One with the machine. The new BMW M4 Coupé.

The strength of the BMW M4 Coupé is evident in every detail.

Audi A3: small sedan with big pizzazz

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IOL mot pic feb7 Audi A3 Sedan 1

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Optional 19-inch rims look cool but are not made for potholes. Safer to stay with the standard 17-inch hoops. Picture: Denis Droppa

ROAD TEST: Audi A3 1.8 TFSI SE S tronic

When motorised eye-candy is the discussion at hand, small sedans don’t usually enter the realm. Notwithstanding styling being the emotive and subjective affair that it is, you’ll seldom hear anyone waxing lyrical about the comely curves of a Corolla or a Jetta - as good as those cars might otherwise be.

The new Audi A3 sedan is different. Instead of looking like a bland and bum-heavy version of the smartly-styled A3 hatch or Sportback, the four-door A3 is slightly lower and wider, giving it arguably more athletic presence. It doesn’t actually share any body panels with the A3 hatch. With a swoopy roofline and short boot, the sedan’s a suave-looking specimen with a good deal of flair, and that’s not just my highly subjective opinion but corroborated by the compliments our A3 sedan test car elicited from passersby.

An S line cosmetic package for R15 110, as featured in our test car, adds a shot of extra styling panache.

The sedan range was launched here in December 2013 to complement the A3 line up which began with the three-door A3 hatch introduced in November 2012, followed by the five-door Sportback in April 2013.

Interestingly the A3 sedan’s just a smidgen shorter but notably wider than the original A4 launched in the mid-1990s – a testament to how cars are getting ever larger. Consequently, under the A3’s coupé-like roofline is a roomy passenger cell, and four adults can make themselves at home without requiring specialised yoga techniques.

IOL mot pic feb7 Audi A3 Sedan 2

Coupe-like lines give the A3 sedan a more athletic flair than the average four-door. Picture: Denis Droppa

Boot space is a decent 425 litres (partly with the help of a marie-biscuit spare tyre), and with the rear seats folded there’s 880 litres which is roomy enough to swallow bulky items such as mountain bikes.

The cabin’s decked out with Audi’s usual upmarket flair.

The very classy-looking alcantara/leather seats that were fitted in our test car are a R9 300 option.

Audi’s gone for a minimalist design philosophy in the interior, and the dash has a just a handful of buttons to operate, mostly for the ventilation.

The rest of the car’s toys - including the navigation, audio and car settings - are bundled into an all-in-one infotainment system controlled by an interface between the front seats, and viewed on a large dashtop monitor that pops into a hidey-hole when you switch off the ignition. Ergonomically this solution’s a great success and very intuitive to use, although it leaves the minimalistic dashboard looking almost too stark.

PREMIUM OFFERING

IOL mot pic feb7 Audi A3 Sedan 3

Cabin is the usual neat and tidy Audi affair. Dashtop monitor slides back into a hidey hole when not in use. Picture: Denis Droppa

The A3 sedan Is positioned as a more premium offering than the five-door Sportback and sold only in high-spec SE derivatives. This gives a standard feature list that includes an MMI audio system with the abovementioned pop-up LCD screen, Bluetooth with voice control, dual-zone aircon (with separate vents for rear passengers), multi-function sports steering wheel, sports front seats, Audi Drive Select with Efficiency programme, automatic lights and wipers, and sports suspension.

A gizmo that’s unusual in this segment, and normally found in the luxury class, is adaptive cruise control (a R5 810 option on the A3) which automatically keeps your chosen speed while maintaining a safe following distance. It’s a handy, stress-reducing gizmo particularly in heavy traffic, and nice to see this kind of feature filtering down to smaller cars.

TOP DOG

Later this year a high-performance S3 will be launched as top-dog in the range, but for now the A3 sedan’s available as a 90kW 1.4 TFSI petrol, a 110kW 2.0 TDI diesel, and the subject of this test, the 1.8T S tronic priced at R372 000. Outputs of 132kW and 250Nm give the 1.8T a lively and free-revving nature, and our Gauteng acceleration tests produced a fairly sprightly 0-100km/h time of 8.5 seconds. Top speed is a decent 235km/h.

It’s a refined drive with minimal engine or wind noise upsetting the car’s tranquility, and gears are changed with great finesse by the dual-clutch seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission. Our test car drank 8.5 litres per 100km – not bad, but also not close to the 5.6 litre claim.

PLUSH RIDE

The A3 has a famously plush ride, probably the best in its class, and this was still noticeable in our test car despite it being fitted with sports suspension and optional 19” rims with low-profile tyres that hardened its bump-soaking ability on rough roads.

The arch-filling mags look great, but the standard 17” footwear will do a better job in the real world of speedhumps and potholes.

In terms of cornering ability the sports suspension sharpens up what is already a sweet-handling chassis to begin with, making this Audi shoot through bends with great accuracy and agility.

VERDICT

Audi’s new four-door compact is an appealing package, impressing with both its utility and aspirational value. Its styling, classy feel and rich spec levels, combined with decent space, may even entice a few buyers who were considering the larger A4. - Star Motoring

FACTS

Audi A3 1.8 TFSI SE S tronic

Engine: Four-cylinder, 1.8-litre turbopetrol

Power: 132kW @ 5100-6200rpm

Torque: 250Nm @ 1250-500rpm

0-100km/h (Gauteng) - 8.5 seconds

Top speed (Gauteng): 235km/h

Consumption (Gauteng): 8.5 litres per 100km

Price: R372 000

Warranty: one-year, unlimited distance

Maintenance plan: Five years or 100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

BMW 118i Five-Door a/t (125kW/250Nm) - R344 423

Mercedes-Benz CLA200 a/t (115kW/250BNm) - R390 726

Volvo V40 T4 a/t (132kW/270Nm) - R342 900


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