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2014 Audi A3 sedan review | first drive

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the new 2014 Audi A3 sedan at its Australian launch.

Audi A3 sedan 4

galleryAudi's third-generation A3 has been a success story for the brand since its launch in May 2013. It has almost doubled the number of A3 sales in the previous twelve months, with a new body, lovely interior and aggressive new pricing.

Sold only in hatchback and cabriolet forms since its inception over a decade ago, the Sportback is now joined by the brand new A3 sedan. Audi is putting a lot of faith in the A3 sedan and expecting strong numbers from the four-door to go with the stellar performance of the hatch. In fact, the company is expecting sales to double to around 4000 combined sales per year.

VALUE

The A3 Attraction 1.4 TFSI kicks off the range at $39,800, with leather trim, MMI interface, climate control, 5.8-inch retractable screen, bluetooth, electric windows all round, auto headlights and wipers and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The A3 Ambition kicks in at $44,800 for both 1.8 TFSI petrol and 2.0 TDI in front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive 1.8 TFSI petrol at $47,800, variously adding the driving mode selector, Audi Drive Select, front fog lights, aluminium trim in and out, steering wheel mounted paddleshift and more comfortable sports front seats. And there is a long and inviting options list to add combinations of fit-out, technology and safety features.

DESIGN

Some hatchbacks don't grow a boot very gracefully, but the Audi team has done a terrific job under former design chief Wolfgang Egger. The boot looks like it belongs, rather than being a tacked-on addition with a bit of bodging to attach the boot. And the reason it looks so good is that the A3 sedan doesn't share a single panel with the Sportback. The visual changes between the A3 Sportback and Sedan are not as pronounced as VW's differentiation between Golf and Jetta, but more subtle. It's all in the detailing.

The roof flows into a more coupe like profile and down to the stubby but well-proportioned boot deck. The whole effect is very effective and one wonders if Ingolstadt didn't try and work out a way to give the Sedan its own model designation. Inside is pure A3 and it's a fine interior, one of the best in the business. Audi's interiors out-punch fellow German BMW and are only now being challenged by Mercedes.

SAFETY

The A3 sedan's safety rating is identical to the Sportback, with five ANCAP stars. Seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), stability and traction controls, collision sensing with brake assist and multi-collision prevention. Optional packs add blind spot sensor, lane change warning, adaptive cruise control which will bring the car to a stop. Lane assist will help keep the car in the lane where fitted.

ENGINE/TRANSMISSION

The A3 sedan’s entry 103kW/250Nm 1.4TFSI is one of our favourite engines - light, powerful and frugal and in the Sedan has Cylinder on Demand as standard. When full power isn't required, or the engine thinks it isn't required, the engine will drop two cylinders to save fuel. The end result is a 4.7l/100km while still delivering a respectable 8.4 seconds dash to 100km/h.

The 1.8 TFSI engine is a familiar Audi unit. The 132kW/250Nm engine is mated to the 7-speed dual-clutch auto and is good for a combined fuel figure of 5.6l/100km. The 0-100km/h time is a claimed 7.3 seconds. In Quattro form, the 1.8 produces the same power but adds an extra 30Nm of torque to take the total to 280Nm, helping offset the 100kg weight impost of the quattro system.

The 110kW/320Nm 2.0 TDI's  0-100km/h time is 8.4 seconds, meaning the six-speed dual-clutch auto equipped version is an accomplished overtaker while returning 4.5l/100km. Judicious use of aluminium in various structures, such as the front subframe and lower wishbones has reduced overall and, crucially, unsprung weight to improve ride and handling.

DRIVING

There's a small detail buried in the car's dimensions. The Sedan has 1mm longer wheelbase than the Sportback, is quite a bit longer but it also has a subtle but we think important change - the track is 20mm wider, giving it a wider stance on the road. While it doesn't transform the car, it certainly makes the Sedan the driver's choice relative to the Sportback.

