For Audi enthusiasts

05stage 3 a3 photo



26 September 2008

When you understand the fact that A3 owner Andy Johnson works at the corporate headquarters of APR, it may not be hard to guess just how he might choose to outfit his daily driver. Having recently purchased this phantom-like black-on-black 2007 A3 2.0T, Johnson was looking for improvements and his employer was looking for a car to demonstrate just how much potential there was in Audi’s smallest offering. The match was synergous: Andy got free mods for his car, so long as he didn’t mind engineering commandeering it for weeks at a time to perform development. It all seemed agreeable to Johnson, so the A3 was transformed and became a regular in APR’s arsenal of display cars brought out to enthusiast events where the Alabama-based firm chooses to show its wares.

No surprise – pop the hood of the onyx 5-door and its like perusing an APR catalogue. With ten years going of Stage III high-horsepower kits for turbocharged Audi 4-bangers, APR’s latest 2.0T Stage III provides a considerable power bump for Johnson’s five-door.

As you can guess from the name, Stage III goes a few steps beyond the run-of-the-mill engine management programming upgrades. Of course APR has tuned the software, but they’ve dialed it in to work with mix of hardware upgrades as well.

For starters, the A3’s turbo has been upgraded to an APR/Garrett Honeywell Ballistic Series GT2871APR Ball Bearing Turbocharger. It also gets an investmentcast inconel nickel alloy exhaust manifold, upgraded FSI injectors, uprated fuel pump, an APR designed larger cast aluminum mass airflow sensor housing with honeycomb style flow straightener, APR custom Silicone hoses, and an upgraded intercooler with almost three times the capacity of the stock unit. Also part of the Stage III kit, the car breathes more easily via a Carbonio derived carbon fiber intake that pulls fresh and cooler air from the fenderwell of the car.

Another optional upgrade for the Stage III kit fitted to this car is APR’s ‘Stealth’ full exhaust upgrade. That setup has since been replaced by APR’s latest RSC technology exhaust system – more on that later..

To help put the power to the ground, the car also gets a new Stage 4 Clutch from South Bend Clutch (SBC). Also firming up power delivery is an APR Torque Amr Moutn engine mount – minimizing drivetrain shock and slack.

APR has also made a model of finding strong development partners that accentuate the company’s engine-focused product line. Names like Koni, BBS and Michelin have all paired with APR, so it’s natural this part-time APR show car benefits from products of each of these partners. Konie 1150 threaded coilovers help keep the car stable in the bends, while titanium-finished 18-inch BBS REs are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 225/35/18 tires to help keep the car planted and pulling.

For what it’s worth, this black A3 has had a few other modifications on the inside. Johnson gets iPod connectivity through a Dension adapter, while a Passport Escort 8500 helps him stay away from Alabama troopers who may not be fooled by his stealth five-door.

A full-kitted APR 2.0T Stage III setup like the one on Johnson’s A3 is good for a claimed 385-hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The Alabama firm also claims a 12.84 second quarter mile at 111.71 mph, though they’ve had customers who’ve reported an even better 12.28 seconds @ 115.98 MPH.

Those are impressive numbers, but one of the most intriguing aspects of this particular 2.0T configuration is the drivability. A burbly Audi 4.2 overrun with torque at virtually all revs it is not, but this is also no high-strung tuner car. Power delivery and throttle are virtually OEM in their smoothness and refinement, and the speed comes on as deceptively as the forced-induction Audi RS 6 we recently tested.

As we putter around the college town of Auburn Alabama, APR’s Keith Lucas has his PR hat on and explains quite a bit about the company’s development process. Thanks to a three car Volkswagen GTI racing campaign by APR in the Koni Challenge, the company has had considerable access to former SPEED World Challenge Audi RS 6 driver Randy Pobst. Pobst, under contract with APR, has logged many miles on the brand’s new Stage III during its development on both road and track.

Around town man-handling would send the front wheels spinning with a howling screech that would most assuredly attract Auburn’s finest. The exhaust sounds cool, though may be a bit much for someone looking for a more OE-sounding setup. For that we’d suggest the company’s new Reflective Sound Cancellation performance exhaust. The latter features NASA-adopted tech – a baffle-free exhaust engineered to bounce sound waves into each other and effectively cancel out a considerable level of noise.

Out on the nearby highway, we can properly stretch the legs of the A3 and are truly impressed. Power builds low at (3300 RPM and pulls hard . My neck isn’t snapping like it was around town, but it is pushed back into the headrest firmly as I watch the speedo do its clockwise dance much faster than any A3 has a right to.

This car would be lethal off the line paired with Haldex and we mention that to Lucas – though the only A3 2.0T quattros for sale in the USA come this year and they’re an S-tronic only affair. Lucas responds with a smile.

Twenty minutes later we’re back at the shop and about to go out on our second test drive in an Imola yellow A3 – a usual daily driver of thecar owned by the company’s president Stephen Hooks, but it also serves as the company free-for-all where everyone that needs a car for some reason can get access to the keys of the A3 in an effort to drive up the mileage in a test of durability. The car’s got S-tronic, the very same Stage III setup as Johnson’s black A3 and is just as impressive. More importantly, the S-tronic car has also logged some 20,000 miles of testing with no problems yet experienced with the DSG unit or the clutches. Of course, it is front-wheel drive only, but good to know for those A3 owners with just two pedals.

That’s one hurdle down for those hatching out a Stage III A3 quattro in the backs of their head, but there’s still another that Lucas tells us they’ve already begun to tackle. Late last year Audi began producing A3s with the new EA 888 series 2.0T. The engine is different enough that APR’s Stage III setup will need to get a few changes. Prototype units are already being tested, though injector changes mean the kits will be limited to 340-hp on the newer and more capable stock injectors until a new solution has been developed.

For now, those with pre-EA 888 2.0T engines can get the off-the shelf APR kit for a cool $7,299, plus another $899 for the optional exhaust. It’s not cheap, but the cost per horsepower is actually quite reasonable and the refined drivability is hard to quantify. More importantly, it’ll transform an A3 or second-generation TT into a car that can hang with much more expensive S and RS variants from Audi while getting more than 35 MPG on the highway. To a car enthusiast, perks of the job don’t come much sweeter than this.

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