Audi is the master of interiors. Just look at the third-generation Audi A3 that has been released in Australia.
No matter whether you choose the $35,600 base model or the range-topping $42,500 grades, you feel like you are driving a premium car.
Rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class have lifted the game, but the Audi A3’s cabin is even better again. It’s not radical or adventurous, but simple and elegant, with materials that give the impression of quality. Cabin quality is crucial to the appeal of the Audi A3.
It shares the majority of its underpinnings with the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf, along with its engines and transmissions. While it does have unique elements – such as an aluminium sub-frame and front suspension components, and unique exterior panels including aluminium bonnet and front guards (which help reduce weight to 1225kg) – there can be no doubt about its family ties.
Does it matter? Not really, the Audi A3 appeals to different customers, it looks unique, in and out, and has unique features. It also wears an Audi badge and the brand has sufficient value for that to be important to customers.
The Audi A3 drive experience, over a range of different roads near Cairns, seems similar to the Golf that we tested in Victoria. In fact the little Volkswagen may even have a better suspension set-up that better balances agility with ride comfort.
The similarity is not a criticism because the Golf is a cracking car, quiet, comfortable and fun to drive, with a really good interior that impresses in isolation but can’t match the cabin of the new A3.
The Audi A3 Sportback (five-door) range kicks off with the 1.4-litre four-cylinder TFSI turbo petrol, in the base Attraction specification level, for $35,600. This is a smooth engine, with 90kW and 200Nm and has enough punch to keep up with traffic. It can be a little slow to get going and the dual-clutch ‘S tronic’ automatic transmission contributes to this occasional lethargy.
Manual transmissions are available for special order on the petrol models, but not the diesels. The official fuel economy figure of 5.0 litres per 100km is notable and our 6.6L/100km was particularly impressive.
Though not available to drive on the launch, for an extra $900 the Attraction trim level is available with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, which makes 77kW and 250Nm. It is teamed to the same seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Its official fuel consumption figure of 3.9L/100km is remarkable.
Both Attraction models come with a reasonable amount of standard gear, including a swag of safety kit, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather-vinyl combination seats and a 5.8-inch pop-up centre display screen controlled by an MMI roller ball controller that sits near the gear shifter.
More spritely 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines are only available in the higher-end Ambition trim level.
This brings 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, exterior chrome details, colour screen in the instrument cluster, leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, sports front seats and access to different option packages.
Audi Drive Select is also standard on Ambition models. It allows the driver to select from different modes, which alter the way the car drives. ADS changes the steering assistance, gearshift change points and throttle actuation, though it doesn’t alter the damping characteristics of the suspension.
The 1.8-litre petrol Ambition costs $42,500. It makes 132kW and 250Nm and uses the seven-speed dual-clutch auto. The official fuel consumption number is 5.6L/100km (we saw 6.8L/100km).
It is quite an enjoyable engine to play with, delivering its maximum torque all the way from 1250rpm to 5000rpm. All A3s have steering wheel-mounted paddles, which aren’t much use with the diesels, but are a treat when you hit an involving piece of road in a petrol model.
The $42,500 2.0-litre diesel is also strong, with 110kW and 320Nm. It is also linked to a dual-clutch auto, though this one is a six-speed. There can be some initial hesitation off the line, but it makes up for this with a wave of torque that keeps on coming. This diesel is well isolated and you don’t hear it much in the cabin. It certainly makes less of a drone when it selects top gear at 60km/h than the same engine in the Golf. The official fuel consumption of this engine is 4.5L/100km (we managed 5.9L/100km).
The Audi A3 is extremely quiet on some tarmac surfaces. It’s obvious a lot of work has gone into refinement.
This serenity is spoiled on some of the coarse chip surfaces on the launch drive route and the level of tyre noise in those situations doesn’t match what you would expect from a premium car.
The A3 is competent through the corners and a car you can have some fun with. It’s not the most agile in its class, with a little more body roll than expected. The suspension displays considerable travel at higher speeds over large bumps, but curiously picks up smaller imperfections on the road surfaces, especially at lower speeds when it feels like the tyres are over-inflated. That said, more thorough testing on familiar roads should help us get a better read of the A3’s suspension.
Audi switched to electric steering assistance for this A3 and has got it right. It feels light in most conditions, but not overly so, and the assistance can be altered on the higher-spec models.
The five-door Audi A3 is also entirely practical. It has a decent boot (380 litres), with a space-saver spare hiding under a cover, and considerable interior space. Like the Golf, it is only slightly larger than the previous model, but the wheelbase has increased (58mm).
The outer rear seats are especially comfortable, with surprisingly supportive cushions, and there is ample head and legroom. A 5ft11in bloke would have no qualms sitting in the back for a long journey. Audi’s leather-faced seats (vinyl is used on the squabs) have a soft, quality feel, whether in the base trim or higher grades.
The MMI control system is useful although not all perfectly intuitive. That said, you might learn it well in time.
The standard centre screen is colour, but has chunky graphics. You can upgrade to a larger screen with high-resolution graphics, rear-view camera, sat-nav and an enhanced MMI that enables you to enter letters and numbers on a touch pad (it will take some practice) in a $2990 bundle.
All Audi A3s feature Bluetooth audio streaming, which is handy.
Audi’s designers certainly didn’t get carried away with the new A3. See one from behind in traffic and it is not easy to tell whether it is the current car or the last one. The front end is not particularly exciting either.
It was never going to look bold, but the Audi A3 looks plain compared with the rival Mercedes-Benz A-Class. That car might not appeal to everyone, but it stands out and makes you take notice, especially in A250 guise.
The Audi A3 is a strong contender in the prestige small car class. It lifts the bar in terms of interior quality while offering strong mechanical packages and a high level of practicality.
It is well worth a look alongside the A-Class and BMW 1 Series.
It isn’t bad value when you look at what you get, including the badge, and a lot of customers will be extremely satisfied. However, customers should also look at the A-Class and especially the A250 Sport if the bank manager can be convinced.
The A3 1.8 TFSI we tested cost $42,500 as standard, rising to $49,940 with a few options were added. It’s a good drive, but for $49,900, you can get a Mercedes A250 Sport which is faster, sportier and much more dramatic.