Affordable sedans are the rage in India. The Maruti Dzire, Honda Amaze and Hyundai Xcent rule the roost, and the popularity of these cars with Indian car buyers becomes all the more clear when you look at how many people prefer to buy them over similarly priced hatchbacks. Luxury carmaker Audi is hoping to cash in on a similar trend, albeit a bit higher up the price charts. The company’s stunning new Audi A3 will be India’s most affordable luxury sedan when it is launched this month, and Audi is hoping it will have more of a draw than the generously specified luxury hatchbacks like the Mercedes-Benz A-class or BMW 1-series.
The A3 sedan deals the first blow with its striking looks. The nose can easily be confused with that of an A6, the protruding chin gives it a bit of extra character, and the upward sweep of the shoulder line gives it a shot of dynamism not seen on all Audis. Even the rear, with its layered bumper and ‘tucked in’ tail-lights, looks stunning.
What’s it like on the inside?
Stepping into the cabin also brings you face to face with plenty of familiar Audi bits. The high-visibility instrument panel, the leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel and the pop-up MMI screen are all recognisable. What’s new, however, is the treatment of the centre console, which appears to be a bit sparse. Circular turbine-like vents take pride of place, buttons and switches are concentrated in a narrow horizontal band, and there is an air of minimalism here. It’s clear, plenty has been borrowed from the cabin of Audi’s iconic sportscar, the TT, and that sporty vibe works. The essential luxury bits are there too; there is plenty of chrome to give the cabin a lift, everything feels solidly screwed together and, despite the lack of flash, there really is a pervading sense of quality in the cabin.
The car we were driving didn’t come with paddles to control the gearbox, but you get a big sunroof, push-button start and full connectivity via the MMI system. The powered seats are also large, reasonably supportive and they are good even for a long day in the saddle. The rear seats, however, are not as comfortable. They’re not as big or as supportive, legroom is tight and thigh support is only average. You do get a rear air-con vent though, and visibility from the rear seat is quite good. What’s clear is that the focus here is on self-driven owners.
What’s it like to drive?
If you are going to drive the Audi A3 sedan yourself, you are in for a bit of a treat, as Audi, cleverly, has specified two punchy and powerful engines for the car in India. The diesel, a powerful 2.0 TDI, puts out an impressive 141bhp, and even better is the fact that it has plenty of pulling power as well. Very similar to the engine under the hood of the Skoda Octavia, we expect it will be responsive and work really well with the six-speed, twin-clutch gearbox.
Even nicer is this very powerful 177bhp 1.8 TFSI petrol engine we are driving. It feels refined at idle and is smooth to drive even at slow speeds. It is a turbocharged engine and so you do get a bit of a hesitation as you take off from rest, but this is only for a brief moment. As soon as you cross 2,000rpm, the engine immediately becomes more willing to spin faster. Momentum is effortlessly built; spin the motor past 3,500rpm and you find that you often need to hold back, so energetic is the power delivery. Spin the engine harder and you are confronted by genuinely sporty performance, as the needle winds itself around the tachometer all the way to 6,500rpm, a tremendous burst of acceleration unleashed as you go. The seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox is so quick, you can run through the gears almost seamlessly, the Audi A3 shooting forward like a genuine performance car. Keep pressing on and the car will continue pulling hard all the way to 180kph. It really is no surprise that 0-100kph comes up in 8.2 seconds; a sporty snarl emitted from under the hood.
The Audi A3 even steers and drives like a pro. The suspension has been almost perfectly set up for Indian conditions. On one hand, it is stiff enough to allow the car to handle with confidence, and on the other, it is absorbent too. Ride quality, in fact, is so good, we soon become blasé and power over all manner of broken tarmac. There is a hint of stiffness and you do get jostled around a bit at times, but the Audi A3 sedan generally seems so unperturbed and rides so flat, you tend not to slow down unless the holes in the road are really big. Only the slightly low-slung front of the car worried us a bit.
Also stellar is stability at high speeds. The car feels rock-solid even when the needle is wound over to the ‘wrong’ side of the speedometer, and it’s sure-footed enough that you can change direction with a mere flick of the wrist, confident in the knowledge the car won’t lose its composure. The Audi A3 even allows you to attack corners fearlessly, the nicely weighted steering helping a lot here. The little Audi feels perfectly poised in the corners, and the suspension, brakes, engine and gearbox work so well together, the A3 drives as well or better than almost any Audi we’ve driven in recent times. If only there was some real feel from the steering here. If you enjoy driving, this car is for you.
Audi’s A3 sedan is seriously accomplished. It looks, rides, drives and performs as well as any Audi, and the interiors, though a step down, still feel like the genuine article. Yes, legroom in the rear is limited, and the car won’t be cheap at an expected price of Rs 28 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), but the A3 gives you so much, for once we think paying that little bit extra is well worth it. Expect it in showrooms by the end of July.