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First seen as far back as 1996, Audi introduced the original A3 as a premium alternative to conventional hatchbacks like the Opel Astra and Volkswagen Golf. Since then, numerous brands have introduced competitors to take on the A3, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Lexus.
In South Africa, where premium brands reign supreme, the A-Class, 1 Series and A3 all sell very well. In fact, they’ve managed to outlast some of the more mainstream models in the segment – Ford doesn’t sell its fourth-generation Focus here, for example. As crossover and SUVs become more popular with consumers, the ubiquitous mid-sized hatchback and sedan have fallen out of favour. Because of this, Volkswagen plans to only sell GTI and R derivatives of the latest Golf.
If you want a mid-sized VW, the T-Roc will have to do. Those looking to get their hands on a non-performance Golf are going to be disappointed. Happily, Audi has decided to still offer the fourth-generation A3 in South Africa. Like the Golf 8, the Audi A3 is underpinned by the VW Group’s MQB platform – which is also shared with the Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon.
The latest model continues the understated, elegant design of its predecessor. The design is more evolutionary than revolutionary, with just enough updates and changes to differentiate the A3 from its forerunner. The family resemblance is still there, but the latest model borrows styling cues from Audi’s supercar brand, Lamborghini. Our test unit, a 35 TFSI Advanced, looked good painted in Atoll Blue Metallic. An optional Sports Package (R21,000) – which includes firmer suspension, 18-inch ‘Y-style’ alloys and a Black styling pack – finishes everything off nicely.
A strong point of the A3, front-seat accommodation is generous, offering plenty of adjustment on both the driver’s seat and steering column. The interior is where further nods to Lamborghini are evident. Take the air vents which straddle the instrument binnacle, for example – they’re not unlike those found in the Urus high-performance SUV. Aside from that, the cabin has a modern feel with the intuitive 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system proving to be both feature-rich and intuitive. An optional Technology Package (R33,500) bags you Audi’s brilliant virtual cockpit, among other things.
The rear quarters are spacious enough, with sufficient knee- and headroom for taller passengers. 380 litres of boot space is on offer (on par with the 1 Series, 10 litres more than the A-Class), while folding the optional (R3,500) split-folding rear backrest increases packing space to 1,200 litres.
Under the bonnet of the A3 35 TFSI, you’ll find a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine which produces 110kW and 250Nm of torque. Paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the 35 TFSI is capable of reaching 100km/h in 8.2 seconds, beating the 118i’s claimed 8.5 seconds. On the road, the Sportback feels nimble – the turbocharged motor has sufficient poke and works well with the fast-acting self-shifter.
In town, the A3 is equally as competent. The optional sports suspension does provide a stiff ride over harsher bumps and undulations, but is comfortable for the most part. On the highway, it rides well and provides impressive levels of refinement. Wind noise is kept to a minimum and so is tyre roar. Overtaking at motorway speeds is a pleasure courtesy of the eight-speed auto ‘box, but sometimes the 110 kW motor does feel like it could do with a touch more power. A 40 TFI derivative (with 140 kW and 320 Nm) is available at extra cost. Audi claims fuel economy of 6.3 L/100 km. On a trip to the shops, I recorded a remarkable 4.7 L/100 km. Overall, the A3 35 TFSI averaged 6.6 L/100 km during our test period.
Drive the A3 in a spirited manner and, especially when equipped with the sports suspension, it delivers. The steering feels a touch lifeless, but there’s plenty of grip and body roll is kept to a minimum. While not as fluid as its rival from Munich, the A3 feels composed and polished through the bends. It’s worth noting that the gearbox is also quick to respond, adding to the overall experience.
Like the previous A3, Audi’s latest premium hatch goes about its business with quiet confidence. The styling remains conservative and demure, while the interior retains all the familiar Audi hallmarks and upmarket flourishes. It’s practical, stylish and blessed with top-shelf build quality. The BMW 118i may provide a more dynamic experience and the A-Class Mercedes may be more striking to look at, but the Audi’s ability to blend comfort and dynamism – into a package that is not only classy but beautifully built – makes it a winner. Once again, the new A3 wears the crown in the segment it created.
Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI Advanced
Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km (claimed)
Top speed: 219km/h
Rivals: BMW 118i, Mercedes-Benz A200
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