Revitalised with a fresh face, new lighting signatures, and revised specifications, the Audi A3 - the best-seller in the premium small car segment - introduces new engines, and a new transmission to keep itself fresh against recently updated competition from the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series.
With a sharp new face that follows the styling direction set by the larger A4 range, improved connectivity, and entry level pricing that’s bound to prove popular the A3 range looks set to continue its momentum in Australia, with hatch, sedan, and cabriolet models all revised at the same time.
Vehicle Style: Prestige small sedan, hatch, and convertible
Price: $35,900 - $72,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol, 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 140kW/320Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 213kW/380Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp maual (S3 only), 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.8-7.1 l/100km | Tested: 9.5 l/100km (S3 Sportback manual)
New for the A3 range is a three-cylinder entry-level model, which is offered exclusively in the Sportback bodystyle and gives the A3 range a lower starting point of $35,900. From there, all variants are offered with a choice of 1.4 litre Cylinder On Demand or 2.0 litre turbo petrol engines with the performance-oriented S3 running a more potent 2.0 litre engine.
Audi’s quattro all wheel drive can be added to the 2.0 TFSI model while the S3 features quattro as standard.
2.0 TFSI models also wear a Sport designation, while 2.0 TFSI quattro models are dressed in S-line styling, giving them a very S3 inspired look. New colours, new alloy wheel designs ranging from 16 to 19 inches, and an array of optional equipment including Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, LED matrix lighting, advanced driving assist technology, and upgraded interior finishes are also available.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim (1.0 TFSI), or leather seat trim (all other models), dual zone climate control, cruise control, leather trimmed steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, steering wheel audio controls, Xenon headlights or LED headlights (2.0 TFSI quattro and above), auto lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera
- Infotainment: 7.0 inch colour infotainment display, Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/CD playback, USB input, eight-speaker audio - optional premium audio, digital radio, and smartphone connectivity are available
- Cargo Volume: 380-1220 litre (Sportback), 425-880 litres (sedan), 295-320 litres (cabriolet)
Though little has changed from before, the A3 range still presents one of the most sorted interior designs of the premium small car class, with a clean minimalist look, high quality finishes, and a genuinely premium feel - even in the base model. The most obvious change inside is the adoption of a new three-spoke steering wheel design.
The 1.0 TFSI Sportback on hand during our preview drive was almost entirely option-free, apart from the addition of leather trim. But it hardly felt like a base model, with the same electrically retracting infotainment screen, dual zone climate control, satellite navigation, and colour instrument display as the rest of the range.
Available space in both the Sportback and the sedan is up to the task of carrying four adults in comfort, and five at a squeeze, while the convertible is a strict four-seater.
With the powered roof in place, the A3 cabriolet is calm and quiet, and even at freeway speeds with the top down it's easy for front seat passengers to maintain a conversation without having to shout. Optional seat heaters with neck-level heating took the chill out of a cool Melbourne morning too, making the A3 cabriolet a viable all-weather option.
Buyers familiar with Audi’s MMI infotainment controller will also notice that Audi has simplified its operation, with a two-button arrangement either side of the rotary dial which operates the same way as the Virtual Cockpit controls on the steering wheel, which is optional on all models except the S3 where it is standard.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.0 TFSI: 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol
- 1.4 TFSI CoD: 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- 2.0 TFSI: 140kW/320Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- S3: 213kW/380Nm 2.0 four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic (all variants), six-speed manual (S3 only), front wheel drive (1.0 TFSI, 1.4 TFSI CoD, 2.0 TFSI), all wheel drive (2.0 TFSI, S3)
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
The newest addition to the range, powered by a 1.0 litre three cylinder turbocharged engine is the vehicle that attracted the most curiosity. With 85kw and 200Nm, it undercuts the previous 1.4 litre entry level engine by just 7kw and yet matches it for torque.
From behind the wheel the 1.0 TFSI genuinely surprised with its on-road demeanour - it’s certainly not as swift as the more powerful variants, but it’s by no means shy when it comes to moving about smartly.
Best of all though, the three-cylinder engine is delightfully smooth in the way it revs and sounds, which is unlike some three cylinder engines that can become gruff when pushed hard. The Audi 1.0 TFSI is smooth and quiet throughout its rev range, and Audi is proud of the engine’s intelligent low-friction design which means it can achieve such high refinement without the need for internal balance shafts.
Fuel consumption from such a compact engine is also a highlight, with the 1.0 TFSI engine recording an official fuel use figure of 4.8 l/100km.
It, and all other A3 variants, are hooked up to a seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch automatic - a wet-clutch unit which takes over from the previous six-speed dual-clutch auto. The S3 offers both the seven-speed automatic, as well as a six-speed manual for added enthusiast appeal.
Audi expects the most popular variant to be the 1.4 TFSI CoD, (or cylinder on demand) engine which carries over from the previous models and offers a balanced 110kW and 250Nm but also features the ability to shut down two cylinders in low-load conditions to save fuel.
Another new engine to the range is the 2.0 TFSI, stepping in for the previous 1.8 TFSI. This produces 140kW and 320Nm and is available in both front or all wheel drive versions.
Its torquey nature makes it a breeze to zip about in, and the engine is so quiet and settled that it sets a new refinement benchmark. Front wheel drive versions tend to struggle for grip under heavy acceleration on slippery surfaces, but the quattro equipped cars simply stick to the tarmac and accelerate briskly.
While the rest of the range is hardly short on performance, the S3 is truly exciting. Deceptively quick, with a fantastic balance on winding roads, and a more active rear differential in Sport mode, the S3 sounds sharp, handles well, and, when equipped with optional magnetic dampers, manages to ride out harsh surfaces smoothly - even on 19-inch wheels.
The available six-speed manual for the S3 Sportback and sedan also opens up a new experience for owners, and though the finicky clutch can take a bit of getting used to, the direct and notchy shift gate, and closely stacked lower ratios give the S models a buzz of excitement that they were missing before.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The Audi A3 range scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2013
Safety Features: All hatch and sedan models are equipped with seven airbags, while convertible models feature five airbags. The entire range comes standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, fatigue monitoring, electronic traction and stability control, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera, and ABS brakes.
Optional adaptive cruise control, high-speed pre-sense front, blind spot monitoring, lane assist, and rear cross traffic alert are available as part of the optional Assistance Package.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Audi offers pre-paid service plans priced from $1680 for three years/45,000km to cover a the first three scheduled services. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply, contact your Audi dealer for full details.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Freshly updated itself, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class range is another upmarket take on the small hatch, with plenty of available premium features, frugal engines, and the lure of the three-pointed star on the grille.
For 2017 the BMW 1 Series range arrives with new engines, and offers the somewhat unique (for the class) experience of rear wheel drive dynamics, and though that does diminish practicality slightly it helps the 1 Series stand out from the small car crowd.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Though the changes to the front and rear styling of the A3 are only minor, they are in keeping with Audi’s constant evolutionary approach. The same goes for the interior; though there’s no landmark changes, small adjustments to the infotainment system, and the introduction of the widescreen Virtual Cockpit keeps the A3 fresh and functional.
Out on the road each of the available engines feel flexible, with the range-topping options providing the A3 (and S3) with genuine verve - hot hatch shoppers will delight in the slingshot acceleration and burbling noise of the S3 with the six-speed manual option adds a new layer of driver involvement.
But it's the 1.0 TFSI model that really charms; smooth, quiet, frugal, and feeling in no way basic, it's the right kind of entry-level product for a prestige brand, and should find plenty of buyers looking to step into something with a little more badge cachet than a mainstream model.