Four rings, four doors

That’s the for­mula for com­pact car suc­cess

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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

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