2014 AUDI A3 REVIEW
What’s Hot: Great traction under power, pretty brisk when pushed.
What’s Not: Little steering feedback.
X-FACTOR: A zippy and compact package which borders on being genuine hot-hatch stuff.
Vehicle Style: Small luxury hatchback
Engine/trans: 132kW/280Nm 1.8 4cyl turbo petrol / 7sp twin clutch auto
Price: $45,500 (plus on-roads), $53,740 as-tested
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | Tested: 8.2 l/100km
This new version of the A3 hatch is Audi's fastest small car; that is, until the S3 Sportback arrives later this year.
It’s also the only small luxury car under $50,000 to have all-wheel drive - and it delivers performance that, not too long ago, would have easily classified it as a hot hatch.
Only the most determined of Audi anoraks will pick it from a 2WD A3 1.8 TFSI though, and really it’s only a few tiny 'quattro' badges that give it away.
Behind the wheel, though, the difference is obvious.
Driven the front-drive A3 1.8 TFSI? You’ll feel at home in the quattro.
Offered in the high-grade Ambition trim, the A3 1.8 TFSI quattro gets more heavily bolstered sports seats, leather upholstery, aluminium interior trim, foglamps, 17-inch wheels and the Audi Drive Select system.
The car we drove had two option packs fitted. First up is the Technik pack which adds nav, MMI touch, park assist and a rear view camera.
There's also the S Line sports package which brings 18-inch alloys, xenon headlamps, a sporty body kit, alcantara/leather upholstery, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports suspension and black headliner.
The S Line package imparts a much more athletic feel to the whole car and, in our opinion, is worth the extra $4200. But all up, the cost of options pushed the price of our tester from $45,500 to $53,740.
ON THE ROAD
Both are more powerful than the 132kW/280Nm A3 1.8 TFSI quattro (which itself gets 30Nm more torque than its front-drive sibling), but the Audi has the all-weather advantage of all-wheel drive.
From a standstill it will sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds, which is a shade slower than the 6.6 seconds of the A 250 and 6.4 seconds of the 125i - but a full half-second faster than the non-quattro A3 1.8 TFSI.
Audi’s done well here. Despite having less power and torque than the BMW and Mercedes - and a higher kerb weight - it’s still in the same ballpark as those cars when it comes to straight-line acceleration.
On the bigger wheels and tauter suspension of our S line equipped car, Audi has also done a fine job with handling.
Turn-in is very sharp and there’s little body roll when pushing hard. You do feel the extra weight of the quattro all-wheel drive (all up, the quattro is nearly 200kg heavier), but it’s not as big a handicap as you might imagine.
It doesn’t feel quite as nimble as the front-wheel-drive A3 1.8 TFSI, but you can jump on the power much earlier and let the quattro system sort out any traction issues.
Having this extra grip would certainly make it a much quicker device in wet conditions too.
Ride comfort is also quite good, especially relative to the firmly-sprung A 250 Sport. On the optional 18-inch tyres there’s a predictably busy ride on choppy tarmac, but bigger bumps are easily absorbed.
The A3 quattro's only real debit is in the steering, which lacks feedback. With the Audi Drive Select system in any mode bar 'Dynamic', the steering is overly assisted and much too light, while Dynamic merely serves to add weight, not feel.
It’s accurate and responsive, but it just doesn’t convey much information to the driver about what the front wheels are doing.
Tyre noise is also an issue. The slim sidewalls that come with the optional 18-inch wheels don’t help much in this regard, and on very coarse surfaces the tyre roar they transmit sometimes borders on extreme.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Restrain yourself when confronted with the options list, and the A3 offers a capable luxury hot-hatch package for less than $50k.
It might not be as quick as its competitors, but it certainly offers a better balance of space and comfort than its chief rivals, the Mercedes A 250 Sport and BMW 125i. It would be quicker in the wet, too.
It has the edge when it comes to interior quality, and the larger, roomier shape of the A3 Sportback makes it a more practical proposition.
Four adults will find the A3’s cabin to be very comfortable indeed, while the Benz and Beemer aren’t quite as spacious.
The base retail price is justified and appreciably lower than its rivals, and even with the S line sports package it still comes in under the $50k barrier.
Good buying? We reckon so.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- A3 Sportback - 1.4 TFSI - $35,600
- A3 Sportback - 1.6 TDI - $36,500
- A3 Sportback - 2.0 TDI - $42,500
- A3 Sportback - 1.8 TFSI - $42,500
- A3 Sportback - 1.8 TFSI quattro - $45,500
NOTE: The top-shelf S3 Sportback will arrive in December, priced at $59,900 plus on-roads.