Four rings, four doors
That’s the formula for compact car success
BEING first isn’t always best but the move is likely to pay off for Audi as it sets the pace in the prestige compact sedan segment. The A3 might lack the dynamics of a BMW or Mercedes-Benz— and that’s yet to be established— but Audi research shows premium compact sedan buyers invest in style and brand. The A3 sedan backs that up with build quality and on-road manners to tempt potential owners behind the wheel and keep them there.
A $3000 premium over the comparable A3 Sportback models adds a 425-litre boot and a similarly large lift in style. Local prices haven’t been finalised— the cars won’t land here until January or February— but expect prices to start about $38,600 for the 1.4-litre petrol that will be sold in Attraction specification, rising to $45,600 for the 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre turbo diesel in the higher Ambition spec.
The dual-clutch S-tronic transmission is the default option, with six or seven ratios; a six-speed manual is a no-cost special order.
Sit behind the wheel and the car feels more expensive and expansive than the price suggests, to the point potential A4 buyers may decide they can do with marginally less space.
Standard gear is fairly basic at this level but Audi has bundled its best features in packages that cost between $2000 and $3000.
Cylinder deactivation flows to the compact class in the base 1.4-litre petrol launch engine (the same size engine without deactivation arrives next year).
It’s a clever approach that uses camshaft sleeves with different profiles. When the engine is under low load and running at 1000-4000rpm, the sleeve rotates to avoid activating the valves on two cylinders Audi says it trims fuel use by 0.4L/100km and shutdown is all but imperceptible, with a tiny jolt when the driver accelerates and the cylinders kick back in.
Weight savings are evident across the range and in every area of the car, from an aluminium bonnet to the alloy crank. Audi continues to turbocharge all engines to satisfy power/economy targets to the point even the 1.4 is capable of axle tramp on a wet road— yet it officially uses just 4.7L/100km.
Audi has gone kinky and it transforms the A3 sedan into the edgiest-looking sedan in its range. The sharp crease-lines typical of the brand now extend into three dimensions— the shoulder and character lines aren’t creases so much as extruded edges and it gives the profile a genuinely sporty look.
Flared guards with a recessed rim enhance the effect. The back is just as distinctive— identifiably Audi but with more character than other models. The VW Group’s MQB chassis enabled the engineers to trim the front and rear overhangs and the body is wider and lower than the fivedoor A3.
The interior is at least a match for the quality seen in the larger, more expensive, and supposedly more luxurious A4 sedan. All surfaces are soft touch or high-gloss contrast inserts and the switchgear, from the vents to the electronic park brake, is as tactile as you’ll find in any vehicle.
The seats are supportive and a pair of 180cm adults can sit in the front or back, though
the centre rear seat doubles as the ski port, so it is hard on the back and will be uncomfortable after more than a couple of blocks.
The A3 is a five-star car and the sedan is a step up on the Sportback. Seven airbags are standard, though buyers will pay about $1990 for the advanced safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure and blind spot warnings. A reversing camera isn’t standard— it is paired with the MMI Navigation Plus package that extends the popup infotainment screen from 5.8 inches to 7 inches and adds satnav and auto-parking software. The package is expected to match the $2990 cost on the Sportback.
At the launch— over a patchwork of repaired potholes and distinct wheel track ruts on Hungarian back-roads that resemble Australian rural conditions— the compact sedan shines.
The ride is, as anticipated, firmer than Asian cars without being harsh and will only be improved when Audi releases its optional magnetic dampers soon after the car’s local launch.
It handles like a small car but rides like a mid-sized sedan and even in the rear seat there is little perception of body roll or pitching. Wind noise is subdued but Carsguide suspects the optional low-profile 19-inch rubber fitted to the 1.8-litre petrol car will generate some tyre noise on our coarse-chip bitumen.
The steering is light and direct but lacks the feedback of its German rivals, so cornering is based on visual rather than visceral stimulation.
The 221kW S3 sedan should arrive in March to satisfy fourringed fans who want more driving dynamics. A quattro set-up for the regular 1.8 will be available at launch for those who want to use the ski port on trips to the snow.
Audi needs something special to take on the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the still-in-gestation BMW1 Series sedan.
The A3 is that car— at least for those who want a premium sedan that performs but who aren’t too bothered about buying a pseudo sports car.
Transformer: The A3 is Audi’s edgiestlooking sedan