2017 Audi A3 review

Audi's A3 has long been the segment leader in its class. Now, with an expanded range and a face-lifted update that is more than skin deep, can the A3 retain its place at the top of the pecking order?

Somewhere in Ingolstadt is an Audi product planner who probably has an ‘employee of the month’ plaque sitting on his desk in one of the hundreds of cubicles that no doubt make up the product planning department of Audi. This product planner, back in 1996, invented a new segment for cars: the 'premium A', a segment that Audi has dominated ever since with its A3 model.

Over three generations, Audi’s A3 has become the brand’s entry-level car for buyers wanting the luxury of a German-engineered car without the high price tag. Sure, the Audi A1 is smaller and more affordable, but its micro-car size plays to a smaller demographic, leaving the A3 to maintain its position as the company’s volume seller. And Australia hasn’t been immune to the lure of affordable luxury, with the top three cars in the small car over $40k bracket coming from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In fact, the Audi A3 is the brand’s highest-selling model in Australia.

Enter the 2017 Audi A3, ostensibly a face-lift on the previous generation but also offering a new entry-level model in an expanded line-up. The new Audi A3 range was unveiled to local media in Melbourne last week and first impressions are that potential buyers will be spoilt for choice.

Featuring three body styles and three engine variants that can be mixed-and-matched across the range, prospective purchasers have a choice of 10 variants. And leading the way is the new entry-level A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback, which hits dealerships this week with sharp pricing that will potentially lure even more buyers into an already competitive segment.

Starting at just $35,900 plus on-road costs, the 1.0 TFSI features Audi’s first three-cylinder engine mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, turning out 85kW and 200Nm of torque while sipping a thrifty 4.8L/100km of fuel. Unfortunately, with only one car available on test, CarAdvice wasn’t able to snaffle some time behind the wheel – but you can read about our first driving impressions on the car’s international launch here.

With the 1.0 TFSI proving as popular as the office lolly bowl (which is quite so), we contented ourselves with some driving time in two up-spec variants in the A3 range.

First up, we drove the A3 1.4 TFSI COD Sportback, and our first impression was good. Featuring a 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with 110kW of power and 250Nm between 1500-3500rpm, the some-time two-cylinder A3 is an assured small car. The four-cylinder unit strives for efficiency and will, under certain conditions, shut down the second and third cylinders leaving you with just two pots to get the job done.

Basically, at torque loads of up to 100Nm, and when coasting, the Cylinder on Demand (COD) system deactivates the two cylinders provided the engine speed is sitting between 1400 and 4000rpm. This technology no doubt helps the 1.4 TFSI reach its claimed fuel consumption of 5.0L/100km, although with some spirited driving through some of the Yarra Valley’s most inviting roads, we saw a figure of 6.8L/100km.

I did try to detect how obtrusive the COD system is and so attempted to drive to the parameters that would activate the drop in active cylinders. There was no discernible difference to the experience while coasting along, although I did detect a most minute moment of lag when accelerating as the two idle pots were called back to work. But, it’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch.

The seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission that sends power to the front wheels is all new in this range, and Audi has engineered the ratios to work at their most efficient. Short ratios low in the range ensure the car is already in third within the blink of an eye while the higher ratios are longer, providing greater push when acceleration is the required MO. The lower ratios are ideal for city driving, keeping the revs low and ensuring fuel consumption is kept to a minimum.

Of course, if you like to work your way through the gears while revving out the engine, you can override the default ratio settings by using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that come as standard in this model.

Whatever your driving style, the 1.4 TFSI sits on the road with aplomb, handling undulations and minor road imperfections with ease. That the car settles nicely after hitting bumps and body roll while cornering, let’s call it spiritedly, is noticeable but acceptable. One minor gripe, however, is road noise in the cabin – particularly with the 18-inch alloys our tester was sporting. It’s not loud by any stretch, but it is a touch louder than in comparable models we’ve driven and does spoil the ambience of the cabin just a little.

Which is a shame because the newly-designed interior of the A3 range is a statement in minimalism. From the uncluttered centre console to the easy-to-reach switch gear cleverly integrated into the dash, the interior offers an understated premium feel. A simple rotary dialler sweeps through the infotainment functions and is reasonably intuitive to use.

