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Sporty A3


The Sportback is the first of the A3 range with Audi's single-frame grille and the first with a 2.0-litre turbo under the bonnet.

It comes in both four and six-cylinder engines, front-wheel or quattro (permanent four-wheel-drive) and either a six-speed manual, six-speed tiptronic or Audi's Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). It shares the drivetrain, suspension and wheelbase with the 3-door A3 but is 68mm longer and the wheelbase has been extended by 83mm.

The Sportback's new face, aggressive V design bonnet, different headlights and roof-line spoiler distinguish it from its cousin.

From the front, the Sportback appears to be ready to pounce. Its high doors, low-profile windows, small third windows and coupe-like rear end give it a more sporty look.The Sportback has crisp and clear lines, which almost make it look like it has been shrink-wrapped from the side.

The boot space increases to 370L, 20L more than the three-door and grows to 1120L when the back seats are folded.

The 1.6-litre Attraction tiptronic starts the Sportback range at $36,800 with 75kW of power and 148Nm of torque. The 2.0-litre FSI is the only model that comes in manual ($40,850) and is also available in tiptronic ($43,300). It develops 110kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

The new addition to the A3 range is the $49,950 2.0-litre TFSI, a turbocharged version of the FSI engine which is mated to the DSG box and produces 147kW of power and 280Nm of torque that is spread from 1800rpm to 5000rpm.

The $47,650 2.0-litre TDI is Audi's diesel powerplant of the range which has 103kW of power and 320Nm of torque and is also mated to the DSG gearbox.

The range is topped by the all-wheel-drive 3.2-litre V6 with DSG gearbox which has a not too shabby 184kW of power and 320Nm of torque, but comes with a hefty tag of $73,990.

All Sportbacks sit on 17-inch wheels and come with ESP, front seats with head restraints, front and side driver and passenger airbags, and a sideguard head airbag system.

The 3.2-litre adds Xenon headlights and rain and light sensors.

The Sportback comes in 15 exterior and three interior colours. The option list is, however, long and expensive. Extras include: sports suspension, roof rails ($650), Xenon headlights ($1900), light and rain sensor ($650), open sky roof system ($2950), burr walnut trim ($950), sun blinds ($350), electric front seats ($2100), BOSE sound system and Navigation.

Aimed at outdoor-loving customers, the Sportback is expected to appeal to the 25-39 year age group and Audi expects 60 per cent of buyers will be male. With this group in mind, Audi has announced swimming star Ian Thorpe will be the face of the new car.

"To have Ian align himself with our brand and this sporty vehicle is of great benefit," says Audi Australia boss Joerg Hofmann.

The Sportback will be available from the end of the month.

FIRST DRIVE

On the road, Audi's new A3 Sportback models are smooth and quiet. The 1.6-litre lacks the punch of its bigger-engined siblings. It required feathering of the throttle to stay up to speed, even on the open road.

But the lack of sports suspension meant it gave a more comfortable ride. The models with sports suspension felt a little bouncy at times, but the difference was seen at high speed, where they felt more sure-footed.

The pick of the 2.0-litre models is the manual. Despite the only difference being the box, the manual felt more engaging.

With no turbo models in the country yet, we were not treated to sampling that engine.

Having just stepped out of Audi's TT, with the 3.2L V6 stonker under the bonnet, it was refreshing to see that despite the extra kilos, the A3 Sportback, with the same engine and quattro all-wheel-drive, had similar get up and go and did not lose too much in handling.

The 3.2 seems to be the only model with DSG that lets the driver down shift at high speed, the smaller engined models refusing to budge.

With lightening fast gear changes, the option to use paddles in automatic, sports and sequential manual the DSG box is extremely clever and a great option for those who want to be able to drive both auto and manual.

Having not driven Audi's diesel variant for some time, I was once gain pleasantly surprised at the punch this little engine puts out. With miserly fuel economy and heaps of torque the diesel is also a favourite.

Inside, the Sportback has a fair amount of rear leg room, with an average person sitting in front, and a reasonable amount of head room despite the sloping roof-line. The boot is also quite large.

The material quality is high, even in the base 1.6-litre and there is a fair amount of storage. It was, however, a little puzzling why a car that is pitched at energetic, outgoing types only has the facility to hold one drink bottle in the centre console area. The new Sportback provides customers with a mountain of choice for engines, gearboxes and even colours.

But, starting at $12,000 more than a new five-door VW Golf, a car with which it shares a lot, will force buyers to make the choice between brand or value for money.

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