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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Ambition

Our Opinion

We like
Design inside and out, cabin quality, slick drivetrain, great handling, composed roadholding, overall refinement and quality
Room for improvement
Some road noise, slightly muted steering, expensive options, ride still a tad firm

Gallery

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Audi logo19 Sep 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

Price and equipment

Being lovers of five doors but haters of three doors, Audi’s local product planners ignored the latter released earlier last year for the former, known hitherto as ‘Sportback’.

In a suspicious move, Audi, BMW and Benz have pegged their base chi-chi hatchback models’ pricing at an identical $35,600, which is within cooee of many up-spec Golf buyers these days.

We wanted to get down to the very essence of A3 so we went for the model with an actual Audi engine – the $42,500 1.8 TFSI Ambition.

Standard features include alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a pop-up screen with eight speakers, Bluetooth audio streaming, cruise control, ‘Dynamic’ suspension, auto-on/off headlights and wipers, and paddle shifters.

Our striking grey example arrived with almost $7500 worth of extras, ranging from the exquisitely designed Xenons with LED daytime driving lights ($1600) and a Technik pack ($2990 for a lavish touchscreen, parking assistance and rear-view camera – a pack that VW also offers for half the price, FYI).

It also included a Driving Assistance package ($1800 for radar-based cruise control, lane-departure, something that nudges the steering to keep it from straying into the next lane called ‘Pre-Sense Basic’, and high-beam assist) and $1050 metallic paint.

All up: $49,940.

As you shall see, however, what makes the A3 Sportback a delightful little luxo hatch isn’t what’s added-on but what’s built-in.

Interior

If you want to experience the biggest difference between the A3 and Golf then look no further than inside what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most salubrious small-car cabins.

In the past, there was precious little in it, but now Audi has pushed its C-segment hatchback’s boundaries by broadening its luxury sedan features to include the A3. The devil, as the cliché goes, is in the details.

Olfactory senses are the first to fall under the luxury charm with the brand’s pungent odour of opulence reeking through the moment you open that hefty door.

Sat on body-hugging bolstered front seats of exceptional comfort, your touch senses are then tantalised by Audinium – that matt squishy material that is surely the Liberace of plastics. In the ‘90s we called it slush-moulded. It graces pretty much everything you care to caress.

Sounding too erotic for you? Look away then, because there’s more.

Consider the S-tronic gear lever. And did Barbarella inspire those centre vents with actions that titillate to the extreme? They’re enough to get you hot under the collar.

You’ll be grateful for the effectiveness of the HVAC heating/air-con layout, simplicity of the elegant instrument layout and beauty of fascia’s ice-cool illumination at night.

There are tonnes more details to drink in, but just be sure to run your fingers over the glovebox’s inside lining, stainless-steel like switchgear, or the (optional but entirely worth it) MMI controller and its hand-writing recognition interface.

Furthermore, the way the central screen glides up effortlessly from the dash is a joy to behold, and the surprise-and-delight features just keep coming with the various pictograms that help describe the hundreds of different functions available.

Audi’s interior designers have excelled themselves with their use décor and trim. It’s like a near-future high-tech showcase of taste sprinkled with workable minimalism.

While you can certainly appreciate the class-leading quality and practicality of a modern Golf cabin, the A3 Ambition’s efforts are in excelsior.

The mundane things aren’t forgotten about either. Sitting on a longer and wider track then ever before, there’s ample space up front, and more than sufficient amounts out back despite the tapering roofline.

Once ensconced on the firm but fine rear bench, you’ll appreciate the further attention to detail that Audi paid. Weirdly, though, there is no rear centre armrest, nor a ski-port like you’ll find in a Golf Comfortline-upwards. It doesn’t feel quite as roomy either, but there certainly is enough for four adults and even a fifth at a squeeze.

On the flipside, the hatch area is pretty generous. Storage is rated at 380 litres (or 1220L with the 60:40 rear bench folded), and comes complete with storage slots, load-area hooks, a 12V outlet, LED spot lights (!), and a floor that is held up automatically if you need to fetch the space-saver spare.

In the A3 Sportback you could even live in the lush boot and think you’ve hit the big time.

Engine and transmission

Speaking of boot, if you bury yours then Audi’s fine 1.8-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo petrol unit is certainly up for a play.