Additionally, there is an at-times frustrating function where you can input your navigation options such as destination simply by writing with your finger on the mousepad-like top of the rotary dialler. My first attempt at writing 'Airport' ended with the A3’s nav trying to send me to Airlie Beach. However, I suspect this had more to do with my woefully inadequate – at the best of times – handwriting than any inherent fault in the system.

The seats in the A3 are fine if not amazing. Our test car featured leather-appointed seats, with Alcantara seat and back with leather trim sections. They are comfortable with decent support although a lack of bolstering was highlighted during some eager cornering.

The Audi A3 1.4 TFSI COD S tronic starts at $39,900 plus on road-costs, although our test car was optioned with metallic paint in Tango red (a $1150 option) and the Style package ($2400), which gets you LED headlights including tail lights with dynamic indicators (they’re a neat development), 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension and interior inlays finished in titanium grey.

Our tester also featured the Technik package ($2900) which adds MMI navigation plus, Audi virtual cockpit, multifunction flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle-shifters, while the Audi sound system adds a further $500 to the bottom line. Opt out of Audi's sound system, and your music requirements will be met by Bluetooth streaming through an eight-speaker MMI audio system or, if you still use such things, via a CD player cleverly hidden inside the glovebox.

In total, the added options bumped our test car up to $46,850 plus on-roads, at which point buyers may want to consider the more powerful A3 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic sedan, which starts at $51,100 plus on-road costs.

We sampled the 2.0 TFSI sedan over Audi’s Yarra Valley test route and found it every bit as engaging as its smaller 1.4-litre sister. Replacing the outgoing 1.8-litre unit, this all-new turbocharged 2.0 four-cylinder petrol engine offers greater power and torque (140kW and 320Nm between 1500 and 4200rpm) than its smaller A3 stablemates, helping propel the all-wheel-drive sedan from 0-100km/h in just 6.2 seconds while sipping a miserly 6.1L/100km of 98RON fuel. We saw 7.7L/100kms over our test loop, which combined both urban and rural driving.

The seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission offers an engaging driving experience, especially when using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that allow you to extend the revs through the range of the slightly snarling 2.0-litre turbo. But even left to its own devices, the S tronic gearbox knew exactly what is demanded of it most of the time. During our time behind the wheel and while navigating a twisting and undulating 10km stretch of road, it never left me wanting, instead offering the perfect ratio for any given section of road. If I’m brutally honest with myself, it probably knew better than I did what gear would provide optimal performance.

With its sportier pretensions, the 2.0 TFSI offered an accomplished handling package without being over-eager. The suspension (struts up front and four-link with separate spring/shock absorbers at rear) mated to Audi’s excellent permanent all-wheel drive system, again offers the best of both worlds, remaining soft and supple over gentler city roads while also ensuring the car kept its wheels solidly planted over our more dynamic rural loop.

Road noise remained an issue, albeit a minor one, but it was again enough to detract from the ambience of the beautifully-designed cabin which was kitted out with the S line sports package (a $4200 option).

In fact, our tester was fitted with a number of optional packages that bumped the price to $62,650 (plus on-roads). Our Tango red metallic paint is an $1150 option, while the Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control including Audi pre-sense, active lane assist, side assist, high-beam assist and hill-hold assist ($1500). Black high-gloss exterior trim adds $900 while inside, the matte brushed aluminium inlays will set you back a further $500. Again, the Audi sound system is an extra $500.

The S line sports package is the biggest optional ticket item on this tester and its worth every cent of its $4200 adding S line exterior trim, S line interior sports package, Alcantara/leather upholstery, sports suspension with 18-inch alloys and a leather covered multi-function flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters. Our tester was also fitted with the previously outlined Technik package for a further $2900.

Audi offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty across the A3 range, while servicing intervals and costs vary from model to model. We’ll be sure to detail these when we cycle the entire range through the CarAdvice garage in the coming weeks and months.

We scored the new A3 range strongly on its international launch earlier this year and, having now sampled some of the range in Australian conditions, I see no reason to adjust that rating. The A3 is an assured car, offering premium German quality and an engaging driving experience at a relatively affordable price. It is the segment leader in Australia and this new update should see it maintain its place at the top of the pecking order.

And, somewhere in Ingolstadt, an Audi product planner will again look at that ‘employee of the month’ plaque with pride, knowing it acknowledges a job well done.

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