The new Audi A3 gains two extra doors and a slightly longer wheelbase. The Wheel Deal approves
What is it?
The new Audi A3 Sportback scores a longer wheelbase (58mm longer than its predecessor, 35mm longer than the current three-door model) and two extra doors for added practicality. Step inside and you will also notice slightly more head and legroom – good to know if you’re something of a people-schlepper. Yet despite this increase in size, the Sportback manages to keep mass down to a minimum thanks to the use of lightweight materials like aluminium and hot-shaped steel. In fact, if you really want to get technical, it now carries around 90kg less heft than its predecessor did.
At the moment Audi’s five-door A3 is available with a choice of one diesel (1.6 TDI) and two petrol (1.4 and 1.8 TFSI) engines. A third petrol unit, a pint-sized 1.2 TFSI, will be joining the ranks in August 2013. All, with the exception of the latter and that aforementioned diesel, can be mated to a six-speed manual or seven-speed S-Tronic gearbox.
How does it look?
Though not blow-your-hair-back exciting, the Sportback is a stylish and understated package that will appeal to people who, unlike Mercedes-Benz A-Class punters, don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention. Also, the presence of those two extra doors and extended MQB platform give this A3 an almost Avant-esque profile – something that I really like.
Step inside and you’ll discover a rock-solid interior that delivers class-leading build quality and beautifully straightforward ergonomics. Clutter has been burnt away to a bare minimum and all the switchgear is exactly where you’d expect to find it. Audi offers three distinct trim lines (S, SE and Quattro) that influence everything from the size and design of your alloy wheels, right up to the material covering the seats and specification of your audio system.
What I did find rather surprising is the fact that even entry-level S models ship standard with an MMI radio with a full colour, retractable LCD screen. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming plus a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel. Yeah, it seems that Audi is finally getting over their Scrooge Syndrome.
What is it like to drive?
Light-years better than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a direct competitor, I drove a few weeks ago. For although the ride is still on the firm side, the Sportback handles rougher tracts of tarmac with considerably more poise and polish. You never get that feeling that your spine is about to spear through the top of your skull, which is nice.
On our test route, a fast and flowing drive through the hills of Durbanville down in Cape Town, I was also impressed at how well this A3 handles. Just like in the Golf VII that shares the same excellent MQB platform, understeer is almost non-existent and feedback levels are high – attributes that allow you to attack corners with a very enthusiastic right foot. The SE specification cars even more so thanks to the fitment of a sports suspension system that reduces body roll and results in even keener reflexes.
These models also benefit from Audi’s famed Drive Select system that allows you tailor throttle and steering maps to suit your personal preferences. Though both the 1.6 TDI and 1.4 TFSI engines kick out more than enough power to dispatch with the daily commute, those of you looking for a little more excitement would be better off saving for the 1.8T FSI. Free-revving and torquey, it’s definitely my pick of the bunch.
Any special features?
Well if you are a fan of all things practical then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Sportback packs 380-litres of boot space. Flip down the seats and this cargo-carrying capacity is suddenly increased to an impressive 1 220-litres. Also worth mentioning – techno-nerds listen up – is Audi’s latest infotainment system: the range-topping MMI navigation plus with MMI touch. Available as an optional extra on all A3 derivatives, it sports a touch-sensitive rotary pushbutton that allows you to enter letters and numbers using nothing more than your fingertips.
Should you buy one?
Yes you should. A real class act, the all-new Audi A3 Sportback is an annoyingly good merging of understated style, useable performance and everyday practicality. In the past you could criticise the stingy equipment offerings on entry-level cars but now this is no longer the case as even ‘lowly’ S models come fitted with enough kit to keep you happy. Competitively priced and bolted to a five-year/100 000km Audi Freeway plan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-rounded premium hatchback.
The Facts: Audi A3 Sportback
Engine: 1390cc (1.4 TFSI); 1798cc (1.8 TFSI); 1598cc (1.6 TDI)
Power: 90kW at 5000rpm (1.4 TFSI), 132kw at 5100rpm (1.8 TFSI); 77kW at 30000rpm (1.6 TDI)
Torque: 200Nm at 1400rpm (1.4 TFSI), 250Nm at 1250rpm (1.8 TFSI); 250Nm at 1500rpm (1.6 TDI)
0-100km/h: 9.5-seconds (1.4 TFSI), 7.3-seconds (1.8 TFSI); 10.9-seconds (1.6 TDI)
Top speed: 203km/h (1.4 TFSI), 232km/h (1.8 TFSI); 195km/h (1.6 TDI)
Fuel Consumption: 5.3l/100km (1.4 TFSI), 5.6l/100km (1.8 TFSI); 3.8l/100km (1.6 TDI)
CO2: 123g/km (1.4 TFSI), 130g/km (1.8 TFSI); 99g/km (1.6 TDI)
Price: From R290 500 (1.4 TFSI), R339 000 (1.8 TFSI); R319 500 (1.6 TDI)
Sleek, Avant-esque profile
Practical and good to drive
The Swiss Army Knife of premium hatches
Not the most exciting purchase you’ll ever make
Um, we’d be splitting hairs