The 2013 Audi A3 Sportback introduces the five-door version of the German car maker's small car and launches at a useful time when a plethora of luxury hatchbacks are hitting the market.
Audi has been making the A3 since 1996, but it wasn’t until 1999 that a five-door version became available. The more practical five-door versions went on to dominate and become the volume sellers in most markets. So much so that Audi Australia is importing the new A3 range as a five-door line-up only.
Based on the Volkswagen group’s new MQB platform, so far known to underpin the soon-to-arrive Volkswagen Golf, Seat Leon and the next generation Skoda Octavia, the Audi A3 takes the natural position of being at the very top of that list. With lightweight components used throughout the subframe and chassis as well as better weight distribution and many other modifications, the company has aimed to make sure the Audi A3 is more than just a Golf with a different dress.
From the outside the new Audi A3 is unmistakably an Audi. Be it the signature front grille, headlights with striking LED daytime running lights or the shoulder line which extends to the all-too-familiar rear end that appears as a more grown up version of the A1’s, now with more consistency and better flow.
The A3 has grown, too, with the wheelbase now 58mm longer than before. Which means more rear legroom and slightly better headroom. Despite the increase in wheelbase, the actual length of the car is only 18mm longer than its predecessor as the front and rear overhangs have been revised for a cleaner and more muscular look. It also happens to be lighter than ever, up to 90kg less fat than before.
Despite all that, it’s by no means a design revolution and that comes as no surprise. It’s another planned evolution in Audi design as the company continues down the path of emphasizing its distinctive brand look with minor iterations with every update. Even so, the new Audi A3 Sportback has enormous road presence and it turned a fair few heads even in Monaco, where Audi held the international drive program.
The 2013 Audi A3 range is offered internationally in a variety of diesel and petrol engines but Audi Australia can currently only confirm the front-wheel-drive 132kW 1.8-litre petrol TFSI and the 110kW 2.0-litre diesel TDI with an S tronic (dual-clutch) automatic gearbox.
A 103kW 1.4-litre petrol may also be available depending on demand from other markets. The base model 77kW 1.2-litre petrol and the higher-spec 135kW 2.0-diesel quattro are currently ruled out for an Australia release. Audi Australia is also likely to make manual transmissions an order-only option as the majority of customers opt for the automatic transmission.
Our first stint in the new A3 Sportback was from Nice airport to Monaco in a 2.0-litre TDI manual. Having not had a proper look at all the badges before setting off, we were convinced that it was the higher-spec diesel quattro, given how well it pushed its power to the road, even out of corners. Having pulled over to confirm, we were pleasantly surprised to find out it was indeed the lower-spec, front-wheel-drive diesel destined for Australia.
With 110kW of power and 320Nm of torque, the A3 diesel is a quick little thing. Officially it gets up to 100km/h in about 8.4 seconds but in-gear acceleration feels much faster and there’s certainly no shortage of torque across the rev range. The manual gearbox, too, is very smooth and simple to use. It sips just 4.2 litres of diesel per 100km.
We also sampled the 1.4-litre manual and seven-speed S tronic, as well as the expected volume seller, the 1.8-litre S tronic with quattro (no front-wheel-drive versions were available). The 1.4-litre’s 103kW of power and 250Nm of torque is more than enough to not only get around with ease, but to get around with a bit of enthusiasm. It has cylinder deactivation technology so it can turn two if its cylinders off to save fuel.
It reaches 100km/h in the same time as it takes the 110kW 2.0-litre diesel but in-gear acceleration is not as lively. However, marry it to the seven-speed S tronic gearbox and the 1.4-litre TFSI is simply brilliant. With rapid gearshifts and a nice note for company, it’s easily the pick of the lot if you see driving as more than just a means to an end.
The 1.8-litre TFSI quattro with the older six-speed S tronic gearbox left us a little underwhelmed around Monte Carlo’s windy roads as it hesitated between gearshifts, even at high speed. It certainly needs a bit of throttle to get it going at low speeds and although it does the 0-100km/h dash in 7.3 seconds, in-gear acceleration doesn’t feel as linear or consistent as the diesel or even the 1.4-litre. It also didn’t feel as engaging in its steering as the other two, though we suspect that has something to do with the quattro system.
There’s plenty of grip, too, and the A3's stability gives you plenty of confidence if you push harder into a corner. If you happen to slip or hit a bump on the road mid corner, the car’s electronic aids will instantly come to your rescue.
If the standard A3 Sportback doesn’t feel or look sporty enough, Audi has already announced a three-door Audi S3 performance variant is on its way and the company has confirmed that a five-door S3 version will also make it to production.
Move inside and the new Audi A3 is giant leap forward in both in-car technology and the features it brings to the compact premium segment. The Audi Connect system can take a SIM card and essentially act as a smartphone without being a big distraction. It allows you to update your Facebook and Twitter, find out who’s close by, check flight times, check the weather, find the closest points of interest (via live Google searches), show your favourite RSS feeds, find the nearest petrol stations and show you the price per litre so you can decide where to go, send text messages by simply listening to your voice and much, much more.
We were impressed by its integration with Google Earth, meaning the satellite navigation system (which integrates three systems into one) not only shows directional instructions, but also live traffic data overlayed on a Google Earth system that is about as clear a view of your surroundings as you’re going to get.
In our trip around Monaco, we could simply look at the map and see the buildings around us in 3D, no computer-generated images, but the actual buildings as they would appear from a multi-satellite rendering.
The system is rather data intensive as it constantly needs information from Google, and this could be a problem with data plans in Australia but if you happen to frequent the same roads over and over again, the system can cache up to 1GB of Google Earth data to avoid re-downloading. We’ve previously said that BMW offers the best satellite navigation system in the business, but Audi has well and truly taken that mantle now with its latest system.
As for the more tangible stuff, the interior is very classy but not all that different to other Audis. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with or without the optional sports seats. The rear will easily fit two adults for long drives and the occasional third if the need arises. The boot capacity measures 380 litres with the rear seats up and expands to 1220 litres with the second row folded away.
The folks at Audi have finally included an actual fan-speed dial so you no longer have to use the car’s multimedia system to control the blower, nor do you have to press individual buttons to access navigation or other functions, which are now accessible via simple to use and see switches.
On the safety front the A3 is available with all the regular active and passive safety features that will no doubt guarantee a five-star ANCAP safety rating. It will also be available with adaptive cruise control, side assist, pre sense basic (collision detection), lane assist, park assist and more.
Overall, the 2013 Audi A3 Sportback is an impressive package. Details regarding pricing or specification levels are still unconfirmed but we suspect it will be priced sharply to compete with its German rivals.
With its modern but classy design, good road manners, strong engine selection and the best in-car technology currently available in the segment, the Audi A3 will reach Australia around May 2013 with the kind of arsenal it will certainly need to contest a high-end hatchback segment that by then will include the already-launched BMW 1 Series, Volvo V40, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and of course the new-generation Volkswagen Golf.