2013 AUDI A3 REVIEW
What's Hot: Stellar interior, generous equipment list in mid-grade models, grippy in corners.
What's Not: No rear cupholders, options can get expensive
X-Factor: Stylish, smooth drive and excellent value, the A3 Sportback is one of the best small luxos around.
Vehicle style: Small luxury hatchback
Engine/trans: 90kW/200Nm (1.4 TFSI), 132kW/250Nm (1.8 TFSI), 77kW/250Nm (1.6 TDI)
Price: $35,600 (A3 Attraction 1.4 TFSI) to $42,500 (A3 Attraction 2.0 TDI)
Fuel consumption (listed): 5.0 l/100km (1.4 TFSI), 5.6 l/100km (1.8 TFSI), 3.9 l/100km (1.6 TDI)
More equipment, more luxury, more performance, more efficiency and, most importantly, more affordable. That's the promise Audi Australia is making with the launch of its all-new, third generation A3 Sportback.
And more affordable it most certainly is.
The price of entry to the A3 range has dropped substantially, resting at $35,600 for the A3 Attraction 1.4 TFSI - line ball with the cheapest variant of the A3's chief rival, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
That's $4600 less than the previous base-model A3, and the new one comes with a twin-clutch automatic transmission and leather upholstery as standard.
Is it good enough to take on the A-Class, which is currently dominating the small luxury segment? After our first taste of the new A3 Sportback range at its local launch in Cairns, it's definitely got the right stuff.
In terms of design, quality and choice of materials, the A3’s interior is very hard to fault.
Sure, the entry-level Attraction grade misses out on a smattering of chrome highlights around the cabin, but it’s all bolted together solidly and virtually every surface has a premium feel.
There’s no shortage of soft-touch plastics, however if we had to single out something to complain about, it’d be the silver-painted dash and door trim on the base models - piano-black might have looked a bit more high-end than matte silver.
Audi’s MMI system has come in for a major overhaul, and every A3 variant now has a 5.8-inch retractable infotainment screen that sprouts from the dashboard.
The MMI controls themselves have also undergone an ergonomic re-work, with the major shortcut buttons for phone, radio, media etc. now being controlled by toggle switches. It all falls easily to hand, and is intuitive to use.
The software is also the latest version of MMI, and it’s ultra-slick in both appearance and function.
Opt for the MMI Navigation plus system ($2990), and you get three-dimensional maps as well as Audi’s MMI touch interface, cleverly integrated into the control wheel on the centre console.
Every model comes with supple leather upholstery but the seats in the base Attraction models could use some thicker side bolsters.
The sports seats however that come standard in the Ambition 1.8 TFSI and 2.0 TDI offer superb support and also feature extendable under-thigh cushions.
Thanks to a 58mm increase in wheelbase, there's more room for passengers. Headroom and legroom have improved, and rear kneeroom is more than adequate for adults.
There's no fold-down rear armrest as standard, nor are there any cupholders for backseaters. However, face-level air-vents for rear passengers are standard, as are bottle holders in each rear door-bin and a 12-volt outlet on the back of the centre console.
Boot space measures in at 380 litres, which is about par for the small hatch segment. The floor is flat and can be set at two different heights, allowing some under-floor storage.
Two shopping bag hooks are incorporated into the walls of the boot, and are welcome features.
Fold down the 60:40 split rear seatbacks, and there's a total of 1220 litres of storage space. There's also a netted enclosure on the side for small loose items, and a 12-volt outlet for things like portable fridges or air compressors.
ON THE ROAD
A3 1.8 TFSI
The immediate impression of the 1.8 TFSI is of the smoothness of the 132kW turbocharged petrol engine and the seamlessness of its seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.
It's quiet too, and as refined as you'd expect an Audi to be.
There's also little torque steer to speak of, and the electrically-assisted steering, though not terribly rich in feedback, loads up nicely in corners.
Roadholding is impressive on the standard Pirelli or Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres. The tuning of the MacPherson strut front-end and four-link independent rear provides abundant grip and body control.
(It should be noted that the 1.6 TDI - not available at launch - gets a less sophisticated torsion beam rear.)
For the third-generation A3, Audi has managed to strip out nearly 85kg in weight, and also redistribute it rearward.
Engine mountings have changed to put heavy turbocharger components closer to the firewall, while the engines themselves are tilted rearward. The front axles are now 40mm further forward than before, which also helps reduce the amount of mass overhanging the front wheels.
The bonnet and front guards of all A3s are now made from aluminium as are the front suspension uprights and rear bearing carriers.
What does it all translate to? A car that handles sharper than before and feels lighter on its feet. Lighter suspension components also enable it to ride smoother over large bumps, and we found the 1.8 TFSI's suspension to be comfortable on the standard 17-inch tyres.
A3 2.0 TDI
With 110kW, 320Nm and a torque curve that puts massive grunt down low in the rev range, the Audi's new A3 diesel variant is a very relaxed performer.
Loping along at just 1500rpm, the 2.0 TDI has no issue surging from 80km/h to 120km/h without dropping back a gear. If you ever need more than 3500rpm, you're probably driving too hard.
The diesel's six-speeder is just as syrupy-smooth as the seven-speed in the petrol models, and thanks to the huge reserves of torque, you don't notice that it's down one cog.
However, the engine note is a little gravelly just off idle, and the engine re-start procedure when the start-stop feature is active can be a tad rough compared to the petrol models.
A3 1.4 TFSI
As the $35,600 headline-getter, we were curious about how this car would drive.
We were also curious whether there were any tangible improvements in the engine. Even though the A3 1.4 TFSI's engine is a clean-sheet design compared to the outgoing 1.4 turbo, its 90kW and 200Nm outputs are identical to the engine it replaces.
It's got an alloy block though, and, thanks to a raft of other effiency improvements, it consumes even less fuel than before.
Out on the road, it's certainly not quick. However it's got a fatter torque curve than before and that makes it an easy engine to live with around town.
The seven-speed trans helps it make the most of its modest outputs, too.
One thing we did notice was an abundance of road noise in all models, no matter what tyre or wheel package was fitted.
The roads along the test route in and around Cairns are paved with very coarse asphalt however, so we'll re-assess road noise once we've tested the A3 on more familiar roads.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The third-gen Audi A3 launches at an interesting time. The current generation of the BMW 1 Series launched just last year, and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class - which arrived in the first quarter of 2013 - have been selling up a storm since.
The appetite for small luxury hatches appears to be growing.
At $35,600, the entrypoint to the Audi A3 range puts it line-ball with the Mercedes A-Class.
From our first experience of the Audi, we'd say the newcomer has the edge in terms of interior quality and equipment.
But look further up the range to find the true winner, the A3 Ambition 1.8 TFSI. Best engine, secure handling and a more generous spec list, for just $1300 more than what the last-gen Attraction 1.4 TFSI sold for.
We'll be putting the new A3 range through the road-testing wringer soon, including a back-to-back test against its rivals from BMW and Benz.
If you're looking at getting a proper luxury car into your driveway for not much coin, there's no shortage of compelling choices.
The new A3 is certainly one among them.