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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Range

Our Opinion

We like
Better value, cabin design and build quality, roomier in the back than an A-Class or 1 Series, sparky petrol engines, improved dynamics
Room for improvement
Expensive options, no standard USB point, hard to pick new styling from the old


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24 May 2013

FIRST impressions last, or so they say. The first thing you see upon starting the A3 is an uber-slim flatscreen that rises like a phoenix from the top of the dash – surely a good start.

Indeed, when a brand sells a car based on a cheaper stablemate and markets it as premium – as Audi does with the A3 compared to its Volkswagen Golf relative – design touches like this become so important.

Indeed, a feeling of upper-crust luxury pervades the cabin – justifying Audi’s claim that it made no compromise to quality when it cut the price and the size. Soft-touch plastics, leather seats, an instrument toggle on the transmission tunnel, TT-esque round vents...

all outstanding.

But Audi has always made top-notch interiors, and while this new model is no exception, it’s how the car performed on the road that impressed us most.

The secret, says Audi, is the utilisation of parent company Volkswagen’s new MQB modular architecture. The A3 was the first car to use it, followed swiftly by said Golf and the new Skoda Octavia. In the future, it will support products of all stripes, from light-cars to SUVs.

Lighter than before, and cheaper thanks to a massive scale of production, the underpinnings have brought with them new-found dynamic nous.

The car as a whole is up to 85kg lighter than before, also thanks to a new shell and new engines, and as a result feels light on its feet and, thanks to a sharp new electric steering system, eager to turn-in.

Only front-drive versions are available for now (quattro is coming later this year), but even they felt grippy on twisty roads, and commendably neutral – meaning bereft of typical understeer.

Ride on the 16- and 17-inch wheels was also above-par, with minor corrugations and even gravel posing no glaring issue. Tyre noise was generally subdued, although we noticed a perceptible whine in one instance over a particularly coarse piece of Queensland blacktop.

The only area without marked improvement is propulsion. Don’t get us wrong, the new all-turbo engines – we drove two petrol four-cylinder units and one diesel – are good, but then again so were the old ones.

For our money, the $35,600 base 1.4 Attraction is the best bet. It rides a little better on 16s, and its 90kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo engine is smooth and sweet, with a fat torque curve and a refined nature.

The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle-shifters is still a little clumsy in stop-start traffic and it’s Sport mode over-revs ludicrously, though most of the kinks have been ironed out since the original (it’s essentially a Volkswagen DSG with another name, remember).

We didn’t drive the base 77kW/250Nm diesel ($36,500) that has headlining fuel economy figures of 3.9L/100km (the same as a Prius), though we did take this oiler’s big brother – a 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre unit – for a spin.

Like the Golf, this $42,500 version in flagship Ambition guise felt moderately heavier in the nose than its petrol sibling (probably because it is!), making turn-in a little less snappy (though again, the difference is minor).

Since the same outlay nets you the almost hot-hatch fast 132kW/250Nm 1.8 TFSI (0-110km/h in 7.3s), we don’t think we’d bother with the diesel. The top-spec petrol – again, like the 2.0 TDI only available in higher Ambition grading – is a rev-happy peach.

Ambitions also come with Audi Drive Select, which tweaks the throttle and transmission response to make it sportier, or dull it for better economy. It’s a gimmick.

So what else didn’t we like? Well, in true Audi style, if you want to spec out the cabin, you better be prepared to shell out the dollars.

Both versions have the same list of standard features including rear parking sensors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a pop-up 15cm screen with eight speakers, Bluetooth streaming, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers and paddle shifters.

But want satellite navigation? That’ll be $2990, bundled exclusively with a reversing camera. Daytime running lights (like those standard on a humble honda Civic hatch)? $2000 when exclusively bundled with larger alloys and Xenon headlights.

Compared to a Golf, which really is almost as good in most departments, the Audi is expensive. But then, it also has a prestige badge and cool cabin design (even without a standard USB point, for shame), meaning customers will gravitate.

And, more importantly, it’s an excellent alternative to the A-Class or 1 Series, even if its lacks their more outlandish design. We’d consider it a more humble, but no less talented, alternative.

That’s long been Audi’s shtick, and the A3 is one of its bet efforts yet.

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