Slick, smooth, and deceptively speedy, the TFSI’s velvety power delivery makes the A3 a rapid yet refined little grand tourer.

Credit needs to go to the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that facilitates all that performance. Just plant the throttle and the Sportback springs forward, and just keeps on pulling.

Egged on by a nice little exhaust note, with 132kW and a handy 250Nm of torque constrained by the front wheels, it feels somewhat livelier than the 7.3-second 0-100km/h-sprint time suggests.

Select ‘Sport’ and the ratios are held on to for longer, the changes are more urgent, and the rorty four-pot turbo seems altogether more eager to lose you your precious license points.

However this can all seem a little tiring when all you want to do is negotiate heavy traffic. Still, it is great to know that there’s oomph available at your fingertips.

Stop/Start tech helps keep the fuel consumption figure down to about 8L/100km on the outer-urban runs and closer to 10 on clogged up roads, reflecting the high-output nature of the Ambition’s powerplant.

Ride and handling

Audi was first out with the Volkswagen Group’s acclaimed MQB architecture, which sees around 85kg lopped off this A3 compared to the last one.

Along with significantly better economy and efficiency, the driving experience also improves out of sight.

In the hands of a grateful driver, the chassis feels light, lively, and alive, keen to sniff and then straighten out a serious set of curves. Aiding its aim is a stiff and strong chassis, giving the Sportback impressive poise and grip.

However, even with the Drive Select system (offering various driving modes that tweak the steering, throttle and transmission shifts) set to Dynamic, the steering – though reactive and beautifully measured – isn’t as tactile as the best of them enthusiastic helms-peeps will soon be defaulting to Auto or even Comfort to better enjoy the A3’s muted refinement instead.

In isolation, the Audi’s ride is a big step forward over the previous one on tyres as sport-biased as the Pirelli Cinturato 225/45 R17 rubber. The crashy hardness that blighted the four-ringed cars for the best part of a decade is hopefully deader than a dodo.

Sneakily, we happened to have a $25K Golf 90TSI Comfortline and a $32K 103TSI Highline at the same time as the Ambition, and both betray the lingering firmness that instils every Audi. It’s not uncomfortable – and, indeed, most buyers won’t even care – but back-to-back with the A3’s closest cousin, it is clear that the brand isn’t about to concede any dynamic advantage to the Ultimate Driving Machine competition (BMW) across in Munich.

On the flipside, and this may be down to tyre choice, the Sportback’s ride is quieter than we’ve experienced in the suppler Golf 103TSI, but there is still road and tyre noise intrusion on certain surfaces… a very typical German vehicle characteristic.

Safety and servicing

Like all Audis, the A3 scores a convincing five-star NCAP crash-test rating.

No fixed-price servicing is offered in Australia, but there is a three-year free roadside assistance service on all new Audis.

Verdict

It’s a tough quintet of quality little luxury hatchbacks battling out in the sub-$50K segment.

But rest assured, Audi fans, the A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI Ambition can sure hold its handsome head up high, offering a level of true premium design details and engineering to justify its existence.

In fact, and we’ve never said this before in the A3’s 17-year history, we reckon this model justifies the price difference compared to the excellent new VW Golf Mk7.

Now that’s truly a first.

Rivals

BMW 118i (from $42,500 plus on-roads).

The only rear-drive hatch on sale, the second-gen 1 Series improves the ownership experience in a roomier and more refined package – though rear-seat legroom and boot space levels are still tight.

Mercedes-Benz A200 (from $40,900 plus on-roads).

Much longer and lower than the first two A-Class series, the third-gen hatch is far more conventional in every area, with a definite sportier and more youthful edge.

Volvo V40 T4 Kinetic (from $41,990 plus on-roads).

Handsome styling and a solid interior presentation set the V40 apart, in true modern Volvo fashion, while performance and safety levels are also impressive.

This is the marque’s last Ford-based (Focus) model.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Audi A3 1.8 TFSI Ambition S-Tronic
ENGINE: 1798cc 4-cyl turbo petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 132kW @ 5100-6200rpm
TORQUE: 250Nm @ 1250-5000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-spd dual-clutch
0-100km: 7.3
TOP SPEED: N/A
FUEL: 5.6L/100km
CO2: 129g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4310/1785/1425/2634mm
WEIGHT: 1280kg
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Multi-link
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $42,500 plus on-roads

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