Audi's small car with a boot arrives to kick goals in the premium segment.
A boot and a broader body mark the Audi A3 sedan as a desirable and good-looking addition to the third-generation A3 line-up.
The sedan body is a first for the Audi A3, and liberates luggage volume (up from 380L in the Sportback, to 425L). What you lose in wagon-like access to the cargo area, the A3 sedan makes up with its handsome styling.
The new A3 variant – on sale now alongside the A3 and S3 Sportback, and soon to be joined by the A3 cabriolet and S3 sedan – is built on the same Audi/Volkswagen MQB component set as the A3 Sportback (and the Golf).
The entry-level $39,800 Audi A3 sedan carries a $4200 premium compared with its Sportback counterpart, but brings a standard cylinder-on-demand (COD) system (a $2300 Sportback option) meaning the effective price premium is $1900.
The (for now) four-tier range also includes the 1.8 TFSI and 2.0 TDI Ambition at $44,800, while the 1.8 TFSI quattro adds $3000. All models undercut the rival Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class that starts at $49,900.
Sedans roll on 17-inch alloys rather than the Sportback’s 16s, but are otherwise identically equipped.
The 4460mm A3 sedan’s body is 146mm longer and 11mm wider than that of the current Sportback, on a wheelbase 59mm longer than that of the old A3. Meanwhile, track widths are up 20mm front and rear courtesy of a 10mm increase in wheel offset.
The flared arches allow optional 19-inch alloy wheels to fit where only 18s go on the Sportback, which signposts the A3 as more than just the capacious choice, but the style pick of the mainstream A3 line-up.
It’s ironic that the large local sedan is out of favour, while imported compact premium sedans such as Mercedes’ A- and CLA-Class and the Audi are the next big thing. Small cars are big business and at the launch Audi Australia managing director Andrew Doyle said the A3 sedan is their most important model for 2014, in a year in which the brand will introduce a car each month.
The three engines for the three models available include the eco-focused, entry-level 1.4-litre TFSI COD turbo petrol four-cylinder, the range-staple 1.8-litre TFSI turbo petrol four-cylinder, and the 2.0-litre TDI turbo diesel four-cylinder fuel-miser. All come standard with S-tronic dual-clutch transmission –seven-speed for the 1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI front-drive, and six-speed for the 2.0 TDI and, slightly oddly, the 1.8 TFSI quattro.
In addition to the front-wheel-drive variants, the 1.8 TFSI is offered with the brand’s trademark all-wheel-drive. Given that booted, compact German rivals boast rear- and all-wheel-drive, the addition of a quattro variant should help the A3 sedan in the showroom battle.
Audi A3 product planner Matthew Dale says that Sportback buyers considering the base 1.4 TFSI often jump to the 1.8 TFSI quattro, lured by the sure-footed safety promise of AWD, and that the same is expected to apply to the sedan.
The 1.4 TFSI weighs in at a trim 1250kg, thanks to the aluminium bonnet and the further use of the light metal in the front sub-frame and lower control arms.
‘Light’ is an accurate description of the way the sprightly 1.4-litre entry-level A3 drives. The workings of its clever COD system, which shuts down cylinders two and three under low-load conditions, are difficult to detect. In 103kW four-cylinder mode the 8.4sec claimed 0-100km/h seems realistic.
Moving the front axle line forward accounts for much of the wheelbase stretch, and the resultant 59:41 front/rear weight distribution contributes to a livelier front-end that turns into corners far more enthusiastically than the previous A3 did.
The strut front, multi-link rear suspension A3 sedan is well balanced and trustworthy at the limit of grip. Ride quality is absorbent and among the class-best. Across the range the A3 sedan imparts a feeling of solidity and is impressively hushed inside.
As ever, Audi’s fit and finish both outside – witness tight, even panel gaps – and in, are exceptional. The cabin is richly trimmed and beautifully screwed together, and the design oozes high-end minimalism. It’s this more than any other quality that marks the A3 as a cut-above its Volkswagen platform buddy, and in a different league to second-tier Euro and Japanese rivals.
Move up-spec, and the 1.8 TFSI is the de facto sports sedan. Audi says the 132kW engine gives the lighter new A3 the accelerative edge over the previous hatchback equivalent’s 147kW 2.0 TFSI, with a claimed 7.3sec 0-100km/h – quick enough that it’s fun to drive.
The 1.8 TFSI’s 5.6L/100km official combined cycle consumption figure is no less impressive in the context of the thrusty, cultured 4.5L/100km 2.0 TDI, but the parsimonious 4.7L/100km 1.4 TFSI does make you wonder if it’s worth bothering with a greasy diesel service station pump, considering that the petrol car is less expensive and no less quick.
The weight and drag of the quattro 1.8’s AWD, as well as the fact it’s a ratio down, increase its combined cycle consumption to 6.5L/100km, but its ability to leave the line more quickly than its front-drive counterpart gives it a claimed 6.8sec 0-100km/h.
On balance, we’d pick the equally entertaining FWD variant unless your day-to-day driving regularly includes slippery surfaces, or you’re desperate to channel the Quattro rally legend.
The 1.8 TFSI remains light on its tyres, and steers with little effort in the Drive Select (standard on all bar the base) system’s ‘normal’ setting, but sport adds unnecessary, artificial-feeling weight to the electro-mechanical steering.
An electronic limited-slip diff works as part of the stability control system to minimise wheelspin.
Standard equipment from the entry level up include the aforementioned ESC, front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, light and rain sensors, cruise and climate control. However, sat-nav and a rear camera – standard on the far cheaper Golf – are options.
Bang & Olufsen 750W sound with 14 speakers, and an MMI Navigation plus system, which swaps the standard 5.8-inch colour screen for a hi-res seven-inch unit, headline the infotainment options as part of a $2990 pack with front parking sensors and a rear camera.
The top-shelf MMI, with 64GB flash memory, brings nav, a DVD drive, a triple-tuner radio, full Bluetooth integration, voice operation, and a real-time speed limit indicator.
Cutting-edge driver assistance equipment is also helpfully arranged into bundles, such as the $1800 Assistance package, which brings adaptive cruise, Audi’s pre-crash Pre Sense system, lane-departure warning, high-beam assist and side assist.
Larger 18-inch alloys in a choice of four designs are teamed with Xenon and LED lights and sport suspension in the $2000 Style package. The Ambition-only S line sport pack brings sporty cabin and exterior elements and either 18- ($4200) or 19-inch alloys ($5200).
The A3’s value equation remains the sticking point. Not compared with the small-car class of 2014, against which the Audi’s polished drive experience and genuinely premium fit and finish help it justify its pricetag, or the $10K-pricier CLA Class. But, well … against Volkswagen’s Golf.
But in sharp-suited (if pricier-still) sedan form, the Audi A3 sedan transcends its shopping-trolley origins, delivering more than badge-cred and a fine cabin to justify the expense.