There’s quite a bit more to the 2017 Audi A3 than just a mild styling update.
Sure, the new A4-inspired headlights and front bumper treatment, as well as mildly revised rear-end styling and new wheels mark the changes to the updated Audi A3 from the outside, but there are bigger, more important changes under the sheetmetal.
Perhaps the most important of these is the addition of a new entry-level three-cylinder turbo petrol engine – the first-ever three-pot to grace the Audi A3 range – and there’s a very good chance the drivetrain will be the new entry-point to the line-up when the new A3 arrives in Australia towards the end of 2016.
Currently the A3 line-up kicks off with the 1.4 TFSI four-cylinder turbo model, which is set to be dropped as part of this update. Reading between the lines, the 1.0 TFSI is the incumbent base model. Check out the changes between the new model and its predecessor here.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine produces 85kW of power (7kW fewer than the 1.4) and 200Nm of torque (on par with the four-pot). It uses less fuel – 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres versus 4.9L/100km – and is just a couple of tenths of a second slower from 0-100km/h (9.7 seconds vs 9.3sec).
There may be some sceptics out there that would suggest a three-cylinder engine has no place in a luxury brand’s portfolio, but Audi isn’t the first brand to add this type of engine to its ranks: BMW and Mini have three-pot models, and Audi itself has the A1 1.0 TFSI, too.
In the A1, this engine variant forms the platform for getting new buyers into the brand, and it is successful, with 28 per cent of sales in that range being the 1.0-litre variant. In the current A3 range, the 1.4 TFSI that the 1.0 TFSI will likely replace accounts for 18 per cent of sales.
Part of the appeal of the 1.0 TFSI in the A1 range – and a reason it will likely succeed if sold here – is because it’s offered with an automatic gearbox, in this case a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, or S tronic as Audi calls it. And the drivetrain is a sweet thing.
The power delivery is totally acceptable for a car of this size, and there’s a certain willingness, though the rumble of the inherently imbalanced engine may be a slight deterrent to some. This writer is of the opposite opinion – the thrum is not too loud, and nor is there any of the pesky vibrating at idle.
It responds well at low speeds and on the highway, with good roll-on acceleration and a decent wallop of mid-range torque (specifically from 2000-3500rpm) when you apply a bit more throttle at pace.
The gearbox, too, is well behaved, with rapid-fire shifts on the move, and it’s not as jerky at low speeds as some other models in the Audi stable with this sort of gearbox.
We also drove the new 2.0 TFSI model - a new drivetrain for the A3 line-up which has been brought down a size from the all-new A4 and spun around for transverse mounting for the first time - which will replace the 1.8 TFSI and bring with it more power.
The existing engine produced 132kW and 250Nm, while the new one churns out a handy 140kW and 320Nm, pushing it into warm-hatch territory, not to mention a lot closer to the Mercedes-Benz A250, which has 160kW/350Nm – but while that model is now all-wheel-drive only, the A3 2.0 TFSI can be had in front-wheel drive or with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.
We sampled the front-driver in damp conditions outside Munich, Germany, and it’s fair to say that the quattro version would have been a better bet given the greasy road conditions. On occasion the front tyres spun, and we even witnessed some axle tramp (where the front suspension bobs up and down as the powertrain tries to feed grunt to the ground), which isn’t desirable.
Otherwise, though, the 2.0 TFSI was nicely refined, with very linear power delivery and a nice amount of mid-range torque across a much broader range than its pint-sized sibling (1400-4200rpm). On the autobahn this model showed what it could offer, seemingly eager to push towards its limited top speed of 244km/h.
The old 1.8 TFSI used a six-speed dual-clutch auto, but the new 2.0 TFSI model gets a new seven-speed S tronic which, unlike the 1.0 TFSI model and its seven-cogger, displayed some low speed hesitancy.
As for the drive experience, it was largely similar to the A3s we’ve tested in the past – that is to say, a solid performance. The ride compliance and comfort, even on 18-inch alloy wheels, was impressive, while the steering – by way of a new three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel – was also notably good. We did notice some difference between the weighting of the steering in the 1.0 TFSI and 2.0 TFSI, with the former feeling a little heavier and perhaps a touch more direct, which may well have come down to the drive modes in the Audi Drive Select system.
It’s not just about the drive, though – inside there have been important changes, too, including the addition of the high-tech Virtual Cockpit display in front of the driver, with the 12.3-inch digital display offering the pilot of the car all sorts of information such as navigation (with Google Maps), speed, trip and tachometers, driver assistance systems, phone and audio options, and more.
This is going to be optional in all A3 models, and while it is an impressive bit of kit, whether it will be worth the predicted $2000 option price remains a question that buyers will need to answer themselves.
The interior of the A3 gets a few other little tweaks, too, including a new frameless rear-view mirror, and a revision to the layout of the buttons for the Audi MMI Touch media interface, which displays through a 7.0-inch pop-up screen.
The menus have been upgraded, and now are the same as those seen in the all-new A4 and Q7 models (a carousel-style setup with much cleaner graphics) which looks and feels more modern and helps add some technological flair to the cabin.
As we’ve found in the past in this generation of A3, the seats are comfortable and offer good adjustment up front, while the second row is suitable for a couple of adults or kids (with dual ISOFIX anchor-points for the outboard seats). Storage is good throughout, too, and the boot space varies between FWD and AWD, and between hatch and sedan, but in all configurations there is adequate space for a weekend’s worth of luggage.
The A3 will be covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty plan, and buyers will again be able to take advantage of a fixed-price servicing plan for three years/45,000km, with maintenance due yearly or every 15,000km. Currently the plan costs $1680.
The 2017 Audi A3 upgrades may not seem like much from the outside, but as we found on the international launch, there’s quite a lot to this mid-life update. And just like the version that came before it, there’s quite a lot to like.
We look forward to seeing if the 1.0 TFSI gets the go-ahead for Australia, because it could prove a fitting opening to the impressive 2017 Audi A3 line-up.