Digitalised & Dynamic |
Recently digitally introduced to the local media, the new, fourth generation Audi A3 Sportback went on sale last month. The launch presentation also included the second generation of the A3 sedan and the sporty S derivatives of both the Sportback and sedan.
Since 1998, when the first A3 appeared locally, the A3 has successfully established itself in the premium compact class – with customer deliveries of more than 63,000 units over the last two decades. Now, the latest A3 incarnations from the Four Rings brand combine sportier looks, a digital operating concept, and numerous other innovations.
The range now consist of ten models (including the S3 quattro derivatives) priced from R561,000 to R810,000 (without options) and we were afforded the opportunity to appraise the A3 Sportback 35 TFSI Advanced, the most affordable model except the normal 35 TFSI. Measuring 4.34 m in length and 1.82 m in width (without mirrors), the new A3 Sportback has grown by just over 3 cm compared with its predecessor but its height (1.43 m) and wheelbase (2.64 m) remains unchanged.
With its compact proportions and sporty lines, the latest A3 models are attractive. This is accentuated by the wide Singleframe grille and large air inlets at the front end, a smooth body line extending from the headlights to the rear lights and a new concave element under the shoulder line that emphasises the wheel arches.
Normally, the Advanced model comes with 17-inch wheels, chrome details and unique bumpers, but our Atoll Blue Metallic model was kitted with extras totalling an exorbitant R190,000! This included inter alia Audi’s Technology Package (incorporating Audi connect Navigation and Infotainment Plus), Upgrade Package (including LED lights with dynamic turn signals at the rear and two-zone aircon) and Sports Package (with 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels and sports suspension).
Inside the Sportback, the stand-out features include a standard 10.1-inch touch display integrated in the centre of the instrument panel, a new, small gear shifter (with D/S, N and R the only gear selections available), aluminium inlays, striking wedge-like door handles, and a black-finished instrument panel.
The touch display recognizes letters entered by hand, provides acoustic feedback, and can be controlled using natural voice language. The instrument cluster, operated via the multifunction steering wheel, is now also digital and the (optional) Audi virtual cockpit plus 12.3-inch display – as in our test vehicle – provides additional functions and enables three different views, including sporty looking graphics.
The more powerful MMI operating concept (also optional) performs all tasks relating to connectivity, including telephony and the Audi connect services with LTE Advanced speed. The integrated connectivity includes a host of online services, and it can be connected to your smartphone via the myAudi app, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as via the Audi phone box.
It took a while to get used to the digital setup and its comprehensive array of functions, but once you have it figured out, it is easy to use. The comfortable, sporty seats and luxurious interior contributes to the mobility experience – and depending on the positions of the rear seats, between 380 and 1,200 litres of luggage space is available.
Locally, two petrol engine options are now available in the A3 range (excluding the S3 derivatives) – a 1.4-litre TFSI with 110 kW and a 2.0 TFSI delivering 140 kW (available from November this year). The A3 35 TFSI Advanced is powered by the entry-level mill (110 kW and 250 Nm at 1 500 r/min) coupled with an eight-speed tiptronic transmission.
We have already become acquainted with the drivetrain’s good tractability in other Audi and Volkswagen models, and in the new A3 the power delivery feels even more refined albeit slightly languid. While the shifter lever takes care of the auto transmission’s basic functions the Technology and Sports packages add steering paddles, giving the driver more control over gear shifts.
As standard, the front struts and four-link rear axle suspension is combined with the Audi drive select dynamic handling system with adaptive damper control, but our test car with optional Sports Package had the body lowered by 15 mm – for a more dynamic but firmer ride, more so with Sport mode selected.
The tauter tuning of the suspension and dampers gives the A3 Sportback sporty and balanced handling combined with pleasant ride comfort; as long as the road surface is smooth. On broken and rippled tar, the A3 tends to crash through ruts (much in the same fashion as its BMW adversaries) but this can be alleviated by selecting Normal mode for the suspension and drive select system.
Our test vehicle was also equipped with Audi pre sense front, parking assist and lane departure warning, offering a high level of safety. However, all this comes at a cost – and it makes you wonder whether the list price of R586,000 (standard with a five-year Audi Freeway Plan) is of any value…
In terms of digitalisation, connectivity, and dynamics the new Audi A3 Sportback is a step up from its predecessor. It is now also the closest vehicle match that any aspiring Volkswagen Golf buyer will be able to find. And therein lies the irony – At its current level of pricing the A3 Sportback is out of the reach of these aspirant buyers – more so when one starts to add the plethora of costly extras hidden within the different packages. With the Golf not available anymore, perhaps Audi is now missing a trick here… So, how about a reassessment to see how specifically the entry-level A3 Sportback derivatives can be made more affordable?
Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images: Audi AG