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First drive: "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" Audi A3

Shrunken luxury: It looks like the old one, but the new Audi A3 is very different underneath.

Audi lines up armada of new rivals with same-but-different third-generation A3

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24 May 2013

AUDI claims to have created a new market segment when it launched the original A3 premium small hatch in 1996.

Buyers, it said, were keen to downsize, provided they could keep some badge cache. Thus the A3 was born, and with 2.7 million sales over 17 years, it seems Audi was right on trend.

But today’s landscape is tougher, because arch foes BMW and Mercedes-Benz have leapt into the fray with small luxury cars of their own – the 1 Series and A-Class respectively – and even rivals such as Volvo and Lexus have a presence.

Enter Audi’s new, third-generation model, launching this week with significant price cuts – including a sharper opening gambit of $35,600 plus on-road costs (down $5600) that puts it right on par with the entry A-Class and Volvo V40, and undercuts the BMW.

The company will accompany the launch of the new A3 with a $5 million ad campaign – it’s most expensive ever – including the rights to Daft Punk’s smash hit “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. On message, according to the company, but also certainly not a cheap acquisition.

Audi Australia managing director Andrew Doyle says the new model has stepped up a notch, and will incidentally form a major part of the company’s plan to become the top-selling premium brand here by the end of the decade.

“With the all-new Audi A3, we will lead the segment once again,” he said.

At first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking this third iteration for its predecessor. But under the rather familiar skin sits an all-new platform – Volkswagen’s flexible, lightweight and modular architecture known as ‘MQB’.

The A3 was the first to get these new underpinnings, but models such as the VW Golf and Skoda Octavia use it too.

Not only does this new platform cut weight (overall reduction is 85kg, also attributed to lighter engines and occupant cell), but its production scale also cuts costs: it isn’t just favourable currency flows that have allowed Audi Australia to slash the price.

Two specification levels will be offered initially – entry Attraction and higher-specified Ambition – each available with four-cylinder petrol or diesel power. Four engines in total are available, with the Ambition getting more powerful versions.

All powertrains will send power to the front wheels (a quattro version is due later this year) and be matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (diehards can get a six-speed manual on special order).

The hardcore S3 quattro hot hatch will launch later this year priced around $65k, while a sedan version will hit the streets in early 2014. A new cabriolet version will likely appear next year, while a plug-in hybrid Volt rival called the A3 e-tron is a lock to appear by 2015.

All versions are also slightly larger and roomier (storage is now 380 litres with the seats in place and 1220L with the 60:40 rear bench folded), and are said to have sharper handling from a new electromechanical system, more information technology and class-leading build quality.

A five-star ANCAP rating is a feature of all versions too, with seven airbags standard.

As mentioned, the Attraction will kick off the range from $35,600. This is for the 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbo petrol version (an engine shared with the cheaper Golf) that consumes a claimed 5.0 litres per 100km.

A Prius-matching 77kW/250Nm diesel version that uses 3.9L/100km but has identical specification costs $36,500.

Both versions have the same list of standard features including 16-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, a pop-up monochrome 15cm screen with eight speakers (the screen is just 11mm thin, too), Bluetooth streaming, cruise control, ‘Dynamic’ suspension, automatic headlights and wipers and paddle shifters.

Buyers wanting a little more punch and spec can opt for the Ambition, available in either 132kW/250Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol or 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel guise for the same $42,500.

The (for now) flagship four-pot combines fuel economy of 5.6L/100km with an acceleration to 100km/h time of 7.3s, while the more torque-rich of the two diesels uses a low 4.5L/100km and does the same dash in 8.4s.

Extra features include 17-inch alloys, better-bolstered sports seats, aluminium window surrounds and cabin trim, front fog lights, a colour central display, and Audi Drive Select (various driving modes that tweak the steering, throttle and transmission shifts).

Being Audi, the more high-end features are reserved for extra-cost options packages. For instance, the Style Package adds Xenon headlights with daytime-running lights and five-spoke 17-inch wheels for $2000 to the Attraction, or LEDs, 18-inch wheels and 15mm lower suspension to the Ambition for the same cost.

Those wanting satellite navigation must pay $2990 for the Technik package, which also bundles in a reversing camera. The $1800 Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and high beam assist.

Flagship Ambitions can be sexed-up with the $4200 S line package, thanks to the addition of Alcantara sports seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, black headlining, 15mm lower sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels.

2013 Audi A3 pricing*
Attraction 1.4 TFSI (a)$35,600
Attraction 1.6 TDI (a)$36,500
Ambition 1.8 TFSI (a)$42,500
Ambition 2.0 TDI (a)$42,500
*Excludes on-road costs
**Six-speed manual available on special order.

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