Do you really need a diesel to save fuel in this day and age? Audi thinks not, with the A3 Cylinder on Demand sedan. Paul Maric jumps behind the wheel to find out whether fuel use comes at the cost of driveability.
There's a lot to like about the concept of a sedan in a smaller body format – especially one fitted with an efficient petrol engine and classy interior. That's where the small, but big 2017 Audi A3 CoD sedan comes into play. It hits the mark for nimbleness, but also plays to the strengths of a traditional sedan format.
The refreshed Audi A3 range kicks off at $35,900 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level A3 TFSI Sportback with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, with the range extending all the way up to the manic $78,616 (plus on-road costs) RS3.
Featuring Cylinder on Demand (CoD) technology, the A3 TFSI CoD straddles the line between the efficiency of the entry-level 1.0-litre and the power on tap from its turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It hits the ground running with a $39,900 (plus on-road costs) starting price for the Sportback, with the sedan demanding an extra $1600 asking price at $41,500 (plus on-road costs).
CoD technology allows the A3 to shut down up to two cylinders during off-throttle and low-load conditions to help save on fuel use. It's so effective. it consumes just 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle. Also helping push fuel use down is the use of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.
From the outside, the A3 sedan – especially when finished in the Cosmos Blue colour of our test car – looks a treat. At first glance, this thing looks like it's worth a lot more than its sub-$50k asking price. That's amplified even further when kitted out with the S Line exterior package that adds chrome highlights and a body kit, asking only $2390 for the privilege.
An additional $2400 also nets you the Style Package, as fitted to our test vehicle. 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and sports suspension rounds out that offering.
The A3 sedan's proportions work particularly well and give the car a premium feeling when passed in traffic. Discreet badging also means nobody needs to know you haven't spent big on the more expensive 2.0-litre version.
It's the same story inside the cabin where quality and feel has been stepped up big time in comparison to its peers. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class feels a generation behind in this company thanks to sweeping clean lines and high-quality details like metallic air vents, a retracting slimline infotainment screen and LED interior lighting elements.
The addition of the Technik Package to our test car adds Audi's impressive Virtual Cockpit full-LCD driver display, a sports steering wheel and a navigation system with full functionality. Virtual Cockpit steps the game even further forward with technology that was only available until recently on TT, R8 and A4, and all for just $2900.
There's a lot to like about Audi's latest infotainment system. It uses a central knob with shortcut buttons to access various parts of the infotainment menus. An excellent voice recognition system also allows the full entry of navigation addresses and dialling of contacts with ease. It also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which further enhances functionality.
The sound system is also sensational. While the standard stereo offers six speakers, the optional 400W sound system increases that count to 10 and offers even more punch. But, audiophiles will want to go for the $1750 Bang & Olufsen stereo that delivers tremendous amounts of bass with crystal clear treble quality.
Visibility out of the cabin is also impressive thanks to an open glasshouse and expansive wing mirrors. Leg and headroom up front is excellent, but the same can't be said for the second row. It's fairly cramped in there for adults and getting in and out can be tricky due to a lower floor pan and an intrusive B-pillar. The A3 isn't a car you would want to spend a great deal of time in the back of.
Rear air vents are joined by twin in-seat map pockets and a second row that folds in a 60:40 split configuration. The second row also comes with ISOFIX anchor points, but lacks a centre armrest for rear seat passengers.
Cargo capacity comes in at a respectable 425 litres. The boot's fairly narrow entry and heightened lip means it could be harder to load wide items like a bicycle into the cargo hold. That's where the Sportback model may be a better choice.
On first glance the engine offers enough power and torque to get it by. Producing 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque, it sips just 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle. But, as you set off around the city, it becomes immediately obvious that it's let down by a hesitant dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
From a standing start with the engine switched off, it jerks a little off the line as it gets moving. In fact, we found it quite difficult to get the car moving from a standing start smoothly when the car exits a stop/start phase. Once it is moving, there's hesitation from the throttle before the car hits its stride.
The process of moving it off the line smoothly then results in more throttle input to catch up to traffic that has left the mark. The process can be helped somewhat by using the gearbox's Sport mode, which sharpens throttle response and increases eagerness of the line.
Once moving, the gearbox is great and offers timely gearshifts with plenty of punch. Steering wheel paddle-shifters allow the driver to manually shift gears at any time.
While the ride in standard A3 sedans is quite good, this particular car was let down by a firmer ride due to the optional 18-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension. That resulted in sharper reactions to potholes and bumps in the city and a slight tendency for mild kickback through the steering wheel over bumps under throttle from a standing start.
An electrically-assisted steering rack offers ample feel through the wheel and teams with the vehicle's drive modes to offer increased resistance as the car moves from Eco through to Dynamic. The wheel feels great to hold and the flat bottom portion of the steering wheel adds a bit of character to the driving experience.
With just a driver on board, the engine delivers enough thrill to have fun and is zippy enough through the city when the car is on the move. But, load three extra passengers in the car and acceleration drops off dramatically. In fact, it gets to the point where it feels quite lacking during acceleration and at times where you need urgent hussle.
We found the same issue during our recent Volkswagen Golf v Holden Astra comparison, where the Golf's 110kW engine was lacking the extra 37kW of power and 30Nm of torque available in the Astra. While this engine is great for fuel efficiency on paper, it falls down in the real world.
The end result was more throttle required more often, which in turn increased fuel use, with our average at the end of test sitting at around 7.5L/100km, around 50 per cent more than the combined claim.
Audi offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with 12 monthly, 15,000km service intervals. A pre-paid service plan can be purchased that covers the vehicle's first three services. The A3 comes in at a cost of $1680 over three years, which is pretty reasonable.
The Audi A3 CoD delivers a sound premium sedan package perfect for those people after a classy sedan without a big price tag. It does fall down on rear legroom, low speed driveability and a lack of zip with a full complement of passengers on board, but it makes up for it with sharp pricing, a stack of standard equipment and reasonable options pricing.
Like all cars we test, if an Audi A3 is on your shopping list, we'd strongly recommend a 24-hour test drive to make sure it meets your needs. You may want to check out the A3 2.0 TFSI if the CoD doesn't offer the amount of punch you're after.