Audi A3 2016 Review | First Australian Drive
Audi A3 2016 Review | First Australian Drive

Audi A3 2016 Review | First Australian Drive


You know when you reckon you've got the room, you've got some great stories in the chamber and everyone's looking at you and then someone else walks in. That someone else has an effortless style and sophistication, doesn't try too hard, just looks great all the time?

BMW and Mercedes know that person. It's called the Audi A3. It outsells the BMW 1 Series by two to one and even beats the Mercedes A Class home (although if you add the CLA, not so much). From 2015 to 2016, market share of the segment it occupies has grown from a quarter to almost a third.

So there’s probably no point in updating it, right? Wrong. Because it’s now four years old and BMW and Mercedes have been chucking the kitchen at their cars to try and catch up, knowing Audi has something up its sleeve.

And here is - a refreshed A3 with new technology, new engines and some of the more subtle styling changes you’ll see, even for an Audi.

Price and Features

The current line-up features four engines (three petrols and a plug-in hybrid) two trim levels (Attraction and Ambition) and three body styles - Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet. Prices started at $36,500 for the 1.4 TFSI Attraction and up to $62,490 for the e-tron plug-in hybrid.

The lower-end petrol engine, the 1.4 TFSI has been replaced with the 1.0 TFSI turbo three-cylinder while the 1.8 TFSIs are gone in favour of the 2.0-litre. Staying is the more powerful 1.4 TFSI cylinder-on-demand unit. The Ambition and Attraction nameplates have disappeared, as have manual transmissions (which almost nobody bought).

Prices are up slightly over the old model although the 1.0 is cheaper than the 1.4 it replaces, (by $600) and with a higher level of specification to offset the drop in engine capacity (a trick already perfected on the new A4).

Audi says the 1.0 has $5000 more gear than the old 1.4 even though it moves to a torsion beam rear suspension unlike the multilink of all other variants, the 2.0 TFSI $3000 and the Quattro $7300. Normally the entry level model is the bait and switch, but in this case, it’s almost like Audi doesn't want you to buy the front-wheel drive 2.0 TFSI…

It's also worth pointing out that with the demise of the Attraction/Ambition models, it's harder to compare like for like.

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All cars feature a retracting seven-inch screen, sat nav, seven-speed twin clutch transmission, dual-zone climate control, remote central locking, USB and Bluetooth and an identical eight-speaker stereo across the range, with a couple of upgrades available.

Xenon headlights are now standard and show-stopping matrix LEDs are on the options list for the first time on the A3. Also making its debut on the options list is the brilliant Virtual Cockpit.

There's a lot going on in the pricing, so I'll break it down into bodystyles.

The Sportback starts at the 1.0-litre for $35,900, jumps to $39,900 for the 1.4 COD, on to $45,900 for the 2.0 TFSI FWD and then Quattro adds a further $4000 to land at $49,500.

The Sedan does without the 1.0 litre, instead starting at $41,500 for the 1.4 ($1600 more than the Sportback), $47,500 for the 2.0 TFSI FWD and $51,100 for the Quattro.

The Cabriolet, perhaps wisely, also goes without the 1.0-litre, with a stout $49,000 for the entry-level 1.4 COD, a further $6000 for the 2.0 TFSI and then another $3600 for the Quattro, ending at $58,600, a relative bargain next to the BMW 2 Series.

As ever, there’s a series of packages that roll up a number of options:

-    Technik Package ($2900): Virtual Cockpit, MMI Navigation Plus, flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddles

-    Style Package: ($2400) LED headlights and taillights with dynamic scrolling indicators, 18-inch alloys, sport suspension, different dash inlays depending on model

-    Assistance Package: ($1500) Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, high beam assist and hill holder.

-    S-Line Package (Quattro only): ($4200) Alcantara and leather upholstery, sports suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddles

-    Comfort Package: ($2300-$2500) Heated electric front seats with electric lumbar support, sport seats (1.4 COD, standard on 2.0 TFSI and above), keyless entry and start, auto dimming rear vision mirror and heated folding exterior rear vision mirrors.

Individual options include Audi’s smartphone integration (standard on 2.0 TFSI and up) which brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for $650, various interior and exterior styling tweaks and the excellent Matrix LED headlights for between $1300 and $2800 depending on the model.

Practicality

Virtually nothing has changed on the practicality front. There’s the same four cupholders, the same four bottle holders and the volumes and passenger comfort all remain identical. Naturally, the Cabriolet's lack of rear doors means it loses two bottle holders.

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The Sportback’s boot will swallow 380 litres with the seats up and 1220 seats down, the sedan’s 425 (just 55 off the A4’s) and the Cabrio will take a still-okay 320 litres, although the shape is a bit weird.

Front and rear space for passengers is adequate for most. Rear passengers will find headroom fine and kneeroom less fine but every car in this segment has the same problem. It’s probably the least compromised in that respect.

Cabriolet passengers are rather less well looked-after. Roof up it's claustrophobic and dark while dropping the lid will only reinforce just how little space there is between the front and rear seats. Makes a Jetstar seat look positively luxurious.

Design

The third-generation A3 is a familiar sight on our roads and you’ll need your specs on to spot the differences. There’s new bumpers front and rear, new headlights and taillights and the usual detail changes to the front grille - it’s now wider and a bit more aggressive (though not very much).

The Cabriolet and sedan are both handsome designs while the hatch is fairly demure, although the new front and rear bumpers add the tiniest of edges. Some may feel the sedan looks “too much like an A4” as though that’s an insult. You won’t miss the new Vegas Yellow, one of four new colours.

New wheel options are available too, but that’s about the speed of it. Get used to this A3, too, because word on the street is that the A3 will be with us for a while longer than usual due to the sins of parent company Volkswagen.

