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If you can’t stretch to the $59,990 S3 (due December), your more affordable route into an all-wheel-drive Audi A3 is the 1.8 TFSI quattro.
The Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro costs $45,500 before on-road charges in the German brand’s small car line-up that starts from $35,600.
We’ll get straight to the pros and cons of buying the quattro version over the regular A3 1.8 TFSI.
On the negative side, it will cost you more to buy and run. The Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro carries a $3000 premium and an additional 100kg of mass means it uses an extra litre of fuel every 100km – 6.6L/100km.
The flipside is that the quattro model combines powering all four wheels with an extra 30Nm of torque to speed up acceleration by half a second in the 0-100km/h sprint: 6.8 v 7.3 seconds.
The Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro produces its 280Nm across a slightly narrower torque plateau than the front-drive 1.8 but it’s still nice and broad at 1350 and 4500rpm.
That conjures the kind of terrifically flexible in-gear acceleration you might imagine from those figures. And with peak power taking over at 4500 and remaining until 6200rpm, this is also an engine worth revving out when it takes your fancy.
The 1.4-litre turbo in the cheaper Audi A3 1.4 TFSI is a good engine – in either 90kW or 103kW with cylinder deactivation form – but the 1.8 TFSI is noticeably stronger throughout its rev range.
Acceleration isn’t explosive; rather it expands with urgent intent, swelling to produce effective speed via the quick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox.
The quattro comes perfectly into play, too, on the kind of wet country roads we experienced during testing.
Strong grip from the Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro’s 18-inch 225/40 tyres provides assurance mid-corner before the latest, fifth-generation of the all-wheel-drive quattro system sends torque to the rear wheels to fire the hatch out onto straighter sections.
Quattro is constantly active, though if you’re simply cruising along then the A3 is just sending all power to the front wheels to minimise fuel use. Tyre noise can become loud on rougher sections of bitumen, either way.
Driving connoisseurs may find the dynamics a touch one-dimensional compared to the rival, rear-drive BMW 1 Series, though importantly for all drivers the A3 offers one of the best steering set-ups in the Audi range.
The steering is well weighted and precise to the point that you can turn the A3 into a long, sweeping corner and keep the steering on the same angle without moving it a millimetre. The driver then has the option of using the throttle – less or more – to fine-tune the driving line.
Switching the Drive Select mode standard on this model to Dynamic adds additional weight to the steering though doesn’t increase genuine feel. (Dynamic also increases throttle response and brings sportier shifts from the six-speed dual-clutch auto.)
And we found the steering of 1.8 TFSI quattro, which sits on lower-profile rubber and firmer suspension, even smoother than that in the 1.4 TFSI COD we tested the same day.
The damping is more aggressive on the quattro model when fitted with optional S Line Sports suspension, but while they can be heard doing their business over low-speed bumps they take the edge off to ensure the ride quality is sufficiently comfortable.
And inside, the Audi A3 interior is a model of beautifully effective minimalism.
The dash comprises a slimline heating and ventilation control section and, above, a neat narrow row of buttons that includes one that operates the vertically retractable multimedia display.
The design and slick operation of the also-slimline screen gives the A3 higher sophistication marks over the fixed, iPad-style display found in the rival Mercedes A-Class.
The baby Benz’s cabin is good, but the Audi A3 beats all in this class for both perceptive and tangible interior quality.
There’s a clever mix of complementary surfaces: smooth, brushed and grained. And the circular air vents impress from both an aesthetic and engineering perspective.
Our Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro featured an all-black interior for a sportier theme, though trim variations including browns, beiges, greys and even oranges are available.
The front half of the cabin feels plenty spacious for a hatch that has increased its internal dimensions compared with the old A3.
Legroom is good in the back seat, though like most premium hatches maximum comfort will depend on the size of the occupants in front.
The A3 quattro's rear differential and space-save spare do shrink boot size to 340 litres from the 380L possible in the front-drive models (where you can lower the boot floor an extra step), but with rear seats lowered expands to the same 1220L total.
The Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro comes in the Ambition trim grade like the front-wheel-drive 1.8 TFSI and 2.0 TDI diesel.
Ambition adds a number of extras over the Attraction grade of lower-spec levels. They include 17-inch alloy wheels (instead of 16s), sports seats (still in leather), foglights, sports steering wheel (three spoke instead of four-spoke), high-gloss and aluminium trim in places, and the aforementioned Drive Select.
Attraction already brings the likes of rear sensors, rain-sensing wipers, 5.8-inch colour display, Bluetooth with streaming and dual-zone climate.
A number of optional packages ranging in price from $1800 to $4200 are available across the Audi A3 range.
Our test car came with the $4200 S Line package that brings a range of sporty touches including 18-inch alloys, as well as a Technik package bringing sat-nav, parking system with rear view camera, and Audi audio system.
That pushes the A3 quattro into the territory of the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport that’s priced from $49,900.
While the A250 doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, its 2.0-litre turbo produces more power and torque – 155kW and 350Nm – and 18-inch alloys, AMG bodykit, sports suspension, bi-xenon headlights and panoramic sunroof are all inclusive.
It’s indicative of Mercedes’ aggressive pricing across the A-Class range that has forced its competitors to respond.
But the Audi A3 has never been a stronger showroom proposition.
It may take a second, or even third, look to differentiate it from the old A3, but the latest generation of Audi’s hatch is better in every respect.
Read our review of the Audi A3 1.4 TFSI Cylinder on Demand.