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What's the difference?
If it was the original BMW 3-Series that invented the compact luxury car market segment all those years ago, then it’s probably fair to claim it was Audi’s A3 franchise that gave rise to the luxury small-hatch category.
With this update, there’s refreshed styling, a new interior layout and, for the launch of the new cars, two body styles, a conventionally styled sedan and what Audi calls the Sportback; fundamentally a five-door hatchback but with the German brand’s own flair plastered all over it.
As well as new connectivity and safety tech, the big news is the availability of a mild-hybrid driveline as well as a second powertrain option with more performance from a more conventional layout.
Interestingly, it’s that (mild) hybrid version of the A3 that represents the entry-level variant of the A3. A sign of the times? Perhaps.
I'm calling it - the Volkswagen Passat is the forgotten hero of station wagons.
It's surprisingly large while retaining the creature comforts and understated styling of old-world glamour.
Then enters the R-Line. A badge that diehard Volkswagen enthusiasts know is synonymous with sporty performance and handling.
But does affordability take it out of the running for the family market? Or is this the answer for the drivers who don't want to compromise on performance but still have a kid (or three) to throw in the back?
I've been hauling my little family of three around town this week to see what the big blue wagon could do.
Producing a car that takes the end result beyond appliance status is no given in a world car-park dominated by SUVs. But Audi has, over the last few decades, shown it is very good at doing just that and the latest incarnation of its A3 stalwart backs that up.
While it might take a bit of mental gymnastics to understand why the base model gets the hybrid driveline, or why the more expensive variant costs more to option with adaptive cruise-control, the fact remains these are driver’s cars from a company that understands that concept.
Yes, the A3 is a relatively expensive way to arrive at a compact hatch or sedan, but if you value the journey as much as the destination, it will all make sense.
While the technical aspects of the 35 TFSI are interesting, the extra power and all-weather grip of the AWD 40 TFSI seem to be worth the additional dollars to us. The A3 has always been a sporty alternative, meaning the sportiest version is the one for us.
CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.
I so enjoyed driving the Volkswagen Passat 206TSI R-Line. It's a roomy wagon that should fit a lot of different types of families. It still has sporty performance that will entice even the most reluctant family car buyer, so don't be turned off by its large proportions! I really like the comfort, convenience and handling of this one, so it gets an easy 8.0/10 from me.
My kid thought the blue colour was cool and loved having so many things to play with in the back seat. His only complaint was about the heavier doors but he still managed. He gives it an 8.0/10, too.
It’s actually refreshing in 2022 to see a carmaker putting such an effort into something that isn’t an SUV.
That Audi has bothered with two distinct bodies and two equally distinct drivelines is also one for the books, really.
Technically, the mild-hybrid driveline as seen in larger Audis in recent years is probably the highlight of the new A3, and even though it doesn’t compare with a conventional petrol-electric hybrid, it demonstrates Audi’s attention to detail.
The same goes for the digital instruments which allows the driver to tailor the information displayed at any given time. Need a city map more than you need a tachometer at a particular point in you journey? That’s where this technology comes into its own.
The Passat is a large car and stands at 4708mm long, 1832mm wide and 1504mm high. The boxier rear and long nose make these proportions feel even larger.
The 2023 model doesn't see much change, if any, to the previous iteration. The exterior features the classic VW sharp pleat that runs the length of the body, slim-line LED lights and pronounce grille with lots of chrome accents found throughout.
It looks shiny, new and stylish, but not garish. You'd be proud to be seen in this.
The interior is also classically VW – sharp, a little pared back and hosting easy to see buttons and dials. The adjustable ambient lighting elevates the cabin space, as does the black headliner (R-Line exclusive).
An interesting feature is the directional air vents, the slatted design is carried the entire length of the dash which accentuates the width of the car. It all looks seamless and well thought out.
Although it’s a compact car externally, clever packaging means there’s ample space inside. Even a tall-ish rear-seat passenger can sit behind a tall-ish driver, and the sculpted rear seat-backs help make that possible.
The only complaint would be that the dark headlining material makes the interior a bit of a cave at times.
Paying more for the 40 TFSI gets you extra cargo nets on the front seat backrests and luggage area, 12-volt sockets in the rear seat and boot. Both versions get floor mats and a centre arm-rest front and rear.
The rear seat in either is split 40/20/40 for a range of possibilities, with the Sportback offering 325 litres (VDA) for the Sportback quattro models, and 380L (VDA) for the 2WD models and its boot capacity is increased to 1145L (VDA) with the rear seat folded flat. The luggage space in the sedan is 390L (VDA) for the quattro AWD version, and a more capacious 425L (VDA) for the FWD model.
A very practical family wagon with all passengers enjoying ample head and legroom.
