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Audi A3 2004 Review

The brand says its new small hatch/coupe will become the light-car benchmark. And they are hoping it is the first step in converting the next generation of luxury car buyers away from rivals BMW and Mercedes before they reach luxury car buying age.

"We're putting the cards on the table up front and challenging not for volume leadership but for benchmark status," Audi Australia managing director Graham Hardy says.

"The role of this car is to secure the leading position in the A (light) segment in terms of design and aspiration and to defend its position against future competitors."

The new design will have to defend its position for seven years, the expected life-cycle of the model.

Audi describes the A3's appearance as "aggressive", though it is similar to its predecessor and is much less confrontational than the cars Audi names as its main competitors, the radical BMW 1-Series and the Mercedes-Benz A-class.

Despite visual similarities to the previous car, the A3 is 55mm longer, 30mm wider and 10mm lower.

The A3 has a true three-pronged attack with, in the beginning, three very different engine types, to be joined by a fourth in August.

At the bottom of the A3 chart is the relatively conventional 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with 75kW of power and 148Nm of torque.

The most important engine in terms of sales volume is the 2.0-litre FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection), a direct-injection engine in which the fuel is atomised into the combustion chamber rather than through a manifold. The FSI has an output of 110kW and 200Nm of torque and Audi predicts it will make up about 60 per cent of sales.

Unfortunately, the high sulphur content of Australian fuel means that one particularly useful feature of the engine – its lean-burn mode that reduces the amount of fuel used when the engine isn't working as hard – has been turned off for local conditions because of potential nitrous oxide pollution.

A first for Audi in the A3 is the 2.0-litre TDI (turbo-diesel injection), with a useful 103kW of power and an impressive 320Nm of torque.

Audi predicts 20 per cent of A3 buyers will take up the diesel option.

The 1.6-litre will be offered with a five-speed manual or six-speed tiptronic auto.

A six-speed manual is available for the FSI, along with the six-speed auto, while the TDI has a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), a sequential manual gearbox.

The DSG has two clutches. While one clutch is engaged, the other preselects the next highest gear (or fifth gear if it is already in sixth).

When it's time to change it simply disengages one clutch and automatically engages the other, promising slicker gear changes without the loss of power in an automatic caused by the torque converter.

Across the range there are two equipment levels, the base model, Attraction, with 16-inch wheels and cloth trim, but with split-zone climate control, eight-speaker stereo with CD, stability control and traction control as standard.

The up-spec Ambition has 17-inch cast aluminium wheels, a higher-level cloth trim, sports seats in the front, trip computer, fog lights and sports suspension.

The Attraction is available with the 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre FSI engines. The Ambition level is offered for the FSI and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.

The top-of-the-range A3 Quattro Ambition with a 3.2-litre V6, all-wheel-drive and the DSG transmission arrives in August.

According to Hardy, Audi Australia is still hoping for an 11th-hour price cut for Australian A3 customers from the company in Germany, even though some of the cars have already landed in Australia.

"The price was finalised but the case has been re-opened and we have a more competitive price than we had last week.

"We've taken the view that it's worth it for positioning the car for the next six or seven years."

ON THE ROAD

NOT long ago buying an Audi was the left-field option for those wanting something different to the "safe" choices of a Merc or BMW.

Looking at the new smallest-car offerings from the three German brands you'd be forgiven for seeing it the other way round.

Next to the quirky Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the confronting BMW 1-Series, the new A3 looks conventional and handsome.

While appearance is subjective, we think the Audi's looks will get people trying and liking it, whether they sneak in at the bottom, or go the extra distance in the turbo diesel.

If you're going to tour the north-east Victorian wine district and the Great Dividing Range in a small car, we couldn't think of a more pleasant way of doing it than in the new A3.

Our first impression of the car is that it's solid. Whether it be the doors, controls, steering or handling, nothing feels flimsy.

We gave all three engines – the 1.6-litre four, the 2.0-litre FSI and the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel – a good workout.

Buyers should be given a good reason to spend extra on going the next step up on the model ladder and, while it is a serviceable enough engine, the 1.6 does give a strong case for the other two.

We drove the 1.6 with the five-speed manual through undulating roads near Beechworth and, having to cart around a kerb weight of 1205kg, it was competent but hardly "sporty" in the way Audi says. There is a dullness when accelerating, especially uphill, often requiring a shift down to give it a hand.

The handling, however, feels almost foolproof. At night with dew beginning to settle on hilly roads, the A3 sits flat and comfortable on the tarmac, with an impressive level of grip and balanced steering.

From the TT to the A8, Audi has been without peer when it comes to designing an interior and instrument layout that's attractive and easy to use. The A3 continues the trend, giving the car a level of class well above most European rivals.

The seats are a fine balance of comfort and support, and the seating position feels right too.

Climb into the 2.0-litre FSI car, and what's missing from the base A3 1.6 becomes obvious. The FSI has a glorious note that even an Alfa Romeo fanatic would find difficult to fault, and an extra 35kW and 52Nm of torque. Combine the tiptronic automatic with some ripper winding roads near Bright and you have as good a Euro hatch experience as you could wish for.

But it's the turbo-diesel that Audi is most excited about, claiming it is the fastest and most economical A3 in the range. The most impressive thing about it is the "average litres per 100km" on the trip computer screen, which hovered around 6.5.

Pricing Guides

$9,185
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$4,070
Highest Price
$14,300

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.6 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,290 – 6,270 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.6 Pricing and Specs
1.6 Attraction 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $4,290 – 6,380 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.6 Attraction Pricing and Specs
1.8 1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $4,620 – 6,820 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.8 Pricing and Specs
1.8 Turbo 1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $5,610 – 7,920 2004 Audi A3 2004 1.8 Turbo Pricing and Specs