Audi’s A3 four-door now in Mzansi
Which comes first: chicken or egg, hatchback or sedan?
Curious question that, especially when posed to Audi’s product marketing people – a rather astute bunch who have managed the brand from fringe to fully endorsed member of the German premium automotive troika.
Truth of the matter is that the market has been forestalled for a decade and a half awaiting an A3 sedan, ever since the hatchback launched back in the late 1990s. As an ascending brand, Audi could have gambled into a sub-A4 sedan niche at any time it wished, yet it didn’t – we we offered sportback instead. That it has taken so terribly long – a veritable eon in automotive product lifecycle measurements – is puzzling.
So yes: the A3 sedan is very much an overdue addition to the burgeoning – and remarkably successful – A3 range, expanding choice beyond that of three-door hatch, five-door sportback and Q3 SUV. The question germinating in your critical mind must surely be this: is A3 sedan a worthy four-door alternative or just product planning garnish?
As a differentiated design, it’s not quite a cynically derivative ‘hatch-with-boot’ project. Dimensionally A3 sedan is 146mm more substantial bumper-to-bumper, 11mm wider and clears garage entrances with a 9mm lower margin of safety than its hatchback sibling. What those statistics don’t quite convey is the elegance of it: a stubby boot, tidy character lines across the flanks and some tucked and trimmed surface details between the headlamps and grille. These collaborate to render a car which is perhaps the best proportioned and detailed four-door Audi currently in production.
Audi’s media people say this A3 design is a cross between the brand’s classic three-box family car concept applications and its coupé philosophy. If you sketched an equation where three-box sedan proportions and surfacing were divided by the boldness of coupe elegance, then perhaps the A3’s design values make sense. All told it’s a conservative design, but beautifully balanced, especially when rolling those optional 19-inch wheels.
The cabin is a familiar blend of minimalist A3 hatch- and sportback architecture and accoutrements: dark trim, a pop-up MMI infotainment interface, very few control surfaces and gorgeous, timepiece quality fonts and dials comprising instrumentation. With a 2.64m wheelbase (28mm more generous than the five-door sportback), it’s obviously not A4 spacious for second-row occupants, but inarguably more comfortable, and less ergonomically claustrophobic, than its A3 siblings.
An authentic junior A4
Enough of the establishing details, I know what you are thinking: “okay, so it’s pretty, has a bigger boot and usable rear legroom, but so what’s the drive like?” Well, unsurprisingly, very much like any of the MQB platformed cars launched in 2013: staggering levels of mechanical and atmospheric sound/vibration insulation, effortless but rather artificial steering and a slightly ungainly, peculiarly shift pre-loaded, six-speed manual transmission. In fact, I have no idea why you’d ever option the six-speed manual instead of the excellent S-tronic dual-clutch seven-speed.
Of the three engine options (1.4- and 1.8T FSIs, 2.0 TDI) it’s the 132kW/250Nm 1.8 which felt least like it was churning bubble-gum somewhere in its drivetrain, whilst driving around Gauteng. All three engines are admirably frugal, but only 1.8 has that alacrity (0-100kph in 7.3 secs) best suited to the range of electronic intuition and mechanical adjustability of Audi’s S-tronic transmission. It has a disarming Q-car character about it: looks subtle, goes rather quickly.
As a range though, perhaps A3 sedan’s most surprising dynamic virtue was its ride quality. Even rolling on those oversized 19-inch, five-blade alloys, the additional wheelbase settles oscillating forces just that touch more confidently than the stubbier wheel-spaced hatch. Truth be told, 19-inch wheels can be a disaster on South African B-roads, but lapping around the NW province, we never felt A3 sedan duly unsettled.
A conundrum, then, this new A3 sedan. Prettier than A4, nearly as spacious, plenty quick in 1.8T FSI configuration, crucially cheaper and with a more contemporary cabin design. It’s a very tidy car and without much in the way of class rivals. BMW doesn’t appear in the least keen to canabalize 3-Series sales with a 1-Series four-door and Mercedes-Benz’s CLA is notably dearer than A3 sedan. There’s another issue with CLA too, it has a distinctly junior Merc feel to its cabin quality and trim, whereas A3’s tactile interface is more akin to that of a really compact A6, instead of something evidently ‘junior’…
In the compact premium sedan niche, newly minted and populated by only two of the marquee German luxury brands, it would appear very much advantage Audi. For now.
Audi A3 Sedan 1.4T FSI SE manual: R 323 500
Audi A3 Sedan 1.4T FSI SE S tronic: R 340 500
Audi A3 Sedan 1.8T FSI SE manual: R 341 500
Audi A3 Sedan 1.8T FSI SE S tronic: R 358 500
Audi A3 Sedan 2.0 TDI SE manual: R 355 500
Audi A3 Sedan 2.0TDI SE S tronic: R 372 500