The amenities in both rows are very good. The seats are fairly comfortable but the lumbar support isn't awesome. The massage function on the driver's side is a nice novelty but not strong enough to be called a massage. Think of it as gently stretching.
For storage, you get a decently sized middle console, dedicated phone tray, cooled glove box, drink bottle holders in each door and two cupholders.
These are not bargain basement cars, and with a kick-off price of $46,900 for the A3 35 TFSI Sportback (the hatch version) and $49,400 for the sedan in the same specification, that much is obvious.
The fact is, both the new A3 variants represent a fair mark-up on the previous model. But if you look at the post-Covid car market in a macro sense, you can see the same trend across a lot of brands and a lot of previously entry-level models.
Ante up to the 40 TFSI, and the news is no different with an asking price of $53,500 (Sportback) and $56,000 (sedan).
The 40 TFSI also adds sportier front seats, a rear spoiler, body kit, extra courtesy lights around the car and details such as a 12-volt socket in the luggage area.
Options on the base model include a 'Comfort Pack' consisting of adaptive cruise-control, electric front seats, heated front seats, auto dimming headlights, heated and folding mirrors, four-way electric lumbar control and 'Adaptive Drive Assist', including 'Emergency Assist.'
That will set you back $2600, while the 40 TFSI can be enhanced with Audi’s 'Premium Package' which adds those same items as well as aluminium-look trim pieces, a better sound system, head-up instrument display and a memory function for the driver’s seat. That adds $4500 to either the 40 TFSI Sportback or sedan.
The 206 TSI R-Line is top of a (small) two-model line-up. Our example has been finished in 'Lapiz Blue', a colour exclusive to the R-Line. Otherwise, expect a sea of monochromatic colour options.
We say top model but it's not necessarily a massive jump up in specifications from the 162 TSI Elegance, you're paying for the engine performance on this one.
This R-Line will cost you $67,790, before on-road costs. That's a $4K price hike from the 2022 model with no discernible upgrades.
So let’s start with the 35 TFSI’s mild-hybrid running gear. To begin with, mild-hybrid in this sense refers to a starter motor/alternator unit that is linked to a 48-volt battery (the car also has a conventional 12-volt electrical system).
When coasting, the engine can shut off and the starter switches to alternator mode and harvests the otherwise lost energy to charge the 48-volt battery. This 48-volt system also powers the car’s functions when the engine is switched off.
When the car needs to restart (when the traffic-light goes green) the starter kicks in, using that harvested voltage. There’s also a regenerative braking function, saving the car’s actual brakes for more severe stops.
Unlike a 'normal' hybrid system, there’s no electric motor to help drive the car, but Audi claims a potential fuel saving of 0.4 litres per 100km from the set-up. Any benefit will be most noticeable in urban running where the car is speeding up and slowing down regularly.
The other big difference is in the driveline. The 35 TFSI is a front-wheel drive platform while the 40 TFSI uses Audi’s Quattro AWD as it applies to Audis with an east-west engine layout.
That means the car behaves as a front-drive vehicle until the electronics decides more power should be sent to the rear wheels. At that point, anything up to 99 per cent of the available torque can be transferred rearwards via an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch housed at the rear of the car, just in front of the rear axle.
The R-Line has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol powertrain with a maximum output of 206kW/350Nm.
That puts its engine specs 44kW up on the Elegance model and you feel that difference when you put your foot down.
The six-speed auto transmission provides surprisingly smooth shifting in most settings. The grunty engine combined with the all-wheel drive creates a sporty and purposeful driving experience.
With all its cylinder shut-off, hybrid tricks and small capacity, the 1.5-litre engine boasts a 5.0 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel economy figure.
Combined with its 50-litre tank, that’s a potential for 1000km between service-station visits. It’s also commendably close to the numbers you’d expect from a similarly sized vehicle with a turbo-diesel engine.
The more conventional 2.0-litre A3 variant, meanwhile, boasts a still-credible 6.7 litres per 100km for the same test. To counter its greater thirst, Audi has fitted a slightly bigger, 55-litre fuel tank.
The headline act, of course, is the base-model’s highway figure which, thanks to the small capacity engine and its reduced pumping losses at small throttle-openings, can get right down into the low-fives (5.0 litres per 100km) in the real world at real highway speeds.
With a tail-wind, you might even see a number starting with four. This is why you don’t need a diesel engine any longer.
Expect the 40 TFSI to use roughly a litre more across every 100km travelled. And in either case, you are stuck with paying for 95-RON premium unleaded.
That powerful engine does cost you a little bit with efficiency. The official combined fuel figure is 8.1L/100km and real-world testing saw my figure at 8.6L.
Not too bad for the type of driving I did this week, which was a combo of open-road and urban. I wasn't scared of putting my foot down but I would expect to see a double-digit figure in an urban setting.
