Sizing up Audi's new A3

The Audi A3 Sportback gets a muscular makeover and some clever new features, including a suicidal engine.

Published Sat, Jul 24, 2021 · 05:50 AM


IT MAY be a small car, but the Audi A3 Sportback has had a big impact on the motoring world. It's the reason BMW has a 1 Series, and why Mercedes abandoned quirkiness for its A-Class and morphed it into a conventional hatchback.

Having stumbled onto a good thing, Audi did one better by rejigging its hit hatch into the A3 Sedan, which is one of the cars that has come to make life difficult for all manner of Japanese saloons here. It's one reason why no one goes from, say, a Honda Civic to a Honda Accord any more; why not spend your beans on a baby Audi, and upgrade in terms of brand instead of size?

Now in its fourth generation, the A3 still comes in either hatchback or sedan format, and unless you were born before 1986 or so, you're more likely to find the five-door Sportback more appealing, especially if you can see yourself making regular use of the 1,200 litres of cargo space that becomes available when you fold the rear seats.

Even though it's a heavy update of the previous car, and still a mechanical sister of the Volkswagen Golf, there's plenty to admire about the new A3. It has a fashionably large grille and slim lamps, but is also endowed with muscular bulges in all the right places to give it a broad-shouldered look. Compared to this, the previous A3 looks positively timid.

Both the four and five-door versions apparently use the exact same taillamps, which is a difficult trick to pull off on the designers' part, but one that the cost-counters at Audi will have kissed them on both cheeks for.

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If that saved a bit of money, you can see where Audi spent it when you climb aboard. A3 cabins have generally set the standard for poshness in their class, but the new one plays catch-up with Mercedes in terms of how much digital real estate is inside, while continuing to offer generally higher quality materials.

The instrument cluster is as averse to physical needles as the average anti-vaxxer, with the fancy virtual dials from Audi's bigger, plusher models taking their place.

The new tile-based infotainment system is a doddle to use, and there are still physical buttons for the air-con, drive mode selector and other key features, so you don't have to jab your way through a few menus if all you want is colder air on your face.

Other neat touches are a stylishly stubby gear lever and a touch-sensitive pad for the sound system that Steve Jobs would have approved of.

If you have the luxury of a conscience, you can even choose a fabric for the seats and carpets made of recycled plastic bottles, which would remove more than 100 of the pesky things from the environment.

Whatever it is, it's usually hard not to compare the A3 Sportback with a Golf, but this time around the difference between the two cars' cabins sets them apart.

Where the A3 Sportback is inescapably Golf-like is from behind the wheel, which comes as no surprise since it has the same mild-hybrid, 1.5-litre engine and the same basic chassis.

Neither of those is a bad thing, because the A3 is a lovely car to drive, deftly combining faithful steering response with an eagerness to pitch into corners, and a supple ride over bumps.

The engine is lively when pressed, yet frugal when treated gently. Thanks to the hybrid system, it kills itself to save fuel if you take your foot off the accelerator but comes back to life as if it were never gone.

It can deactivate two of its cylinders which, like switching off the lights when you leave a room, probably makes only the tiniest difference to your carbon footprint but is still worth doing.

Most buyers will eye the new A3 Sportback for its brazen styling and slick cabin, and for the fact that it feels like a proper Audi despite its size, but its shrunken appetite for fuel feels more relevant today than ever.

The first A3 may have reshaped the motoring landscape, but this one aims to alter the world in smaller, yet arguably more commendable ways.

Audi A3 Sportback 1.5 TFSI

Engine 1,498cc, inline 4, turbocharged Power 150hp at 5,000-6,000rpm Torque 250Nm at 1,500-3,500rpm Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch 0-100km/h 8.4 seconds Top speed 224km/h Fuel efficiency 4.8L/100km Agent Premium Automobiles Price S$166,140 with COE Available Now

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