Quattro S-Line Special Edition, which I found at an Audi franchise. Most A3s seem to be dark-coloured diesels, but this one bucked the trend with rare-ish Garnet Red paint, 2.0T lump and "Special Edition" S-Line spec. Loaded with Vienna leather, Bose, xenons, auto lights / wipers, armrest, roof bars and boot liner, I was ready to go!
My first impression was that this is the thinking man's 4WD Golf GTi. It's an easy drive and rewards gentle inputs with easy pace - the engine is just a peach. You can quite happily slot it into the next gear at a mere 1,500rpm (and my wife does) and it'll pick up quite easily from 30mph in 5th or 6th.
Having read the reviews, I was expecting a bone-crushing ride quality from the S-Line spec, but I was surprised by its suppleness and control. It doesn't really encourage enthusiastic driving in the way of proper hot hatches, but the Haldex system makes for some "interesting" moments, with 4WD launches and excellent grip on demand.
The first snows and deep frosts of winter 2009/10 hit just as we were embarking on a family Christmas road trip to our parents' respective places in the sticks. 4WD is one of those things you just take for granted and don't notice until you don't have it any more. With a tiny tot on board and no grit on most of our roads, I really cannot recommend Quattro enough. Even just in the boring old British rain it's fantastic to not have wheelspin, ever.
The interior is really lovely and has really made this a great car to live with. Most importantly, rear doors and comfortable seats have made baby feeding and general family duties a lot easier than they could have been! There are loads of thoughtful features like a reversible boot mat, shopping bag hook, rear sun blind and compartmentalised glove box. Then there are the more obvious luxuries: the feeling of total quality, a cracking Bose stereo and automatic xenon lights. All this makes it an excellent mile-muncher, as does the very reasonable touring economy (35+mpg on a Cornwall holiday).
Keeping the car to my pre-baby "detailed" standards hasn't been possible myself, so I "invested" in the services of Joe's Detailing (Just Detailing Services - Professional Car Detailing - JDs) in April 2010. Having a professional give the car a day's attention and a durable finish has really meant that a fortnightly wash is more than enough to keep the bodywork in top condition. It's not cheap at Ł350 a pop, but I'd think of it as part of routine servicing if the condition of your car is important to you.
The other "investment" I made was a Bluefin map. I've been running this for about 11 months and it really does make the car. In day-to-day driving, it's just as smooth as you'd expect the standard car to be...possibly with a slightly deeper exhaust rumble on start-up. But give it a little encouragement and the turbo sings like it never would with a standard map. Coupled with the Quattro drivetrain, it's a real 4 season performance car and shamefully quick in a straight line.
I had been sceptical about Audis in general for many years. Having owned and properly driven this one though, I'm pleased to report that I was wrong - or have my priorities just changed?! It's not at a dynamic level with the best hot hatches, but I am very very impressed with the aura and spread of capabilities in this car.
I'd love an S3 Sportback, but I just can't make it add up when I look at what I'd get for the extra outlay. Perhaps if I'd just bloody bought an S3 in the first place, then I'd never have known how good a mapped 2.0T Quattro is at a fraction of the price!
Audis seem to age well and I can see this one staying for a while. I'm hoping that it will be big eough for 2 kids when the time comes...