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

Our Opinion

We like
Exterior and interior design, build quality, driving dynamics, rear seat accommodation, steering weighting, gearshift quality - especially six-speed manual, DSG operation
Room for improvement
Overly firm ride quality, under-performing 1.6, 3.2 feels weighty, 3.2 lack aural pleasures of 147 GTA, 3.2 pricetag

1 Feb 2005

AUDI is in with a real chance for pint-sized premium superstardom with its A3 Sportback.

Right off the bat it scores in three key areas – high design, exquisite quality and a feel-good driving experience.

Stylistically, the Sportback is as an Audi should be by being a standout.

Pictures fail to flatter it, but in the flesh the Sportback does have presence, aided by that controversial grille, upswept profile, wide stance and typical Audi attention to detail, particularly with the tail-lights.

The cabin, although more sober, is still a bastion for perceived quality.

Besides the high level of craftsmanship in what you see and feel, you’re comfortable, well catered for ergonomically and isolated from the outside elements. It feels like a very premium package.

Considering the relatively diminutive dimensions of the Sportback, even taller occupants will find no problem settling in the rear, and that hatch area is pretty deep too.

Well-weighted steering and exceptionally smooth gearchanges (particularly in the slick-shifting 2.0 FSI six-speed manual, that also benefited by a light clutch) made for pleasurable and involving driving.

However, in every model sampled – with only the 2.0 Turbo FSI absent at the launch – the ride quality ranged from busy at best (3.2) to erratically hard (2.0 FSI manual).

Constant jolting and jiggling is par for the course in these Audi T-Teabags, undermining an otherwise superbly accommodating and comfortable small car. Blame the standard (minimum 17-inch and up) wheels and tyres.

Tellingly, for the two-day drive program, Audi didn’t include any testing along inner-urban rutted roads that can really ruin a firmly sprung car’s calmness.

Our advice is to try a Sportback (or any German car, BMW included) along your normal driving route before you buy.

As far as engine varieties go, the 75kW 1.6 can only be described as breathless out in the country (two-up, with air-con on). There’s simply not enough oomph available for fast take-offs or overtaking.

Sure it’s smooth and the six-speed Tiptronic auto makes the most of the feeble output available, but the $7000 saving over the better equipped 2.0 FSI just isn’t worth it. Remember, we’re talking about a motor that has 25 per cent less mojo than a Corolla Ascent.

Conversely, the 2.0 FSI is a little beauty, in either the manual mode as mentioned, or the wonderfully tuned-in Tiptronic auto. It spins effortlessly, has ample power down low for overtaking, and keeps the kiloWatts coming all the way to the redline.

A personal favourite though is the 2.0 TDI, with its handy 320Nm of ballsy torque that tirelessly catapults you instantly everywhere. This feels like the real performance Sportback, especially when mated with the DSG’s wheel paddles that allowed for instant cog-swapping.

Admittedly, compared to the rorty 3.2-litre V6, the DSG’s advantages in the TDI aren’t as obvious since there’s so much torque across such a wide band width, so gear changing isn’t really necessary, but it’s still an awesome engine-gearbox combo.

On the other hand, the narrow-angle 3.2-litre V6 makes the most of the DSG, because it’s another eager-to-ignite Audi engine that revs to its heart’s content.

Yet the 1565kg 3.2 feels its sizeable weight (the grip-inducing non-Torsen diff quattro doesn’t help), with a somewhat wooden feel to the steering, and handling that is definitely understeer-biased.

So a zippy hot hatch the V6 isn’t. Plus it lacks the aural drama and fizz of the wonderful Alfa 147 GTA, even if the A3 is the more accommodating and refined open-road cruiser. And at $75K it’s very expensive.

On balance then, it’s a fight between the light and frisky 2.0 FSI and the hulking TDI for Sportback honours.

No potential BMW 120i buyers should overlook these before making a decision, because they’ll be ignoring one of the premium compact segment’s leading contenders.

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