The Audi A3 Sedan is the answer to a question so many have been asking: a small, affordable luxury sedan with killer looks.
Germany's premium car manufacturers continue their strong push to put more models within reach of younger buyers, and the four-door version of the new A3 joins the A-Class-based CLA from Mercedes as models expected to be priced from below $45,000.
The first Audi A3 four-door since the nameplate launched in the mid 1990s, however, is a more conventional-looking sedan than the coupe-mimicking CLA, and it expands the A3 family that had comprised only three-door and five-door hatches.
Compared to its five-door Sportback sibling, the A3 Sedan is a bit longer and wider and doesn't share a single body panel. It only borrows the front grille, exterior mirrors, door handles and headlights. All variants get Audi’s signature LED daytime running lights, which make a world of difference visually.
Audi has high expectations for the sedan. The company anticipates half of all A3 buyers will pick the four-door in the future, mainly as a result of trends in China, Russia and North America, where buyers prefer sedans.
Australia is somewhere in the middle; while we love our hatchbacks, premium cars are still mainly sold in sedan form.
Audi Australia will base the engine line-up of the A3 sedan on the recently launched A3 Sportback, which means an initial choice of four engines: 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo petrols as well as a 1.6- and 2.0-litre turbo diesels that put their power to the front wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (expect the 6-speed version in the higher-capacity diesel).
There will also be a 1.8-litre turbo petrol available with quattro all-wheel drive, joined by the 225kW Audi S3 sedan, which will launch by mid 2014.
The A3 sedan will be built in an Audi factory in Hungary, and that's where we flew to test the new compact Audi ahead of its local arrival in early 2014.
Hungary proved a surprisingly good place to test the A3 sedan, mainly because the east-European nation seems to share Australia's inability to build smoothly surfaced roads.
We can't get to the drive impressions, however, without first mentioning the A3 sedan's interior. Like the Sportback, the fit and finish is first rate. The feel of the switchgear, even the intuitive air-con vents, is well above its expected starting price tag of under $40,000 (about $2000 to $3000 above its equivalent Sportback model).
The leather seats, roof lining, soft-touch plastics used throughout and all the other little highlights such as the S-line steering wheel all add up to make a small sedan that doesn't feel or look like a cheaper version of its bigger brothers.
There's even a greater upmarket interior feel than the bigger A4, though Audi's 3 Series rival is itself replaced with a new generation model in 2014.
Audi continues to push the boundaries of interior design (but, yes, not exterior design), and rival BMW has been particularly left trailing in this area for its 1 Series that also remains unavailable in sedan form.
Cabin space is also suitably spacious despite the A3 being the smallest of Audi's sedan line-up that also comprises A4, A6 and A8. There's good legroom and headroom for adults whether they're sitting front or back.
ISOFIX points are easily accessible, too, and not hidden deep in the seats, while there’s ample storage space throughout the cabin with space for smartphones and even an iPad in the door pockets.
The boot naturally can't match the hatch's height, but at 425 litres it offers 55 litres more and is large enough to fit the week’s groceries and a large pram, and can expand to 880L with the rear seats folded down.
Audi’s optional 7-inch LCD screen elegantly pops out of its home upon battery start and presents a crystal clear display. Coupled to Audi Connect, it can pretty much do anything your everyday smartphone can do.
Given it takes a SIM card of its own (though it can tether your smartphone’s internet), the LTE-enabled Android-based system overlays Google Earth over the satellite navigation system, making the display the most realistic map overlay in the industry.
It can do a lot more than that, though. You can find our full article on Audi Connect here. These features are still in the works for Australia, but it’s only a matter of time before our market gets the nod.
Infotainment technology aside, initial drivetrain choices are more conservative. If you prefer your luxury sedans to be powerful, if not big, then you may want to wait for the 221kW/380Nm S3 that offers sub-5-second acceleration to 100km/h (and which will surely be followed by a new RS3 flagship at some point).
All four engine variants, however, are more than good enough for everyday use, and even the base model 1.4-litre with 90kW of power and 200Nm of torque moves the 1250kg A3 with ease. The seven-speed S-tronic transmission is smooth and instantaneous. The same can’t be said about the six-speed in the 1.8-litre quattro and 2.0-litre TDI, which presents far more hesitation and jerkiness, degrading the driving experience.
Behind the wheel the A3 sedan offers a sporty and dynamic driving experience. The Audi drive select allows for configuration of the throttle response and steering weight, but tick a few more options and it can also change the suspension and steering ratio settings on the go.
Ride comfort is definitely on the firm side, which is not unusual for Audi, but the A3 sedan is compliant and mostly contented. Quattro variants with the sport suspension are harder again, but still deal a good balance between cornering ability and ride comfort. Steering is typical Audi, light but direct.
Around the twisty countryside about an hour out of Budapest, we found the A3 sedan to be a very competent and engaging drive. It’s not up to 1 Series standards in cornering ability and that ‘confidence-inspiring’ feel, mainly due to its front-wheel drive nature that at times presents a hint of torque-steer, but it’s pretty darn close. The quattro models were brilliant around the twisty stuff, which makes us want the S3 even more.
Where the Audi A3 sedan falls short is the extensive options list. You’ll need $2000 for the style package that will add LED lights, 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels and sport suspension (depending on engine variant). Another $2999 is required for the Technik package, which adds the colour screen with navigation as well as automated parking and rear camera.
Put aside another $2200 if you want powered and heated seats with push-button start. Audi will ask a further $1800 for the safety assistance package, which adds blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and the ability to detect a potential collision and automatically apply the brakes. The S-line sport package, which adds sport seats, flat bottom steering wheel with paddles and sport suspension is another $4200.
Long options lists, and a premium over the hatch, the Audi A3 sedan otherwise has few criticisms as a car that sets out to offer buyers a luxurious four-door that's within the realms of affordability.