Coupled with a vastly improved weight distribution when compared to the old A3, the Sedan these little figures suggest it might be better than the Sportback. The official excuse is that the track is wider for styling reasons, but it seems to have had a pleasant knock-on effect. If you like your driving, it's very tempting to tell you to not bother with anything but the 1.4 TFSI. It has the same torque figure as the larger, slightly heavier 1.8 litre but is a true joy to fling through bends, even on the standard suspension.

The ride is good unless there's a huge elevation change, but it's a genuinely lively, pointy car that feels smaller than it really is when you're going for it. The 1.4 pulls hard out of corners and the excellent front grip is helped by the electronic diff lock fitted to all A3 Sedans.

Stepping up to the 1.8, it's hard to see why you'd spend the extra and not get anything for it in the driving, but there are extra goodies to justify the increased expense. The extra weight doesn't turn it into a duffer, not at all, but it does lose the 1.4's edge in cornering.

The identically-priced diesel is a lot of fun, too. The extra torque could have tripped up the balance of the car, along with the extra weight, but again it's terrific fun in the bends while a very relaxed cruiser. It is slower to 100km/h, but once it's rolling, it'll eat the 1.8 and 1.4.

The only blight on the diesel - and the Quattro - are the noisy Continental tyres. Our drive loop did take in some exceptionally coarse surfaces, but those Continentals were surprisingly vocal. The best driver's car is the S-Line equipped Quattro 1.8. With the extra helping of torque, the Quattro is in another league above the two-wheel drive cars. It has seemingly endless grip and can chucked into and fired out of corners with little regard to the laws of physics.

We couldn't get the tyres to protest despite some enthusiastic cornering - it hung on in a very composed, almost dismissive way. The chassis is begging for a hell of a lot more power and will get it in April in the form of the S3 Sedan. It will be interesting to see if the Sedan is better than the Sportback S3.

The S Line package adds better seats front and back as well as lowering and stiffening the suspension. The sportier setup reins in the floatiness of the standard suspension but it comes at a cost - the ride is very firm. Over the broken, bumpy tarmac of the test loop, it was quite noticeable, but it never crashed or banged. You will get a thunk if you hit a particularly nasty expansion joint, but these are few and far between.

When not trying to extract partially-digested lunch from your passengers, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the cars apart. The diesel is quiet and refined, as are both petrol engines. The S Tronic gearboxes continue to improve every time we drive them in a new model, and the seven-speed is now almost as good as the six speed.

Front and back seat passengers will both be comfortable and with refinement levels reaching up to the levels of a larger car, they'll be happy to be along for the ride. Rear leg room is good but not substantially improved over the hatch given its tiny 1mm increase in wheelbase.

VERDICT

The A3 sedan is a worthy addition to the A3 range and comes a long way ahead of the mooted 1 Series sedan from BMW and not long after the CLA from Mercedes. Dynamically it's a useful improvement on the Sportback and with the modest extra outlay, looks pretty good too.

It's an Audi through and through - as if it would be anything else - and will certainly bring in buyers who wanted a German sedan but weren't interested in the Jetta. Whether the Sedan doubles the sales figures remains to be seen. It's good-looking, drives well and in 1.4 form at least, massively undercuts the obvious German competition.


Audi A3 Sedan

Price: from $39,800-$47,800
Engines: 1.4 TFSI COD 103kW/250Nm, 1.8 TFSI 132kW/250Nm, 2.0 TDI 110kW/320Nm 1.8 TFSI quattro 132kW/280Nm
Transmission: 6 or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD or 4WD 
Thirst: 4.5-6.6L/100km, C02 109-152g/km

RIVALS

Mercedes Benz CLA - see other verdicts

Price: from $49,900 (200)

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 115kW/250Nm

Transmission: 7-speed automatic, FWD

Thirst: 5.7L/100km, CO2 133g/km

BMW 1 Series - see other verdicts

Price: from $35,600 (116i)

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 100kW/220Nm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, RWD

Thirst: 5.8L/100km, CO2 134g/km 

VW Jetta - see other verdicts

Price: from $28,990 (118TSI)

Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 118kW/240Nm

Transmission: 7-speed automatic, FWD

Thirst: 6.2L/100km, CO2 144g/km

 

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