FOR LUXURY AND A ‘PREMIUM’ FEEL IN A SMALL PACKAGE, AUDI'S A3 HAS LONG BEEN THE DEFAULT ANSWER.
And it’s surprisingly affordable: pricing starts from $36,500 (plus on-road costs) for the A3 1.4 TFSI model. What we’re testing though is a $39,100 (plus orc) version of the same car, only with COD attached to its name.
Gamers will delight in the “Call of Duty” reference, but the name actually stands for “Cylinder on Demand”.
It means the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine can drop to two cylinders when cruising to save fuel. Claimed fuel consumption is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, down from 4.9 l/100km.
The A3 1.4 TFSI COD also gets 110kW of power instead of 92kW, and 250Nm of torque rather than 200Nm. The auto-only 1.4 TFSI COD claims 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds – 1.1sec swifter than its non-COD relative.
Let’s see what all that means, and if luxury can really mix with economy and performance.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $39,100 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/250Nm 1.4 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.7 l/100km | tested: 7.7 l/100km
The Audi A3 is the German brand’s best-selling model in Australia. Sales of the premium small car soared by 20 percent in 2015, to 5443 units.
Audi, BMW and Benz all play from around $40,000 for economical entry-level hatchbacks, but each requires a hefty massage of the options list to feel ‘premium’.
Our A3 1.4 TFSI COD asks $46,740 (plus orc) – just have a look at the options below, and we’ll discuss what you may need, and probably won’t require, in the next section.
- Standard equipment: cruise control, dual-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats, auto on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 5.8in colour screen with Audi Music Interface connection, memory card input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and eight speakers
- Options fitted: $2790 Technik Package (7.0in screen, 20Gb hard drive, satellite navigation, voice control, digital radio, 10 speakers and automatic park assist), $2000 Style Package (17in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights), $1800 Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam, forward collision alert)
- Cargo volume: 380 litres minimum, 1220 litres maximum
The Audi A3 offers value that can’t be listed on a specification sheet. Not a single rival for around $40,000 can match the consistency of its plastics, the detail of its surface textures and the tactile appeal of its controls.
From the way the knurled silver climate controls rotate in the hand, to the defined ‘click’ of the infotainment controller, this small Audi carries an elevated sense of quality compared with rivals.
However, while the basics are standard, sat-nav should be included – it’s not.
And the screen is only listed as ‘high resolution’ when you option the 7.0-inch monitor instead of the standard 5.0-inch unit – although both slimline displays glide electrically, effortlessly from the centre of the dashboard.
Even our heavily optioned example lacks electrically adjustable front seats with heating (another $2200, bundled with keyless auto-entry and auto-dimming rear-view mirror) that would help take the price of our test car to almost $50K.
At least the assistance package ($1800) offers advanced safety technology, such as the ability to find a parking spot and then steer itself into it, or to nudge the steering wheel to prevent lane wandering.
Place aside the options pricing gripes, and the A3 returns to impressing with its beautifully ergonomic ‘Multi Media Interface’ radio/nav/media controller and roomy rear seat with standard air-vents.
The Sportback bodystyle is almost wagon-like, and that contributes to an excellent 380-litre boot aided further by split-fold rear-seat capability.
An alternative is to choose the stylish sedan, which reduces rear headroom somewhat and also has a narrower loading entry. Cargo volume increases to 425 litres, although folding the rear seats boosts that figure to only 880l versus 1220l for the Sportback.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 110kW/250Nm 1.4 turbo petrol inline four
- Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspensionr: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 11.0m turning circle
- Towing capacity: 650kg (unbraked), 1400kg (braked)
Audi takes from Volkswagen Group its engine and transmission technology, so the 1.4-litre turbo and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic near-mirror the drivetrain available in the Volkswagen Golf (which costs around $8k less).
Outputs are identical to the Golf 110TSI Highline, but it lacks the ability to switch down to two cylinders when cruising to help save fuel.
Not that you’d notice the transition of the A3 1.4 TFSI COD to twin-cylinder operation. The process is subtle and entirely unobtrusive – identified only by a ‘two-cylinder mode’ reading on the trip computer display.
Its on-test consumption was 7.7 l/100km; impressive considering a heavy urban bias.
This Audi’s drivetrain is very suave. It is beautifully smooth, superbly responsive and the transmission flicks instantly between gears.
With peak torque delivered from just 1250rpm (and maintained until 5000rpm), the A3 never really needs to rev unless you deliberately want to tap into its maximum power delivered from 5100rpm to 6200rpm.
It’s almost impossible to find a broader spread of outputs.
One gripe is that the engine torque can occasionally overwhelm the front tyres causing them to spin off the line, particularly in the wet.
Another is that the transmission can be prone to lurching slightly at really low speeds when gently lifting the brake pedal to ‘creep’ in traffic.
However, while the A3 was never known for its smooth ride quality, this latest model bucks that notion. It is beautifully plush and luxuriously compliant over almost any surface.
Only the optional 17s on our test car seemed to ‘clunk’ more over sharp-edged potholes than we recall of the standard 16s that have thicker (higher profile) tyre sidewalls, cushioning the bump.
The steering is fluent and pleasant, without being sharp, and likewise the handling is balanced and beautifully composed. It’s swift and alert, but not rabid; the hotter sports A3 models sit higher in the range.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A BMW 1 Series is the dynamic option, but it feels a bit spartan inside.
Despite snazzy looks, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is dour to drive unless you fork out $50K for the A250 Sport.
Don’t write off the Peugeot 308 Allure that closely rivals the A3 for interior class and comfy road manners, while the Audi’s cousin Volkswagen Golf drives similarly brilliantly for less, but it lacks interior quality for the price.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Audi A3 1.4 TFSI COD performs as expected of an expensive small hatchback. It feels premium in its appointments – particularly when optioned – and is a refined, enjoyable and decently powerful yet economical drive.
For around $40,000 there are sportier and/or roomier offerings. For around $10K less there are hatchbacks that drive just as well (308 and, ahem, Golf).
And almost every other competitor bar another BMW or Benz will be more generously equipped for the money.
That latter point takes some shine off what is otherwise an outstanding package. Thankfully, Audi dealers are known for throwing options in at no extra cost, but you shouldn’t have to haggle hard to get features that should be standard.
Our tip? Haggle hard, it’s worth it.