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Audi A3 2005 review

EXPERT RATING
7

The newbies include BMW's 1-Series, the second-generation A-Class from Mercedes-Benz, the born-again Volkswagen Golf and something just a little different from Audi.

It's not really different, but a change from the two-door A3 hatch that has been carrying its colours.

It still looks like an A3, but there are four doors and enough other changes to convince Audi to name the car its Sportback and present it as a fresh approach to the class.

The whole thing is a stretch, for the car and the sales team, but it allows the latest development of the A3 to line up nicely against the new-age Euro rivals.

If Audi is right with what it says, its Sportback combines "the versatility of a four-door hatch, sophisticated technology and well-defined driving dynamics" and will do something special for the car and the brand.

Even if it's wrong, or not completely right, it will still be a solid addition to the range.

Audi is already doing plenty of good stuff this year with new value pricing across its line-up, extra sales and significantly more buzz around the brand.

It seems to have something happening every month, including adding the punchy S4 Cabriolet to its S-badged performance range.

The extra length has been added in the tail, which Audi says makes the car ideal for young families or active singles who want to carry something like a bicycle, two golf bags or ski gear.

The six models in the Sportback line-up start with the 1.6-litre Attraction model with a Tiptronic auto, moving through the hi-tech 2.0-litre FSI engine with the classy double-shift gearbox, to the flagship 3.2-litre V6 Quattro Ambition with DSG.

Power runs from 75 to 184kW and prices start below $40,000, but run to $73,990 for the flagship car.

The Sportback with the most potential is the 2.0-litre turbo, the A3 2.0 TFSI, at $49,950.

All models are well equipped with the expected collection of airbags, CD sound and airconditioning, as well as electric assists, but the Sportback has sports suspension, active head restraints, and electronic stability control.

But all this won't make life easy for the Sportback.

Competition has never been tougher and it comes most obviously from the Volkswagen Golf.

The German people's car has been impressively renewed and the GTI hero car is one of the standouts of the year.

But the 1-Series is hard up against the new Audi with the advantage of a BMW badge, the A-Class is a Benz that's a lot better than the original, and there are even surprising Japanese contenders, including the Mazda3.

Audi Australia responds to the questions by pointing out the Sportback's "exceptional build quality", its styling, the standard and optional equipment, the availability of the DSG gearbox, and the appeal of an Audi badge.

ON THE ROAD

The Sportback is a nice car. And a nice drive. But we had the fully loaded flagship and cannot see many people paying $73,990 for it. That's right, Audi wants $74,000 for the car and won't accept it is over-priced – or that the Golf is better value, or the BMW is a sportier drive, or that singles might prefer a Mini.

The reason for the high price was the 3.2 litre V6 Quattro with DSG transmission.

It ticks all the boxes, even if the basic body – complete with the slightly sloping roofline that Audi says is more coupe-like than a regular four-door hatchback – is still the same as the starter car.

So it's probably not fair to be making comparisons with cars that are $20,000 and more below its bottom line, but that is what customers will be doing when they see what Audi wants.

And, no matter whether Audi likes it or not, a lot of shoppers will compare the A3 with the Golf, particularly the GTI, which is our favourite among all the classy new compacts of '05.

When you look at the Sportback on its own, the cabin space is impressive, it is well designed and well finished – with some clear cabin quality wins over the Golf – and it drives nicely.

The ride can be choppy at low speeds and over broken city surfaces, but it picks up nicely from about 80km/h. It has a fluid feel on country corners and absorbs bumps nicely.

Our Quattro V6 had plenty of zip and impressive grip, but wasn't nearly as responsive as the GTI. And here we go again.

The DSG manual seemed to be programmed to be gentler, softer, and we wondered a few times if it was actually just an automatic and not the hi-tech six-speed manual we loved in the GTI.

It didn't feel nearly as responsive, but that could have been partially down to the need to harness a full 184kW.

The Sportback is practical, light on (premium) fuel, has good headlamps and is easy to park.

Perhaps if we had driven one of the more-mundane models in the line-up, though Audi would argue that none of its cars is remotely mundane, we would have come away with more nice things to say.

Then again, it probably would have been the same story, because the latest A3 is a solid performer at a time when customers are looking for – and finding – genuine standouts.

At the end of the day, even if the Sportback star has the advantages of a V6 engine and Quattro drive and back doors, we would still prefer a Golf GTI. With cash in the bank.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is a nice car and it will do a nice job for nice people. But we don't think the basics are any better than a BMW and a lot of people will place more importance on the badge fitted to the A-Class.

Pricing guides

$9,110
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$3,700
Highest Price
$14,520

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.6 Attraction 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP $3,900 – 6,380 2005 Audi A3 2005 1.6 Attraction Pricing and Specs
2.0 FSI Ambition 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP $4,600 – 7,480 2005 Audi A3 2005 2.0 FSI Ambition Pricing and Specs
2.0 FSI Attraction 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP $4,400 – 7,150 2005 Audi A3 2005 2.0 FSI Attraction Pricing and Specs
2.0 TDI Ambition 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $5,300 – 8,140 2005 Audi A3 2005 2.0 TDI Ambition Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7