Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Range
1.8T 5-dr hatch
2.0 FSI 3-dr hatch
S3 3-dr hatch
S3 Sportback 5-dr hatch
S3 Sportback S-tronic 5-dr hatch
sedan 1.8 TFSI
Sportback 1.0 TFSI
Sportback 1.8 TFSI Quattro
Sportback 1.9 TDIe 5-dr hatch
Sportback 3.2 5-dr hatch
Sportback 5-dr hatch range
High-quality interior, ride comfort, Virtual Cockpit dashboard, loads of customisation options
Room for improvement
No USB input, idle-stop system can be frustrating, gets pricey with a few options ticked
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15 Nov 2016
By TUNG NGUYEN
ON THE surface, it may seem like Audi has done the bare minimum in this mid-life refresh of its third-generation A3 small-car line-up.
More aggressive headlights, new-look tail-lights and slightly redesigned front and rear bumpers are the most obvious exterior clues to the update, but dig a little deeper and it’s obvious that Audi has put most of the improvements under the sheet metal.
Our first taste with the updated A3 range came in the form of the mid-tier 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, a carryover engine from last year’s line-up, on a drive out from Melbourne’s inner city to the Yarra Valley.
As expected, the new A3’s interior quality is top-notch. The chunky leather steering wheel feels perfect in hand, the doors close with a satisfying but muted thud, Audi’s infotainment screen pops in and out of the dashboard with aplomb, and the leather seats are soft and supple to the touch.
Audi’s interiors have always had a high-end feel to them, and the new A3 definitively leads the premium small-car market in this regard.
The test car we drove also had the $2900 Technik package, which adds Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital dash, flat-bottomed steering wheel and paddle shifters.
While the high-definition instrumentation and the ability to make the speedo bigger or smaller at the click of a button is just as amazing now as it was when the system first debuted on the TT sportscar last year.
Audi’s simplified infotainment control scheme also works well. Cutting down the number of buttons around the central control knob from four to two and rejigging menus to suit allowed us to quickly and intuitively navigate the multi-media interface (MMI).
Like before, the A3’s suspension has been tuned for comfort rather than sportiness, smoothly absorbing bumps but often without communicating much feedback to the driver.
However, we are not overly fond of the new seven-speed automatic, which the 1.4 shares with the new 1.0-litre three-cylinder A3. While adequate enough to get us through city traffic, it often feels lethargic when putting the foot down to overtake, taking a second or two too long to wake up and downshift.
We also found the 1.4-litre engine hated to be revved and the idle-stop system often cut the engine while we were slowing to a stop, making last minute lane changes tricky as the system would take its time to start again.
Our A3 was also equipped with adaptive cruise control (ACC) – a $1500 option – and Audi should be commended for making a system that works flawlessly. While it was activated on the freeway, the ACC never jammed on the brakes, even when cars from adjacent lanes quickly merged in front of us, instead the system smoothly slowed until the car ahead was at the desired distance.
Fittingly, the carryover 1.4-litre engine proved to the perfect refresher course to the A3 before we tucked into the new entry-level 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre turbo triple on the Yarra Valley’s country roads.
Although the 1.0 TFSI is the cheapest in the range, it loses nothing in terms interior refinement, feeling every bit as classy as its pricier siblings.
The car we tested only had one option ticked, leather seats, but if we were to have one, we’d have it with the Virtual Cockpit too.
Available exclusively in the Sportback body style, the base A3 feels spritely and, even on the long country roads, the 1.0-litre overtook slow-moving traffic with ease. In everyday city driving, we imagine you wouldn’t want for more power or torque.
The idle-stop system suffered from the same unease as the 1.4-litre, but helped keep fuel consumption down around 6.0 litres per 100kms.
Moving up to the 2.0-litre TFSI engine bumps power up to 140kW and torque to 320Nm, while the seven-speed transmission is swapped out for a wet-clutch shifter with the same number or ratios.
We felt the wet-clutch transmission (able to handle higher loads of torque) felt better than the system on lower variants, but having only spent 30 minutes in the car, we could not draw a comprehensive conclusion.
Likewise, the sports suspension handled corners in the 2.0 CoD TFSI sedan much more confidently, but with 18-inch wheels, road and tyre noise was much more noticeable and pervasive.
Audi also offers its S3 Spotback, sedan and Cabriolet for the more sportscar inclined buyers, raising power to 213kW (up 3kW from last year’s model) and torque to 380Nm from the 2.0-litre turbocharged TFSI four-cylinder.
A sports bodykit and more pronounced front grille and rear diffuser give away the S3’s sporting intentions, as does the growl coming from the quad exhaust tips.
With Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as standard, the S3 feels much more confident in the bends and has the right balance of power and torque, never threatening to overwhelm the wheels.
Flick the car around a corner fast enough and you can even feel the system scrambling to find grip and work overtime to eliminate understeer.
The S3 can be switched between various driving modes, but should be kept on Dynamic. This is where the steering and suspension are tuned just right, giving the perfect amount of feedback from the wheel and chassis, whereas in Comfort mode, the steering and throttle response felt disconnected and numb.
The suspension absorbs bumps with ease and never felt unsettled. Even during high-speed corning, small road imperfections didn’t even come close to upsetting the S3’s composure.
Uprated sports seats felt fantastic for daily driving, but if we wanted to take the S3 to the track, we wished they hugged a little tighter and gave more side bolster support.
Our pick of the bunch? Surprisingly, the 1.0 TFSI is smooth, punchy and perfect for day-to-day city driving. Class-leading interior quality helps too, as does sat-nav and autonomous emergency braking as standard.
The S3 is a taught and athletic machine, just as capable and fun as ever, but it is exactly what you would expect from an S-badged model.
The cheapest A3 will get you into a delightful premium small-car without breaking the bank that is just as home in the city as it does on the occasional country jaunt. An upmarket interior and handsome exterior styling also helps its case but just be sure to leave enough in the budget to get an A3 with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
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