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Few people would imagine driving a two-cylinder German car, but at times that’s exactly what you would be doing in the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI COD.
The last three letters stand for Cylinder on Demand, a technology that has been around in limited offerings for some years – including on some V8 Holden Commodores – but becomes a first for the luxury hatchback segment.
Cylinder deactivation, as it’s also known, has also typically been applied to bigger engines for fuel-saving purposes – including Audis such as the S8 and RS6 powered by its 4.0-litre V8 – though it’s on a four-cylinder in the case of the Audi A3.
The 1.4 TFSI COD is a new addition to the new-generation Audi A3 range initially released locally in May 2013. Also joining is the first all-wheel-drive variant in the form of the 1.8 TFSI quattro.
Potentially confusing for customers, the Audi A3 now offers two 1.4 TFSI models.
The COD version asks a premium for the tech privilege. Priced from $37,900, the cylinder-on-demand A3 1.4 costs $2300 over the entry-level $35,600 regular 1.4 TFSI.
Benefits are two-fold, however.
Firstly, the engine’s ability to shut down its second and third cylinders when the driver is using only light throttle or is coasting means the Audi A3 COD’s official fuel consumption saves 0.3 litres per 100km – 4.7L/100km v 5.0L/100km.
It’s fair to say it will take a bit of time to recoup that extra $2300 with that kind of fuel differential, but A3 COD owners also gain extra power and torque.
Where the regular 1.4 TFSI produces 90kW and 200Nm (as it does in the base VW Golf), the 1.4 TFSI COD delivers 103kW and 250Nm.
That helps to shave nearly a second off the standing start acceleration time of the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI, from 9.3 to 8.4 seconds, though that extra 25 per cent of pulling power also brings extra mid-range oomph.
The four-cylinder is pleasantly flexible in both guises, though there’s a particularly enjoyable zing to the COD from 3000rpm.
If you don’t take note of the COD part of the model name or read the owner’s manual, it’s likely you wouldn’t be aware of the A3’s ability to switch from four to two cylinders and back again.
There’s no illuminated symbol or numerals in the driver’s information display to indicate whether the A3 is running on two or all four cylinders at any given time.
Audi says such a visual notification is more important for bigger-engined cars, where it allows owners to feel less guilty about owning a V8-powered vehicle.
And while you could detect the mechanical change in cylinders used in cars such as the Commodore with its Active Fuel Management System (AFMS), the switch is imperceptible in the A3.
We pricked our ears and heightened our senses whenever we lifted off the throttle, or treaded lightly on the accelerator, but the engine note remained smooth and power delivery linear as soon as extra throttle was applied.
Audi engineers worked hard to keep the engine balanced even on two cylinders, essentially achieving this by allowing only one of the two operational cylinders to fire through a combustion cycle per crankcase rotation.
In four-cylinder mode, two are firing per rotation.
The 1.4 TFSI COD is further proof that petrol engines can still be a viable alternative to diesels in the fuel-conservation stakes. And Audi says this model is pitched at those buyers who just don’t want a diesel.
It compares favourably with the 110kW 2.0 TDI diesel A3 at 4.5L/100km, with the lower-powered (77kW) 1.6 TDI a bit further ahead at 3.9L/100km.
Against petrol competitors, the 1.4 COD trails the 4.1L/100km of the Lexus CT200h hybrid but betters the Mercedes A180 and BMW 116i (both 5.8L/100km), VW Golf 103TSI (5.2L/100km) and Volvo V40 T4 (7.6L/100km).
There are other factors that make the 1.4 a good engine which proves there are no bum choices regardless of which Audi A3 variant you opt for.
It’s true the 1.8-litre four-cylinder in the more expensive (and more popular) A3 1.8 TFSI is the pick as an engine capable of delivering both higher performance and a more relaxing drive.
But while the 1.4 COD occasionally asks for a firm accelerator pedal push to achieve desired speed – such as overtaking – there’s a nice zing above 3000rpm, accompanied by an enjoyable engine note.
It takes 8.4 seconds to get off the mark and up to 100km/h, beating the regular 1.4 TFSI (9.3sec) and 1.6 TDI (10.9sec), matching the 2.0 TDI and behind the 1.8 TFSI (7.3sec) and 1.8 TFSI quattro (6.6sec).
There was an unexpected firmness to the brake pedal of our test A3 1.4 TFSI that we didn’t experience in the other new variant we tested, the 1.8 TFSI quattro.
The steering of the Audi A3, though, is better than you’ll find in other models from the brand such as the A4, A5 and TT.
It’s much smoother from lock to lock, if not quite as fluid as the Golf’s in the 1.4 TFSI, and the weighting is spot on.
There’s also secure, grippy handling on offer without reaching the satisfaction heights of a BMW 1 Series, though the most important aspect of dynamics for the buyer of the kind of A3 is a ride that delivers excellent body control through a suspension that’s on the firm side yet brings a ride that is superior to the old A3’s and avoids the annoying fidgety of nature of many regular Audi models.
An Audi A3 review isn’t complete without reference – or should that be deference – to its interior.
This is simply the benchmark cabin in the small car segment.
Our 1.4 TFSI test car came in a tasteful two-tone of beige and black, though the sky-high perception of quality mostly comes from the classy, minimalistic design and the fact that you can rub, touch or prod interior parts to feel as well as visualise the quality.
The centre console features toggles for quick actions such as navigation and telephone or radio and media, while a rotary dial also incorporates a touchpad that has cascaded down from Audi’s flagship passenger cars.
The Audi A3 1.4 TFSI COD comes in the company’s Attraction trim (along with the 1.6 TDI), bringing standard features such as 16-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth audio streaming, 5.8-inch colour multimedia display, ‘Dynamic’ suspension, rain-sensing wipers, and leather steering wheel with paddleshift levers.
You’ll want to step up a class, to A4 etcetera, if rear seat legroom for adults of all sizes is a priority, but otherwise the A3 joins rivals in offering decent back-seat space without being overly generous.
The Audi A3 does offer the biggest boot among the premium brands in the hatch segment, though, with 380 litres (matching the sister Golf) that beats the 1 Series (360L), V40 (324-335L), A-Class (341L) and CT200h (375L).
The luxury small car segment is going through a boom phase, and when it comes to the increasing number of premium hatchbacks the Audi A3 is without doubt one of the best.
Read our review of the Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro.