• Audi A3 sedan.
    Audi A3 sedan.
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Audi A3 sedan review, road test

17th Nov 2014 1:22 pm

Read the Audi A3 sedan review, road test from Autocar India; The first of the compact luxury sedans to hit the Indian market, the Audi A3 gets our road-test treatment.

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  • Make : Audi
  • Model : A3

There are a number of questions the new A3 has to answer. First, was Audi’s decision to skip the luxury hatchback segment in India and go straight to the compact luxury sedan segment a smart one? Well, considering it has the first-mover advantage, and that it managed a starting price that’s on par with the luxury hatches on sale right now, on paper at least, yes it was. It’s more car for the same money; simple. Staying with that launch price – Rs 22.95 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) – is the base model really worth considering, and if not, how far up the range would you have to go to get a proper A3? Can a car at this price and of this size be a proper Audi, and does the A3 have enough substance to justify its costing a bit more than a larger car with a mainstream badge like, say, a Skoda Superb? And finally, the one Audi would probably not want answered – with the top-end diesel priced at Rs 33 lakh, wouldn’t you just be better off with the larger, more spacious A4 instead? Only a comprehensive road test can give us the answers.

Here’s where the compactness comes handy. The A3 isn’t a heavy car, and this helps both versions deliver respectable efficiency figures. The 40 TFSI manages 9.8kpl in the city and 14.2kpl on the highway; though based on past experience with this engine, those figures can drop significantly if you have a heavy right foot. The 35 TDI version is not too bad either, managing 12.3kpl in the city and 17.5kpl out on the highway. Interestingly, the petrol car gets an engine stop-start system as standard, which is not fitted to any of the diesel models.

 

At 4,456mm long, the A3 sedan is a full 245mm shorter than an A4. In fact, in terms of length, it’s more comparable to a Honda City. But relatively compact as it is, the A3 still looks as taut and muscular as any of the larger Audi sedans. The wide body and low roofline, in particular, give the A3 its attractive squat stance. This apart, the large grille, sharply cut headlamps, LED running lamps and minimalist ‘V’ on the bonnet are elements we’ve come to expect on a car from Ingolstadt. Other bits of interest include the very A6-like glasshouse, the bold belt line and mildly flared wheel arches that house 16- or 17-inch wheels, depending on which variant you buy. At the rear, the tapering tail-lamps and a pronounced lip atop the boot help distinguish the A3 from the other Audis. But smart as this car is, it does look a tad understated and won’t draw attention in the way its upcoming and very extroverted rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, will. 

As for the technicals, the Audi A3 is built on the VW Group’s flexible MQB platform, positions its engines transversely and, for India, will be sold in front-wheel-drive form only. In addition to electronic differential lock that helps traction, traction control, electronic stability control, ABS and front and side airbags are part of the A3’s safety suite.

Unlike bigger, aluminium-intensive Audis, the A3’s body is predominantly made of steel with the bonnet being the only aluminium bit. For the record, the A3 diesel weighs in at 1,340kg while the petrol car weighs 1,295kg. The weight is distributed 60:40 (front:rear) and is supported by MacPherson struts up front and a four-link setup at the rear, but Audi has stiffened the front suspension on the diesel on account of the heavier engine. In fact, on the whole, all Indian A3s are set up a little stiffer than the standard European model to deliver what Audi says is the
optimal ride in our conditions.

 

 

The look of an Audi cabin rarely divides opinion, but the A3’s did, and that’s down to its minimalist dashboard. While some found the dash sporty, others found it a touch too plain. The Spartan centre console with its small (albeit beautifully finished) knurled knobs only accentuates the empty expanse on the top of the dash. However, you can opt for a beige-and-black upholstery combo instead, and that should liven things up a great deal.

There’s also no questions about quality; it’s excellent through and through. It literally begins at the door with a solid thunk on shut (down to the A3’s  use of sound-absorbent steel and not aluminium on its doors). Poke around and you’ll find soft-touch plastics galore and detailing is fantastic too. The turbine-like air con vents, for one, look brilliant and shut with a robust click. Even the reasonably sized glove box comes with felt lining while the storage recesses thoughtfully come with rubberised anti-slip bases. One thing that irked us though, is that the A3’s MMI infotainment screen is not as high-res as BMW’s iDrive unit or, for that matter, even Audi’s more sophisticated systems. Also worth a mention is that petrol A3s can only be had in the second-from-top Premium Plus trim. Interestingly, Audi is offering a sunroof only as a cost option.    

As for space, anyone familiar with Audi’s larger sedans will immediately find the A3’s cabin a lot more, well, intimate. To be fair, it’s not an issue if you are seated up front, where the electrically adjustable seats are supportive and there is enough head, shoulder and knee room, even for six-footers. You even get a good view out, though irritatingly, the driver’s side door mirror doesn’t have wide enough coverage and often leaves even large vehicles out of sight.

