Time in the gym, new powerplants and a diet give Audi’s small car more muscles. It’s going to need them to compete against tough little cars such as the Benz A-Class and BMW’s amped-up 1 Series.
Renowned for having a model for every niche (and then some), Audi adds new variants to the classy A3 Sportback line-up with a quattro (all-wheel-drive) for those in want of a little more pep and power-down without the $60,000 price tag of the full-on S3. It’s also added a miserly model at entry end of the spectrum, one that brings cylinder-dropout technology to the market in a four-cylinder model for lean running.
So the new additions to the A3 Sportback range cover both ends of the spectrum. The cylinder-on-demand (COD) model ups power of the base A3 to 103kW and torque from 200-250Nm for a reasonable increase of $2300 to start at $37,900. It has the seven-speed S-tronic automatic with paddle-shifters, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, 16-inch alloys, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and eight-speaker sound.
The A3 Sportback quattro comes in the Ambition specification with a six-speed S-tronic auto, priced from $45,500. That’s a $3K hike over the front-drive equivalent that makes do with the same power output but less torque. The features list includes quattro aluminium trim, colour screen for the centre display, sports steering wheel and the drive select system that alters the moods of the steering, throttle and the automatic transmission.
There are option packs aplenty. The quattro flagship can be tweaked with a $2000 “Style” package that adds xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys and 15mm lower sports suspension. The $2990 Technik package adds satnav and parking assist with reversing camera and the $2200 Comfort pack has such frippery as keyless ignition and folding heated exterior mirrors. The $1800 Assistance option adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic high beam.
The fastest in the current A3 Sportback range (until we see the S3 later this year), the quattro runs Audi’s 1.8-litre turbo direct-injection four-cylinder. It produces 132kW and 280Nm — some 30Nm more than the same engine in the 100kg-lighter front-wheel drive version.
The variable-valve powerplant injects fuel indirectly through the induction system under part-throttle and switches to direct injection at start-up and under full load for improved output and efficiency. Acceleration to 100km/h drops by 0.5 to 6.8 seconds. Fuel use is marginally up to 6.6L/100km.
The new quattro all-wheel drive by Haldex is front-biased but directs drive rearward in what Audi says is “just a few milliseconds”. The fuel-saving COD model returns as little as 4.7L/100km and posts a decent 8.4 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint
The A3 is easily identifiable as an Audi with the big grille, svelte curves and solid stance, though its shares the platform with Volkswagen’s new Golf. Hot-pressed metal and aluminium construction deliver weight reductions of up to 85kg. The wheelbase increases by 58mm to 2636mm but overall dimensions are not greatly altered.
As ever in an Audi, you’re presented with a quality cabin especially if you tick the S-line option pack for sports seats trimmed in suede and leather — which takes our test car to $55,000 before on-roads. The console has new-look infotainment controls, with colour satnav. The centre screen slots into the dashboard. Rear pace is not always a forte of this class but thanks to the longer wheelbase, I can sit behind my own driving position — only the cramped footpace on exit and entry is of concern.
Euro NCAP last year awarded the A3 range five stars with a score of 34.95/37 — with good results for occupant, pedestrian and safety features. There are seven airbags — including a driver’s knee ‘bag — as well as stability control, automatic headlights, tyre pressure monitor and rain-sensing wipers. The quattro model adds AWD as an active safety feature.
The turbo four can run happily along on its meaty mid-range or rev with enthusiasm to red-line. The stop-start fuel saver feels a little smoother and quicker than previously. The dual-clutch auto is quick and, for the most part, smooth. Its ever-improving programming means it’s caught out in the wrong gear less often.
But more enjoyment is to be had keeping the engine in the mid-range via the paddles (a manual can be had on special order). The ride on 18-inch alloys is firm but not as jagged and brittle as some previous Audis. It’s of sporting bent yet is capable of being a daily driver.
Cruising on country roads, the quattro lopes along at 100km/h at 2000rpm in sixth, with the only concern being tyre roar on coarse-chip road surfaces. Looking to the rear three-quarter, there are wide pillars that might make blind spot warnings a sound investment, but there is good vision looking ahead on a twisting hilly road. There is appropriate body control, meaty steering and a balanced feel on the road. Fuel consumption hovered in the 8s and 9s, dipping briefly into double digits when worked harder in the hills.
This A3 is right in the fight against its rivals. With quattro, it punches harder than the numbers suggest.
Audi A3 Sportback quattro
Price: from $45,500
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: No
Resale: 52 per cent (previous model)
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo, 132kW/280Nm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch auto; AWD
Thirst: 6.6L/100km, 95 RON PULP
Dimensions: 4.3m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.4m (H)