Someone said to me recently they think the 2017 Audi A3 sedan is the best looking sedan on the market.
Like, of all the sedans out there – and we were talking proper sedans, not four-door ‘coupes’ – the thing is a pretty good looker, especially considering its compact dimensions. It is hard enough to make smaller three-box models appear attractive, let alone luxurious.
Australian buyers clearly agree with the sentiment, with about 45 per cent of A3 models sold being that body-style. That’s pretty crazy considering how hatchback-heavy sales usually skew in the small car segment.
It’s decently priced, too: you can get yourself behind the wheel of an A3 sedan from as little as $41,500 plus on-road costs – that’s the 1.4TFSI COD Paul tested recently.
The version we have here is the mid-range 2.0TFSI variant, priced from $47,500 plus on-roads. Both it, and the entry model, are front-wheel drive. There is also a quattro all-wheel-drive version with the same 2.0TFSI engine that is the regular model range-topper at $51,100 plus on-roads – then it's a bit of a step up (in performance and price) to the S3 sedan a $64,500.
Our car was fitted with a couple of option packs – the $2900 Technik pack with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display, a sports steering wheel and a better version of the navigation system with live maps (and five free map updates), two SD card slots and a 10-gigabyte music storage system. Those extras do add some further flair to the cabin, though the fact the car can’t be had with the latest Audi Connect system with Google Maps is a bit of a shame.
As for standard kit, there’s a bit missing for a car at this price point – no matter how nice it looks. You miss out on push-button start, smart key and entry, electric seat adjustment, seat heaters and adaptive cruise control, all of which can be had in sub-$30,000 sedans from mainstream brands like Subaru.
That’s not to say the vehicle’s equipment list is sparse, with 17-inch alloy wheels, Xenon headlights, leather-trimmed sports seats, aluminium trim inlays and door sill protectors, dual-zone climate control, an eight-speaker stereo with a 7.0-inch screen, satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (optional in the base car!).
The interior is a nice place to be, living up to the feel of what you expect from a luxury German brand in a compact, cheaper way. The LED lighting in the cupholders, door grabs and foot-wells makes it feel like a private little room when you’re driving on the highway at night, and the Xenon headlights are pretty darn good, too.
There are soft touch materials on the dashboard, padded sections on all four doors, and the retracting display in the middle of the dash still looks pretty smart, and it is logically controlled by the MMI touch rotary dial with track-pad on top.
The supportive leather seats with manual adjustment are comfortable, and up front there’s an extendable squab for those with longer limbs. Taller occupants may feel as though they’re sitting up a bit too high, even in the lowest seat setting.
The back seat is about as roomy as you’d expect for a small sedan, in that it isn’t massive: leg-room and headroom is tight for tall occupants, and while toe-room is fine, your feet feel a bit hemmed in, and those with big clodhoppers may need to angle their ankles just so to get in and out – the door openings aren’t huge, and the sills do intrude a bit.
The back seat also falls short of practical elements: there is no centre armrest nor are there cupholders, but there are mesh map pockets, bottle holsters in the doors, and the back seat has its own 12-volt outlet as well as air vents.
Up front there are larger door pockets with bottle holders, a pair of cupholders and a covered centre console bin with two USB points and an auxiliary jack. In the glovebox is a CD slot with SIM input and twin SD, which eats into space.
The back seat folds down in a 60:40 manner to increase load-through boot space, and with the seatbacks in place the cargo area has 425 litres of capacity, which is good for the size of the car and is a squared-off shape to make suitcase storage easy. If you’ve got awkward shaped items there’s a mesh net to keep stuff secure, and under the boot floor there’s a space-saver spare.
On the safety front, the A3 sedan has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee), not to mention autonomous emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring and auto headlights and wipers. Spending up on this spec sees you also get rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
Powering the A3 2.0TFSI is, you guessed it, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 140kW of power (from 4200-6000rpm) and 320Nm of torque (from 1500-4200rpm). Changing gears is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle-shifters. Fuel use is claimed at 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw 6.6L/100km over our testing regime including highway, stop-start and urban driving.
It’s also a very sprightly thing, offering superb roll-on response in gear: a sudden prod of the throttle in fourth gear and getting from 50km/h to 80km/h is managed in a heartbeat (or two if that type of speed really gets your blood moving).
Keep this in mind – just a few years ago a 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds was considered to be a hot-hatch benchmark, and that’s what Audi claims for this compact luxury sedan. If you go for the quattro version it is even more rapid – 6.2sec.
For most people this drivetrain will offer the thrills they need without spending more on the AWD version or the S3. Our beloved founder Tony even said he could see himself “hurtling along an Autobahn at 200km/h in it without any hassle or hesitation whatsoever”.
While you won’t be pushing those speeds here, the thing is properly settled at freeway pace, with the engine coasting along in seventh speed at just below 2000rpm. It’s not as loud as some competitors on coarse-chip surfaces.
There can be a touch of lag when you flatten the throttle – either to get away from a standing start, or to overtake, which is mainly the transmission trying to figure out what gear it needs in that situation, but in almost every other instance it is sharp and smart. Unlike the base model, this version doesn’t have cylinder deactivation tech that cuts two cylinders under low loads.
One item you get in this model but you don’t get in the base car is the Audi drive select system – with dynamic, comfort, efficiency, auto and individual modes – that changes the engine, gearbox and steering configuration. We left it in auto most of the time, because that’s where it seemed to do its best work.
In sport mode, for example, the engine holds gears longer and that means it can rev too far past its peak torque zone, and the steering becomes heavy to the point that it makes it feel a tad awkward in corners.
In auto mode the steering is lighter and more malleable, and it doesn’t feel as though it wants to understeer unless you’re pushing it too hard. In dynamic mode the extra steering weight seemingly emphasises torque steer and understeer.
No matter the mode the car’s brakes can be touchy – if you tap the pedal on the highway you may shock any passengers you have with you with how sharply they react, but they hold up well in harder driving.
There is plenty of grip, and the suspension is very well sorted. It holds a nice flat line in corners, and while the wheels on our test car may look a little small in contrast to the optional S line exterior styling kit, they play a part in keeping things under control in terms of ride comfort.
Like many cars, the suspension isn’t fond of road joins, but it doesn’t get too flummoxed by those types of things, and while it isn't what you’d describe as soft, it is compliant, particularly over rutted, pockmarked surfaces.
Audi has a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and the brand offers a pre-purchase service plan spanning three years/45,000km (with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first), and it costs $1680.
So we’ve established that it’s a good-looking car, one that drives well and feels pretty nice inside. The thing that lets down the 2017 Audi A3 sedan is the fact there are some really great small sedans without prestige badges at the moment, many of which are packed with equipment that this thing misses out on. It's $20,000 more than some of those cars, too...
Our advice? If you’re in the market for a luxury small car, aim to find vehicles in stock that have a few options included in the price.