Rear seat occupants will have their own issues, which centre on the seeming lack of space. Legroom is decent if the passenger in front cooperates, but the small windows and average width make the rear of the cabin feel no larger than a mid-size sedan. The mediocre headroom further restricts its utility to taller passengers. The bigger issue at the back is not the space but the seat design itself, which hurts comfort the most. It’s just too upright for long journeys and the hard cushioning doesn’t help. Simply put, this is not the ideal car for a family of full-sized adults. That said, the sizeable 425-litre boot does acquit it on the airport run.

 

 

This car uses a pair of familiar four-cylinder engines that can be found in a number of VW Group cars that are on sale in India, although thanks to Audi’s new performance-based model naming structure, they’re known in these forms as the 35 TDI and the 40 TFSI. The 35 TDI is just the 2.0 TDI producing 141bhp and 32.63kgm of torque, both very healthy figures for a car of this size and weight. As with most of the other cars that use this motor, in the A3, it’s mated to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, though surprisingly, gearshift paddles have been left off the spec sheet; in a car for the self-driven, it’s a desirable option to have. As ever, this engine’s biggest strength is its chunky mid-range and the gearbox does a good job of sensing when you need it the most. The ’box also works well to get you through the slight turbo lag, and it’s very happy to hop straight to sixth and sit there when you’re cruising on the highway. The A3 TDI managed to crack an impressive 8.97sec from 0-100 in our tests, which is quicker than both the BMW 1-series and Merc A-class diesels, incidentally. And not surprisingly, with that mid-range torque, kickdown times are a quick 5.46sec and 7.14sec for 20-80kph and 40-100kph respectively.

But then you drive the 40 TFSI, and it’s even quicker, crossing 100kph in 8.21sec, and despatching 20-80kph in 4.88sec and 40-100kph in 5.63sec in kickdown mode. Yes, it’s the same 1.8-litre turbo-petrol engine that we know and love, and this is undoubtedly its best iteration yet.

It churns out a creamy 177bhp and 25.5kgm, and despite being turbocharged, it simply loves to be revved. Power delivery is smooth and effortless, and so strong is the performance, you wonder if there’s any need for the latest crop of dedicated performance-oriented four-cylinder compact luxury cars. There’s a little hesitation at low revs, but it’s masked superbly by the wonderful seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. And while the TDI can sound a little clattery, this one
is beautifully silent.
 

 

What we have here is, quite simply, one of the sweetest-handling Audi sedans we’ve come across in years. We’ve always found the handling of the bigger As to be really competent, but this one adds another element – fun. It’s simply a joy to chuck around corners, and that’s down to a number of factors. Primarily, it’s the very stiff chassis, which has allowed Audi to give the A3 softer suspension without corrupting the dynamics. Then there’s the steering, which though still not perfect, feels miles more direct and full of feel than just about any other recent Audi. The end result is a car that will eagerly dart into corners as quickly as you dare throw it. It feels light on its feet, there’s not too much understeer, with loads of grip, despite the lack of Quattro, and the body roll is all but imperceptible.

As for the ride, in the diesel, with its stiffer front end, you will feel a bit more of what’s going on under the tyres, particularly at city speeds over, for instance, a poorly paved piece of tarmac. Even so, it’s not as firm as the Mercedes A-class, and Audi’s equivalent of a ‘rough road package’ for India (read: added stiffness) seems to have been calibrated perfectly for our conditions. The petrol model is even better, with a slightly softer edge, especially when you consider our test cars were top-spec, wearing 17-inch wheels on 45-profile tyres. It’s impressive that Audi has managed to achieve this sort of compliance without the adaptive suspension trickery that you find in the bigger cars. The only fly in the ointment is road noise, and a fair bit of it comes into the cabin as you pick up speed. All said and done, Audi has nailed the ride and handling package on the A3, and for once it’s something we hope filters upwards into the next A4.

 

We started out by putting a lot of pressure on the A3’s small shoulders, but given its tricky position in our market, it’s something we just had to do. You see, a luxury hatchback is still largely seen as a ‘premium plaything’, a frivolous addition to a garage that already houses at least one bigger ‘proper’ luxury car. But being a sedan, the A3 has a lot more to prove; it is a more realistic migration point for someone moving up from a mainstream car to their first luxury car. Amazingly, however, it has acquitted itself with flying colours. Is it a real Audi? Yes it is, because even with the base model’s fabric upholstery and stifled equipment list, the quality levels, technology and engineering are on a level above mainstream cars. Though to be fair, we feel the true A3 experience starts at the second-tier ‘Premium’ trim. This is also why it shouldn’t be compared to similarly priced cars from mainstream brands like VW and Skoda – because the A3 feels far more premium and like a true luxury car. It’s also supremely fun to drive, while managing to ride comfortably too. The only real ‘non-luxury’ thing about it is the cramped back seat, especially when you consider how expensive the top trims are. Which brings us to the A4, whose starting price overlaps with the A3’s higher models. It’s a simple case of size versus spec – and if you’re mostly driving yourself and want all the bells and whistles, it has to be the A3. Audi has taken no shortcuts with its compact luxury sedan; it’s a car that has well and truly earned its four rings. 

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