Launched: Audi A3 [2012]

The new popularity

I’ve bought quite a few cars over the years and my shortlists usually included some or other derivative of a car which I believe to be a sensible and beautifully engineered hatchback. It’s never been the most affordable and I’m yet to own one so my admiration of the Audi A3 lives on.

This week we were invited to the launch of the latest, third-Generation model which is blatantly aimed at continuing the popularity of its lineage. Launched in 1996, the A3 provided a red carpet for Ingolstadt newbies until its little A1 brother arrived on local shores recently.

Typing of which, most observers will remark that Ah Three looks remarkably like its wee sibling but that’s due to its clean lines, taut proportions, corporate face and smouldering rear end.  The interior also shows similarities but extra equipment and more generous dimensions set the A3 apart.

Audi execs were also quick to dispel the myth of their car simply being a luxury Golf; yes, the A3 is built on the same versatile platform but the myth should actually be reversed as VW trails behind Audi with their top selling hatchback. You are now looking at the new A3 – do you see a Golf 7 anywhere yet?

Other new and distinctive features for the range are shorter overhangs, lengthened wheelbase, new door mirrors, higher standard specifications, Xenon and LED lights, start/stop systems and a substantial weight saving. All interiors feature pop-up central monitors and MMI controllers.

Audi South Africa has done away with the previous “Ambition” and “Attraction” specification lines, replacing them with “S”, “SE” and “Quattro” derivatives. S offers standard equipment like 16-inch wheels, multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth, auto lights and wipers.

SE spoils you with 17-inch wheels and sports suspension, sports seats, aluminium trim inside and out, climate control, better speakers, a snazzier steering wheel (with shift paddles for S-tronic models) and Audi’s Drive Select adaptive drive mode with efficiency program.

Splash out on a Quattro model and you’ll also receive alcantara and leather trim, Audi Music interface, more aluminium trim and a storage/luggage compartment package. Optional extras include, among others, Bang&Olufsen tunes, full LED headlights, media/online connectivity, satnav with touchpad and Magnaride adaptive suspension.

New engines with direct injection and turbo-charging range from 1.2L, 1.4L and 1.8L turbo-petrol four cylinders to 1.6L and 2.0L turbo-Diesel four pots with a choice of manual or S-Tronic gearbox – depending on model. The 77kW 1.2T FSi will be available in early 2013 while all others are in showroom floors now.

The 1.4 motor kicks out a healthy 90kW / 200Nm, 1.8 delivers 132kW / 250Nm, and the turbo-Diesels produce 77kW / 250Nm and 135kW / 380Nm respectively. Consumption and CO2 figures are exceptionally good, most of these cars are exempt from CO2 tax and extremely frugal with the contents of their 50L tanks.

We tested some 1.4 and 1.8 models on a picturesque route around Franschhoek and the first thing to strike me was how exceptionally smooth the new A3 is, irrespective of which derivative I was driving. Even when compared to other European cars we’ve recently had on test, this is a very accomplished little car. Smooth as silk.

The pedals are light and responsive, steering feedback and visibility are good, plus the cabin has that typical Audi invincibility and no-nonsense ergonomics to it. Wind and road noise are minimal, torque steer remains mostly absent, the sports seats are well worth the investment and the brakes are superb.

We enjoyed a distinct difference between ride comfort and steering response when going from regular to Quattro and/or Drive Select models but agreed that, considering its cubic capacity and price, each vehicle had more than sufficient power, impressive torque, exceptional road holding and pleasing comfort levels.

Prices start with the 1.2T FSi (manual) S at N$267,000 and go all the way to N$351,500 for the big 1.8T FSi Quattro S-tronic. The five-door Sportback models will arrive in SA around May 2013, S3 joins the line-up in March next year while S3 Sportback should get here by about August 2013.

All Audi A3’s are sold with a 1-year warranty and 5-year/100,000km maintenance plan. There are many, many cheaper options available but almost all will fail to reach the A3’s level of sophistication, packaging and inevitable popularity.

Prices [ November 2012 ]

A3 1.2T FSi S (M): N$267,000
A3 1.4T FSi S (M): N$274,500
A3 1.4T FSi S (S-tronic): N$291,500
A3 1.8T FSi SE (M): N$305,000
A3 1.8T FSi SE (S-tronic): N$322,000
A3 1.8T FSi Quattro (S-tronic): N$351,500
A3 1.6 TDi  S (S-tronic): N$302,500

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