This has a 66L fuel tank and based on the official combined figure, you should be able to get around 815km driving range, which is great.
Let’s start with the less powerful 35 TFSI, if only because - even though we know better in 2022 - there’s a temptation to think a 1.5-litre engine will be underdone. The reality, however, is that you’re not going to drive this car and judge it as anything other than very resolved.
While it’s true the peak power of 110kW isn’t startling, it’s the way it’s delivered (along with the 250Nm of torque) that sets the mood here.
Like many late-model Audis, this one has an engine with a fizzy, zingy feel that makes you want to rev it just to hear and feel it. And when you do, it pays off with plenty of flexibility and a sophisticated, refined feel.
That’s for two reasons; the first being the all-wheel-drive is fundamentally on demand anyway and, secondly, the basic platform is so composed and balanced in the first place, that the Quattro system will spend a lot of its time hiding in the background.
The 40 TFSI also get the selectable drive modes which break with tradition by actually making a difference to the way the car feels.
But the reality is that if you took the best bits of every other setting (Comfort, Dynamic and Efficiency) and loaded them into the Individual button, you’d probably wind up with something very close to what the non-adjustable 35 TFSI offers in the first place.
You have to admire the way Audi has made a front-drive car in the A3 steer, handle and talk to the driver in such a clear, precise way.
Yes, the 40’s selectable modes add another layer to that, but only if you can be bothered. Even more than that, the A3 in either form feels like its ultra-stable and safe, while the levels of feel and feedback give the impression they were decided upon by people who enjoy driving.
The performance of this is to be commended. Powerful but poised, there's a sense of performance in reserve when you put your foot down and while still fun, it's not unbridled power.
It inspires confidence, the lower centre of gravity and firm steering meaning you tackle corners with minimum roll. You can accelerate out of a corner a little earlier than you might normally in this.
The cabin is nice and quiet with some road noise at higher speeds but not enough to intrude on chatting.
Despite suspension that feels sporty, aka stiff, the ride comfort is very good, with back seat passengers also feeling the comfort. There's not a lot of jostling in this.
Let's talk parking. It is a large car but you don't feel those dimensions when you park it.
It's very forgiving to manoeuvre with the front and rear parking sensors, crisp 360-degree view camera and tight 11.7m turning circle!
And if you're not confident it has a self-parking feature.
Possibly the headline (no pun intended) act here is the inclusion of a centre-front airbag. This is something we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future, particularly in compact cars, where the proximity of the front-seat passengers can lead to head clashes in a side-impact crash.
Beyond that, the Audi has six airbags including side-curtain airbags.
In terms of driver aids, the A3 sets a high bar for its competitors, and with autonomous emergency braking including pedestrian and cyclist recognition, rear-cross-traffic alert, lane-departure assist and a rear-view camera, most bases are covered.
The major omissions are adaptive cruise-control, but that’s available in the 35 TFSI as part of the $2600 Comfort Package, and in the 40 TFSI as part of the $4500 Premium Package.
Yes, the Premium Package also includes heated, memory front seats, a head-up display, improved stereo and the multi-coloured ambient interior lighting (and more) but it does seem strange that it costs more to option up to adaptive cruise in the 40 TFSI than in the base-model.
The A3 scored the full five stars in ANCAP crash testing in 2020.
This has a good list of safety features with the following being standard: LED daytime running lights, lane departure alert, lane keeping aid, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, 360-degree view reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, front and rear parking sensors, driver fatigue alert, and adaptive cruise control (with stop/go function).
I like the Emergency Assist feature which will provide multiple visual and sound alerts if there's no steering wheel activity detected. If there's still no driver input, the car will slow down and ultimately come to a complete stop.
The Passat's maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating has just expired and at the time of writing was yet to be retested.
The 2023 Passat has nine airbags, including side airbags for the rear outboard seats, as well as curtain airbags covering both rows.
There are three top tethers across the rear row and ISOFIX child seat mounts on the outboard positions.
Audi recently improved its factory warranty from three years to five years and unlimited kilometres. Any new Audi (including this one) sold after January 1 this year is the beneficiary of that change.
Audi specifies service intervals of 15,000km or 13 months.
There’s also the option of a fixed-price servicing program for the first five years of A3 ownership, and that will cost you $2250, for an annual average of $450.
The Passat comes with a market standard five-year/unlimited km warranty, and roadside assistance is included for one year (through Allianz Insurance) if you get your car serviced at a VW centre.
There is a three- or five-year capped price servicing plan that can be pre-purchased and will save you money compared to the pay-as-you go option. Servicing averages $620 though, which is expensive for the class.
Servicing intervals are reasonable at every 12 months or 16,500km – whichever occurs first.