Price range: $36,400 – $70,900
Good: Refinement levels; tangible quality; frugal engines across the range; go-fast S3 grade.
Not so Good: Aging (this one’s been here since ’04); firm rear seats; base 1.6L petrol lacks go; pricey against the superior VW Golf.
Design and Engineering
Good : The current generation A3 arrived in Australia back in May 2004 but has received a couple of facelifts over the last six plus years (one in early ’05, the other at the end of ’08).
The overall shape is conservative in a classy way. The five-door ‘Sportback’ body is a good compromise for those after something a little longer than the usual hatch but a little shorter than the usual wagon. Audi is renowned for quality finishing’s and the A3 doesn’t disappoint – panel gaps are impressively small.
Not so good : A couple of our of test review team aren’t so sure about the matching of Audi’s big signature grille with the conservative A3 styling (however we admit design is subjective). The overall shape is starting to age against newer competitors and it looks as if the next generation model is still a couple of years away.
Interior and Styling
Good : As with the exterior styling the interior is classy in a restrained way. The fit and finish is excellent and we’d imagine it staying this way for years to come. Up front the cabin is surprisingly roomy (well for a small car anyway), comfortable and visibility is good.
Sportback grades (the five door bodystyle) feature wide-opening side rear doors which provide easy access to the second row seats. Two adult passengers shouldn’t have difficulty getting comfortable in the second row thanks to the decent amount of knee, shoulder and headroom on offer.
The Sportback’s 70mm longer wheelbase over the three-door hatch equates to extra cargo space behind the rear seats. The approximately 350L of boot space is a healthy size and with the split-fold bench folded down a nice and long load space is created (and over 1,000L of capacity).
Not so good : Whilst extremely well built the A3’s interior lacks the visual flair of the brands newer generation models (the one size smaller A1 and one size larger A4 being two examples).
The Sportback’s rear bench seat is hard and flat = not the most comfortable place to be on long trips. If you tick the optional sports suspension and larger alloys with low profile tyres it only gets worse. Second row passengers also miss out on cupholders and storage is lacking back here.
Good : A wide range of engines on offer – our favorites’ are the 1.4L turbo petrol in the 1.4 TFSI grade producing 92kW of power and 200Nm of torque, and the range topping S3 grades 2.0L turbo which see’s 188kW and 330Nm. The 1.4 TFSI offers enough ‘oomph’ in both city and highway environments and is an impressively smooth little engine. Fuel consumption is also very good (5.8L per 100km – official combined figure).
The S3’s engine (which also features in the competing Golf R) is a real peach. Turbo lag is virtually non-existent, it responds instantly to a push of the throttle and is equally happy to potter along in day-to-day traffic as scream above 5000 revs on a Sunday morning drive along your favourite twisty roads. The torque delivery is impressively flat so unlike a number of hot-hatches it doesn’t require constant gear changing.
Not so good : The entry level A3 grade features an aging naturally aspirated (i.e. no turbo or supercharging) 1.6L petrol engine producing only 75kW of power and an even less impressive 148Nm of torque. Acceleration is nothing special nor is the official fuel consumption figure of 6.7L per 100kms.
Ride and Handling
Good : The A3’s dynamic abilities are higher than the class norm. The handling is safe, controllable and well-balanced whether you opt for the front wheel drive or all wheel drive grades. The A3’s steering is on the light side, yet is responsive and inspires confidence thanks to the nicely consistent weighting. The ‘go-fast’ S3 is fantastically balanced and offers very high levels of grip. We also found the standard suspension on the S3 provides a nice balance between a comfortable ride and sports car handling.
Not so good : Poor road surfaces aren’t the A3’s best friend. The ride is firmer than most.
Buying and Owning
Good : Pricing lines up well against its traditional competitors (think BMW 1-Series, Mercedes-Benz B-Class and Volvo C30).
Not so good : Compared to the Volkswagen Golf (yep, we just can’t stop mentioning it) the A3 starts to look a little overpriced. Of the two models you can probably guess which one we’d choose.