Four adults, a surfboard, a kayak, two weeks worth of luggage, and a long 1,000km interstate journey. So far, so good. As you have no doubt read the title of this review, I am sure you will know what is coming next.
So – can two couples travel 1,000km in a small hatchback over two days, and still remain on speaking terms at the end of the journey?
First up, let's look at the luggage carrying capacity. The good news is that the A3 has 380 litres of luggage space in the boot, making it a leader in its class. Unfortunately, the quattro model loses 40 litres of boot space to make way for the drivetrain, reducing capacity to 340 litres. This meant some sacrifices, but we were able to fit 4 small suitcases, beach gear, and a tent – not bad!
Our model was fitted with roof rails, which made fitting roof racks a synch, allowing us to stow the surfboard and kayak on the roof. One frustrating issue was that the hatch would only open 30cm before hitting the surfboard, making luggage access difficult.
Four adults were able to sit comfortably in the A3, with the rear passengers (one of them 6 foot tall) appreciative of the ample headroom. Leg room was acceptable, meaning we only had to stop every two hours or so to allow the passengers to stretch their legs.
Day one of the trip had us travelling north-east from Melbourne, through the Yarra Valley wine region, then up the famous black spur run between Healesville and Marysville, before finally reaching our first night's accommodation on a windy dirt road outside Alexandra.
In hindsight, this could have been a recipe for disaster – a day where the three passengers were sampling the local wines and produce, followed by a large lunch, then leading into some of the best driving roads in Victoria. In other words, a perfect recipe for car-sickness!
Fortunately, none of the passengers had any problems whatsoever. Whilst I am tempted to take a lot of the credit due to my smooth driving skills, I must concede that the Audi had a few features which also played a large part. Firstly, the sports suspension performed an admirable job in keeping the car sitting flat through the corners, whilst having enough give to soak up the many imperfections in the road. In my experience, absence of body roll goes a long way towards avoiding car sickness, and the A3 has virtually none.
Another common inducer of automotive queasiness is heavy use of the brakes. Again the Audi shined here. With a couple of blips of the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, the DSG gearbox was able to be quickly downshifted on approach into corners, allowing the car to be gently slowed, and just as importantly, balanced for a smooth entry.
With the day drawing to the close, and the sun slowly dropping towards the horizon, we reached the final stretch of the day one journey - a 2 kilometre stretch of windy dirt road leading to our accommodation for the night. A fitting test for the quattro all-wheel-drive system.
As anyone who has driven in rural Australia will know, dusk means kangaroos. With this in mind, a quick pull on the gearstick puts the transmission into “sports” mode – meaning the car will now hold gears for longer and perform faster shifts. This is not, as some readers may be thinking, so I could reach our destination in world-rally-championship record time. Rather, the lower gears would give greater engine braking when I lifted off the accelerator, say, if a kangaroo or an unexpectedly tightening corner should appear. The sports mode served its purpose well, though it was eager to downshift when the accelerator was applied, sometimes startling the passengers. A better choice would be to put the car into manual mode, relying on the driver for gear changes. The quattro system provided noticeable benefit, kicking in smoothly for extra traction across the more slippery sections of road.
And so ends day one, with no harm to the local flora and fauna, and all occupants of the A3 in good spirits. All in all, the Audi excelled in all tasks, from luggage capacity to passenger comfort and importantly, driver involvement.
But wait – what about the rest of the journey, you ask? For now, let's just say, it's a tale of highway cruising, mountain passes, road feasts and beach escapes. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.