Ever since its launch in India a couple of years back, the Audi A3 has been our favourite compact luxury sedan in the Indian auto market. It offers up a solid dose of practicality and performance, but when compared to its closest rival, it does feel a little held back when it comes to styling. So for 2016, Audi is preparing to launch a facelifted version of the A3, and I’m going to say this right off the bat, that even now it might not have the same pizazz of the Mercedes-Benz CLA, but it does bring a whole host of improvements to the table.
On the outside
The overall shape that makes the A3 such an attractive car, especially the low overhangs at both ends have been maintained. Even in terms of dimensions, there’s barely any change from the previous car. However, at the front, the signature Audi single frame grille is a bit larger and sharper in its design. The front air dam has also been revised to feature chunkier intakes and makes the car look sportier than before. The headlights too have seen a redesign and are now flatter with sharper edges, much like you find on the new Audi A4.
Looking at the A3 from the front, there’s in fact very little to differentiate from the current generation A4. One big bit of technology that Audi engineers have added is the option for the company’s cutting-edge Matrix LED headlights, making it the first time they’re being offered in this segment of car. The Matrix lights contain individual LEDs that can automatically adapt to oncoming traffic so as to not blind other road users, and in conjunction with satellite navigation from the car’s MMI (Multi Media Interface), can actually predict upcoming corners and start turning the beam towards the direction of steering pre-emptively. Apart from that, the A3 also gets dynamic LED indicators which are consecutively actuated to give them the appearance of running outwards into the direction of the turn while flashing at the same time. At the back, this facelift also gets a more sporty rear diffuser along with redesigned tail-lights which feature dynamic turn indicators as well.
The inside story
Step inside the new A3 and you’ll realise that for the most part, not much has changed in the overall layout of the cabin. The most striking difference is an optional new steering wheel, which now comes with an extremely sporty flat-bottom design (which was originally only available on the S3). All the A3s we drove in Munich came with paddle shifters on the wheel, and we really hope Audi includes these when they bring the car to India.
Design-wise, while most of the interiors remain the same, the turbine-like air conditioning vents have been slightly redesigned and Audi now offers illuminated door sills as an option. When it comes to interior features, a big change is the addition of the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which completely does away with analogue dials in the instrument. Instead, what you get is a high-resolution 12.3-inch TFT screen which has two view settings. In the traditional mode, the tachometer and speedometer appear as large analogue displays. In infotainment mode, the speedo and tacho are relegated to smaller displays in the corner, with the majority of the screen area displaying between a choice of phone, audio or navigation data. Even the MMI interface for the 7-inch electrically extending centre screen has been revised to make it a lot more intuitive to use. There are a couple of additions that have taken the convenience up by a good margin, such as the inclusion of an additional USB port in the centre console and a “phone box” in the centre arm rest which offers wireless induction charging and near-field (NFC) connectivity.
When it came to the interior ergonomics, there’s really no change from the previous car. So while the front seats area comfortable and spacious, the back bench is a little short on space, but still manages better than some other cars in this class.
Under the hood
Audi has done a fair bit of overhaul when it came to its engine line-up for the new A3. On offer are a choice of six motors – three diesel and three petrol, of which we got a chance to sample three. There’s a very interesting entry-level 1.0-litre three cylinder TFSI mill that’s being offered for the first time on the A3, but it’s very unlikely that this will be brought to India. The biggest highlight in the powertrain department was the axing of the 1.8 TFSI motor in favour of a newly developed 2.0 TFSI unit. This new engine makes 190hp of peak power and a whopping 320Nm of torque (the same as the 2.0-litre diesel) which is spread between 1,500 and 4,200rpm. With a brand new 7-speed S tronic (dual-clutch) gearbox handling transmission duties, the A3 with this motor can make the sprint to 100kph from a standstill in just 6.7 seconds, onwards to a top speed of 244kph. This new motor also features an innovative combustion scheme called the Miller-cycle system, where the intake valve is held open for sometime during the compression stroke to strike a balance between power created and reducing the energy required for compression and hence improving overall efficiency. Of the three cars we drove, this one was by far the most fun, and feels a lot peppier than the outgoing 1.8 TFSI that’s available in India. The flat torque curve allows the motor to provide plenty of acceleration whenever required, no matter what gear you’re in. And when you do need to change gears, or perform a kickdown, the new 7-speed S tronic ‘box is very responsive and an absolute delight to use in conjunction with the steering-mounted paddle shifters.
The two other motors we drove were two different tunes of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI diesel motor, one producing 150hp (similar to the the current India-spec 35TDI) and another producing 184hp. The 150hp diesel also makes 340Nm of torque, while the more powerful one produces 380Nm, and both motors make this peak torque figure between 1,750 to 3,000rpm. The 184hp TDI motor is quite impressive and has far lesser turbo lag as compared to the 150hp unit. While both diesel motors perform admirably, the more powerful one was, of course, a lot more fun to drive and provided far greater tractability.
Behind the wheel
The driving dynamics of the Audi A3 are pretty much unchanged and that’s a very good thing. The A3 is one of the best handling modern Audis and now with that new sporty steering wheel, things feel even better. Granted that the electro-mechanical power steering lacks the feedback of an all-mechanical unit, it still provides precise turn-ins and is very predictable. And even though two of the three cars we drove were front-wheel drive, they provided plenty of driving thrills around some winding roads outside of Munich. Nowhere did the grip feel like it was lacking, even as we encountered rainy weather and wet roads in the second half of the day. The 184hp 2.0-litre TDI that we drove came with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system which was grippier than a gecko on the wet roads. Now, we really can’t comment on ride quality at the moment, as we experienced nothing but great tarmac everywhere we drove. But considering that Audi went with the approach of “why fix it, if it ain’t broke?” in the suspension department, we figure that the new A3’s ability to handle Indian roads should be just as impressive as the current car.
Audi has gone a long way in integrating a whole bunch of driver-assist features from its larger cars into the A3. The cars we drove featured Active Lane Assist and Pre Sense Front, which included predictive pedestrian protection to improve safety. A new feature for this segment included Traffic Jam Assist, which working in conjunction with the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and the Stop&Go feature can automatically maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front and in sluggish traffic up to 65kph can even take over steering on smooth roads.
This system can safely bring the car to a stop if the driver takes to action even after the system has provided warnings. There’s also a Cross Traffic Assist rear system which warns the driver about traffic when backing out of a perpendicular parking space. In Europe, the company also offers the Audi Connect system where an LTE-enabled SIM card can be installed in the car when purchasing it, which not only allows the A3 to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but also integrate features such as Google Earth, Google Street View and real time traffic information into the on-board MMI system.
Now, while all the changes by themselves might not seem like a big deal, when put together, make this new A3 an even more attractive proposition than ever before. Granted that we might not get all the engine options and all the high-tech optional features in India, it still represents a big improvement. This facelift goes on sale in Germany in July 2016, and we’ve been told that it should land here before the end of 2016. As for how much it would cost, no exact figures have been quoted yet, but it’d be safe to expect that you’ll need to shell out a bit of a premium over the current car. Worth it? seems like it…