Inside is largely the same, although you can now specify the fully digital 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit that is shoe-horned into the existing pod on the dash. There wasn’t a lot wrong with the A3’s interior, so it’s been left almost completely unchanged. The 7.0-inch screen still slides silently out of the dash and runs an updated MMI system familiar from the new Q7 and A4. 

Engine and Transmission

The model refresh brings Audi’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo (only for the Sportback), lifted from underneath the A1’s bonnet. Generating 85kW and 200Nm, you're not losing much to the 1.4 TFSI it replaces. In the case of torque, you’re not losing a single Newton millimetre. The triple is lighter and just four tenths slower to 100km/h, coming in at 9.9 seconds for 1200kg hatch. Power reaches the road via a seven-speed S-tronic auto (DSG to you and me). 

The 1.4 COD (cylinder-on-demand) soldiers on unchanged, developing 110kW and 250Nm and fitted with the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox.

The new 2.0 TFSI supplies more power and torque than the outgoing 1.8. Power is up 8kW to 140kW while torque is up an extremely handy 70Nm to 320Nm. Audi says much attention has been lavished on the combustion cycle, reducing consumption and emissions while increasing power.

You can have the 2.0 with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive Quattro along with the newly-developed wet clutch version of the seven-speed S-tronic transmission. The new gearbox has been designed for higher torque values, which explains why past diesels and quicker petrol Audis used the six-speed. The new one has shorter first and second gears for quicker off-the-line performance.

All engines feature stop-start and cut out as you slow or coast to a halt once you drop below 6km/h.

Fuel Consumption

The 1.0 TFSI delivers a 0.1L/100km improvement over the 1.4-litre it replaces on the combined cycle while producing the same amount of torque. The 1.4 COD is the same and so the figures are unchanged while the new 2.0-litre TFSI uses 0.3L/100km more on the front-drive but 0.4L/100km less on the Quattro models. Part of the reason the Quattro is relatively frugal is the updated all-wheel drive system that disconnects the rear wheels when not needed to reduce mechanical drag and therefore consumption.

1.0 TFSI: 4.8L/100km Sportback
1.4 COD: 5.0L/100km Sportback / 4.9L/100km sedan / 5.1L/100km Cabriolet
2.0 TFSI:  5.9L/100km / 5.8L/100km sedan / 6.0L/100km Cabriolet
2.0 TFSI Quattro: 6.2L/100km Sportback / 6.1L/100km Sedan / 6.4L/100km Cabriolet

Driving

Across the board, the new A3 is a very quiet, composed and relaxed car. While it may not look a lot different, there’s clearly been a fair bit of work going on underneath the car to improve the driving experience.

Starting with the 1.0 litre, it’s got a little bit of character although some of that comes out in mildly undesirable ways. It’s a very refined unit and is almost as easy on the fuel as the official figures suggest, even in the hands of hooligan motoring journalists (who fought tooth and nail over the car on the launch program). In traffic you’ll barely notice it’s not particularly powerful as the seven-speed is well-matched to the engine and keeps you rolling along nicely on the impressive-for-its-size torque figure.

You know it’s a little engine when it wakes up at the traffic lights, though - start-up elicits a cough and a shudder that you’ll feel through the wheel. The low rolling resistance tyres are also a bit iffy, moaning as you change direction at even moderate speeds. Clearly this car isn’t aimed at the enthusiast, but a bit more grip would be welcome. When driving inside the tyres’ modest limits, it’s a very pleasant place to be, though. This car will tempt a few higher-end Japanese or Korean hatch buyers if they can stretch to a couple of options to make it all a bit more comfortable and on gadget parity. You'll really want to add the Comfort Package and smartphone interface to bring yourself up to speed, nudging you ever closer to $40,000.

The 1.4 COD is, as ever, an impressive machine. The torque figure ensures swift, relaxed progress as long as you’re not expecting fireworks and is unobtrusive in operation. There’s little wind or road noise and as a total package, it’s difficult to pick between it and the next model up, the 2.0 TFSI, except you'll have several thousand dollars to spend on options.

There is a big jump in performance between the two, however, and the addition of the sports suspension is now less of a drama. Over the years Audi has ironed out the bone-shaking ride of its sportier suspension tunes. The latest evolution is quiet, composed and a very useful increase in handling ability without surrendering much of the ride quality.

The Quattro is barely quicker or different to drive in most conditions and it’s only when the surface is loose or slippery where you’re going to notice any real difference between the front-wheel drive machines. In the dry it will dole out the torque more efficiently and get you to 100km/h a bit quicker, but it isn’t starkly different to drive unless you’re absolutely caning it. The Quattro is also slightly noisier with fatter tyres and extra moving parts underneath. But, with such a comparatively small distance between the pricing, you’d be mad (or on already the edge with your budget) not to go to the Quattro.

The Cabriolet is still very much a cruiser. In 2.0 TFSI form it's quick and capable but with the roof down, its body feels a little more flexible than a 2 Series drop-top. It is, however, quieter but it's irritating that seat heating and blow-in-your-ear neck heating is an $1170 option (similarly with the BMW).

Safety

Across the range are seven airbags (including driver’s knee bag), ABS, stability and traction controls, autonomous emergency braking (up to 65km/h)and driver attention detection.

The 2.0 TFSI-powered models pick up reverse cross traffic alert as standard. The five star ANCAP safety rating continues.

Ownership

The A3 comes with Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and three years roadside assist.

Three years/45,000km of servicing can be pre-purchased for around $1700. Covered items are laid out on the website but buyer beware when it comes to “scheduled servicing.” Audi expects to see you once a year or every 15,000km, whichever comes first.


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