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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Sportback 5-dr hatch range

The Car

1 Feb 2005

WHAT has six speeds, five doors and four rings, is based on the A3 MkII and is aiming straight for the BMW 1 Series?

That would be the new Audi A3 Sportback, very literally an extension of the second generation A3 three-door five-seat hatchback that debuted last June.

Like the new A6 and every foreseeable future Audi from now on, the Sportback features the "single-frame" collar grille and Nuvolari concept car-style tail-lights, as well as extensively re-engineered bodywork to boot.

Available in front-wheel or multi-plate clutch (non-Torsen diff) quattro all-wheel drive in the top-line 3.2-litre V6, it arrives in late February offering six engines (five four-cylinder and a single V6) spread over six six-speed models:

75kW/148Nm 1.6 Attraction Tiptronic auto
110kW/200Nm 2.0 FSI Ambition manual
110kW/200Nm 2.0 FSI Ambition Tiptronic auto
147kW/280Nm 2.0 Turbo FSI Ambition DSG auto
103kW/320Nm 2.0 TDI Ambition DSG auto
184kW/320Nm 3.2 V6 quattro Ambition DSG auto

Like the A3 three-door, there are also two automatic gearboxes available – a regular torque converter six-speed Tiptronic in 1.6 and 2.0 petrol models and the twin-clutch DSG gearbox – that always has a clutch ready for fast and smooth gear changes (in 0.2 seconds).

Only the 2.0-litre FSI petrol engine is available with a conventional (six-speed) manual gearbox.

Meanwhile, the 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI DSG four-cylinder unit has its first outing in the Sportback (although whether it also appears in three-door A3 is uncertain).

With its 280Nm torque top spread across the 1800 to 5000rpm range, it hits the 0-100km/h mark in 6.9 seconds on the way to 236km/h.

Underpinning everything is the Golf Mark V-derived platform featuring MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension, and electro-mechanical powered rack and pinion steering with speed sensitivity.

Eschewing the company’s 30-year-old ‘Avant’ nomenclature, the sport in "Sportback" is Audi-speak for a wagon-like ‘lifestyle’ application while the ‘back’ bit refers to a roof that slopes rearwards with an upswept wedge.

So it’s both longer back there (by 68mm) and slightly higher too.

The main upshot of this is improved rear legroom and luggage space.

The latter can carry two golf bags.

Audi is paring back the A3 three-door as a result, discontinuing the upper-spec Ambition 2.0 FSI models.

It wants to double overall A3 sales for 2005: 700 five-doors and 300 three-doors.

According to Audi Australia’s product planning manager Peter Coorey, the model breakdown will be 50 per cent 2.0 FSI 15 per cent 2.0 Turbo FSI, 15 per cent 1.6 10 per cent 2.0 TDI and 10 per cent 3.2 V6.

This makes up 20 per cent of Audi’s 4500 total projected 2005 sales.

That’s a 25 per cent jump from 2004’s "disastrous" efforts, says Audi Australia’s new managing director Joerg Hofmann.

Key buyers will be design/technology-savvy singles or couples earning $70,000-plus annually and aged between 25-39, with a 60:40 male/female split.

To help it snare them, Audi is using its long-time company ambassador, champion swimmer Ian Thorpe, in a series of press and television advertisements starting this month. They may also go international.

And, for added cache, Audi will rely on cross-promoting its vehicles with upmarket brands like Prada and Bang and Olufsson.

Plus the Sportback, like the rest of the Audi range eventually, will benefit from the company’s promising "Buy Back" campaign that guarantees a set value at the end of a certain period. The program has already proved successful shifting A4s since its December inception.

Firming up (in both senses) the Sportback’s "performance-orientated active people" appeal are 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16-inch) and harder sports suspension that drops 15mm.

Besides BMW, the Sportback is also spoiling for sales from Alfa’s 147, the Volvo V50 and Mercedes’ upcoming A-class MK II.

Since the A3 was released in 1997, Audi Australia has averaged just under 600 sales per annum.

1997: 405
1998: 540
1999: 564 (5-dr arrives from Oct ousts 3-dr except S3)
2000: 626
2001: 651
2002: 814
2003: 643
2004: 493

Ignoring its own 1974 ‘50’, Audi claims the original A3 was the world’s first premium compact hatchback.

With 900,000 built, it exceeded sales projections by 200,000 units.

Today’s generation should fare even better now that the Sportback is heading Stateside from March, a first for any A3.

Novel Sportback options include a glass roof/sunroof system dubbed ‘Open Sky’ ($2950), "designer" roof rails and DVD satellite navigation.

Cruise control will also be standard in all Audis, promises Mr Hofmann.

Let’s get physical

The differences between Sportback and three-door A3:
Length: 4286mm (+83mm)
Width: 1765mm (same)
Height: 1423mm (+2mm)
Wheelbase: 2578mm (same)
Front track: 1536mm (1.6) 1531mm 2.0, 3.2 (-5mm)
Rear track: 1515mm (-2mm)
Luggage space 370mm (+20mm)
Seat-folded luggage space: 1120mm (+20mm)

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Did you know?

So far more than 40,000 Sportbacks have been ordered since its world launch last September. To cope, extra shifts at its Ingolstadt, Germany, plant may occur

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