ROAD TEST: Audi A3 1.4T S
Pure, simple, elegant design doesn't age as quickly as fussier and more extroverted styling statements. Just look at the previous-shape Audi A3. It was launched nearly ten years ago, yet - as far as I'm concerned - it's still a rather smart-looking car.
People will point fingers at the new A3 for being too conservative, too evolutionary - but I bet its design is going to stand the test of time.
It's a similar story inside the new A3, where the basic dashboard design has a familiar look, except that it's a lot more modern, uncluttered and elegant.
The most striking addition is those 'jet engine' central air vents and looking around you'll soon notice that the dash has been significantly de-cluttered.
In fact the only switches that had the audacity to appear are the ventilation controls and a few miscellaneous buttons. Holy cow! Where's the radio?
Turn the key and a 5.8-inch colour screen pops out the top of the dash and it soon becomes apparent that the standard 'MMI' controller is your link to the Concert audio system.
I drove the basic 'S' model, which still packs all the basic amenities like air conditioning, auto headlights and wipers, driver information system, front centre arm rest and Bluetooth connectivity. It also comes with a leather-covered four-spoke steering wheel, which is a bit of an eye-sore in a world of sporty three-spoke designs. It also felt a bit strange sitting on a set of rather plain-looking cloth seats in an Audi. If you want full leather then you'll have to find an extra R17 060, or R9300 if you're happy with a leather-alcantara combination.
If you get an itchy sensation when looking through an optional items brochure, then this car - like any German machine - could really break the bank.
Nonetheless, the A3's superbly-finished interior really looks a million bucks and makes you feel like you're driving something that's a cut above the rest.
Thankfully, the A3's mechanical composition plays along too.
I spent a week in the 1.4-litre TSI turbopetrol model, which makes a lot more sense than the 1.2-litre TSI base model that costs just R7500 less.
What I love about this 1.4 is that it really punches above the perceptions created by its rather meagre power output of 90kW. Glance over its torque figure of 200Nm and it starts to make more sense. Floor it off the mark and there's no lag to speak of and it remains brisk and satisfying all the way to its 6000rpm power peak. No drama, no quibbles - just pure, punchy turbo boost.
Along the way you'll enjoy the solid and smooth gear shift mechanism and the well-spaced - and positioned - pedals make traffic a cinch. In a nutshell, the driving experience is highly enjoyable.
That said, the suspension is rather firm and the ride quality was no match for the Chevrolet Cruze that I drove the week before. But the Audi is still sufficiently comfortable on everyday urban surfaces and the handling is very neat too.
It's also economical, with Audi claiming a mixed-cycle fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100km.
At R274 500, the A3 1.4T is pricey. But it's also smart, practical, efficient and a pleasure to drive. Spoil yourself, if you have to, just don't burn yourself on that options list.