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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Sportback 1.8 TFSI Quattro

Our Opinion

We like
Punchy 1.8-litre engine, one of the best prestige interiors around
Room for improvement
High price for options – especially metallic paint, all-paw system eats into fuel economy

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Audi logo14 Nov 2014

By BARRY PARK

Price and equipment

The Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI quattro S tronic, to give the most recent addition to the compact hatchback range its proper title, costs from $45,500 before onroads, placing it at the top of the A3 line-up excluding the hi-po S3.

If you were to dispense with the all-paw system, buying the version of the A3 that drags itself along using the front wheels alone will cost from $42,500, a $3000 saving.

The A3 range kicks off at $35,600 for a turbo 1.4-litre car, well down on the power of the quattro’s turbo 1.8-litre engine.

The all-wheel-drive A3 comes in base Attraction specification. Further down the tree that means the car sits on 16-inch alloys, but up this end of the price scale the car sits on bigger 17-inch hoops.

There’s dual-zone climate control, but the manually adjusted front sports seats are trimmed in leather rather than wholly wrapped in it, and the parking sensors are limited to the rear bumper.

On the bright side the headlights automatically come on at dusk, and as soon as a few spots of rain hit the windscreen, the wipers start sweeping.

Audi hasn’t yet caught up with the push-button start set, so you need to insert the key and crank the engine. You’ll also need the key in your hand to push the fob’s button to open the doors rather than leave it in your pocket as they unlock automatically.

A bonus is the cargo net in the boot space, which is handy for scooping up all your shopping bags. And it’s not really a bonus because Audi is renowned for it, but there is a super-clear, crisp eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and a USB connection that by rights belongs in a much more expensive set of wheels.

As always, options are the big earner for Audi. Metallic paint is $1050, better Xenon headlights ar $1650, and even a hole through the back-seat armrest for long, narrow objects costs $400.

Rivals? There are none that offer all-paw traction unless you go for the more performance-honed models costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Interior

Audi sets standards for interior presentation, and the range-topping A3 is no exception.

The layout, fit and finish and feel of all the materials where the hand falls is top-notch.

That said, the all-wheel-drive A3’s interior is indistinguishable from its front-drive cousin, right down to the large dial on the centre console between the driver and front-seat passenger that can also recognise letters scrawled with a finger on top of it.

The lightly bolstered seats hug nicely and are comfortable, the digital display rises slowly from the dash and stows at the push of a button, and the glovebox is lined in soft material, not harsh plastic.

Things are a bit more ordinary in the rear, which features a comfortable split-fold bench with air-conditioning vents blowing from the back of the centre console.

The bootlid opens high, providing adequate access even for a tall person. There’s a low floor with a flat loading lip that will swallow up to 350 litres.

Engine and transmission

The 1.8-litre turbocharged and fuel-injected four-cylinder engine is a Volkswagen Group staple, producing 132kW of power high in the rev range, but a meaty 250Nm from not far off idle.

Sitting behind it is a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox (the front-drive version gets a seven-speeder) that gives the small powerplant some big-engine feel.

Stomp the accelerator at a set of lights – assuming it hasn’t switched itself off as part of the idle-stop system that saves fuel when the A3 is not moving – and the all-paw A3 leaps away sprightly from the traffic lights.

It works well even under normal mode, but in sport mode, selected via a pull on the gear lever, the gearbox will hold longer, keeping the revs up near the 6500rpm redline. Better still, the paddle shifters fitted to the steering wheel add an element of fun to a sprightly performer.

The quattro all-wheel-drive system officially adds 170kg of weight, resulting in an extra 1.0 litre per 100 kilometres in fuel use over the front-drive version to give a combined figure of 6.6L/100km.

Ride and handling

The boggo Audi A3 Sportback with its low-profile 17-inch Pirelli Cinturato tyres sticks to the road like glue, so what advantage does the all-paw one bring?To work this out, we had to take the hatchback away from its tarmac-sealed comfort zone and introduce it to a low-friction surface – snow is a rare thing this time of year, so we opted for dirt.

Where the front-drive A3 will scrabble for grip from a hasty standing start, with the traction control light flashing angrily on the dash, the quattro version is able to bog down with just a little bit of unruliness from the front wheels as part of the drive is sent to the rears by the Audi’s clever centre differential.

The quattro one also turns better, feeling a lot more confident if you roll on the throttle mid-corner on the slippery gravel surface.

On the road is a different thing. Maybe, just maybe the quattro version pulls out of a corner a lot better than the front-drive version. You’d have to drive them back to back to find out.

Safety and servicing

This version of the A3 comes fitted with seven airbags including side-protecting head ones and a driver’s knee airbag, but no city-safe autonomous braking even though much lower-priced, non-prestige vehicles come fitted with it.

Still, in independent crash tests, the German-built A3 earns a top five-star rating if you ever do end up bending metal, and there are seatbelt reminders for all five occupants.

Audi’s warranty covers the A3 for three years and unlimited kilometres, and they throw in free roadside assistance as well.

In terms of servicing, capped prices are yet to hit Audi.

Verdict

Audi’s A3 Sportback is a good little luxury car, and its cracking 1.8-litre engine shines.

But the front-wheel-drive lacks nothing for roadholding, and if you’re driving nothing but city streets the extra price premium the quattro system adds, as well as the fuel and weight penalties it carries, make the range-topping Sportback a bit of a niche vehicle.

Still, if you’re making regular runs to the snow, it’s a refreshing alternative to jacked-up, compact SUVs – which make even less sense than the quattro A3, despite what the sales figures say.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport (From $49,900 before on-roads).

Much more powerful 2.0-litre turbo engine, seven-speed auto, but only front-wheel drive. Well equipped, including front and rear parking sensors, electric-adjust seats, and 18-inch alloys. Fun to drive, but firm ride from run-flat tyres.

BMW 125i (From $47,500 before on-roads).

Generates 160kW from turbo 2.0-litre through the rear wheels that also feature run-flats. Eight-speed auto is a pearler. Softens driver focus for much better city livability, although like Audi you’ll need to dig deep to pick from the options list.

Skoda Fabia RS wagon (From $29,990 before on-roads).

Wildcard here, but just like Audi, budget brand Skoda is Volkswagen-owned.

Supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre four-pot good for 132kW/250Nm, seven-speed dual-clutch auto and lots of gear.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI quattro S tronic
ENGINE: Turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder
LAYOUT: Front-engined, all-wheel-drive
POWER: 132kW@ 5100-6200rpm
TORQUE: 250Nm@ 1250-5000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-sp dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 6.8secs
TOP SPEED: N/A
FUEL: 6.6L/100km
EMISSIONS: 130g/km CO2
WEIGHT: 1455kg
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/multilink (r)
STEERING: Electronically assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Disc (f)/disc (r)
PRICE: From $45,500 before on-roads

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