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Tested: Audi's revamped A3 remains a class act

Road tests
Johannesburg – I was a little put out to find that the Virtual Cockpit, that sexy piece of modern-day Audi gizmotronics, was absent from the A3 sedan test car.

This new R31300 option – which includes navigation – was formerly available only in more upmarket Audis and has now filtered down into the humbler A3 range for the first time. If you’ve missed it somehow, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit brings sci-fi to reality with its spaceship-like instrument panel that provides the driver with a large fully-digital 31cm display showing the speed, revs, and navigation map instead of a traditional instrument cluster.

Drivers can choose between two views: a “classic mode” which emulates normal instrument clusters and an “infotainment mode” that shrinks the speedo and rev counter to make more space for the navigation map and other infotainment functions.

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A3 is freshened up with a facelift that includes restyled headlamps, grille and bumper. Pictures: Jason Woosey and Audi SA.

This new optional feature is part of a freshening-up of the four-year old A3 range, with the car receiving new technology, engines and updated styling.

An option that did make it onto the test A3’s spec sheet was adaptive cruise control (R15300), a worthwhile extra, I believe, as it takes much of the stress out of maintaining a safe following distance in traffic. Like the Virtual Cockpit, it’s a feature that was previously only available to buyers of larger and more expensive Audis.

The alcantara/leather seats fitted at an extra R12000 are another option I’d tick off if I were buying this A3; they’re not only comfortable and supportive but give the cabin that extra shot of exclusivity compared to the standard cloth seats.

As before, Audi’s A3 is available in three-door hatchback, five-door sportback, sedan and cabriolet varieties, with the 228kW S3 serving as the flagship of the line-up.

The next-best version – and the subject of this test – is a new engine derivative added to the range: the A3 2.0 T FSI with outputs of 140kW and 320Nm. First seen in the new-generation A4, this turbo 2-litre replaces the A3’s old turbo 1.8T, which mustered 132kW and 250Nm.

The 2-litre delivers a good lick of pace, mostly fuss-free except for a dash of initial low-rev lag before the turbo wakes up. It’s a smooth and brisk performer, with enough shunt to flit past long trucks with effortless overtaking urge.

Along with a top speed of 244km/h Audi quotes a very respectable 6.7 second sea level 0-100km/h time and we managed to come very close to that in our own Gauteng altitude tests, at 6.9 secs.

As part of the A3’s recent upgrade the S tronic dual-clutch transmission gained an extra gear to make it a seven-speeder. It makes a mostly happy pairing with the engine and the shifts are quick and smooth when in Sport mode. In the interests of fuel consumption the cogs are swapped a little more lazily in standard mode, which also activates the stop-start function in town driving.

Using a combination of the standard and sport transmission modes, our test car averaged a fairly economical 7.8 litres per 100km. It’s a decent lack of thirst for an engine with this kind of performance, but still came nowhere near Audi’s claimed 5.5 litres.

It’s a quiet engine, which gels nicely with the A3’s all-round quiet operation and refinement.

The A3 sedan has a surprisingly compliant ride considering the optional low-profile 18” wheels fitted (higher-profile 16s come standard) and generally took potholes and speedhumps in its stride. It combined very neat handling of a road-hugging nature with quick steering which makes this front-wheel drive an enjoyable car to hustle around corners.

All versions of the A3 are pulled by the front wheels except for the S3 performance flagship which lays down quattro grip. Still, the two-wheel drive A3 2.0 FSI can be pushed through corners without running into early understeer, while stability control and ABS brakes safely help to rein in any over-enthusiasm from the driver.

The A3’s revamp included a facelift with slight redesigns of the front and rear lights, front bumper and grille and rear diffuser. For a sportier look, the S line exterior package can also be ordered providing the vehicle with a different front bumper and rear diffuser.

Bi-xenon headlights are standard, while LED headlights as well as Matrix LED headlights are also optionally available for the first time in the A3. Both LED and Matrix LED headlights offer dynamic turn signals which, instead of the traditional blink, make a flamboyant “sweep” to show others you’re turning.

The interior lays on Audi’s usual charm with top-quality finishes and very clean ergonomics – almost too clean and the fascia looks quite bare with most of the audio functions and car settings bundled into a colour 7” monitor which glides into a hidey-hole atop the dash when it’s not needed.

The A3 is compact but roomy enough to take four adults fairly comfortably and the sedan’s 390-litre boot takes a good amount of luggage, expanding to a practical 845 litres with the seats flipped down. The five-door A3 Sportback is the one to buy if you need really large cargo space, as its 380-litre boot expands to a giant 1220 litres.

The S tronic version of the A3 2.0 FSI sedan sells for R465500 but it’s also available as a six-speed manual for R447000. The pricing includes the 5 year/100 000km Audi Freeway Plan.

VERDICT

Now four years old, the A3 continues to be one of the most desirable cars in the mini-executive league, now more so with a revamp which brings some new high-end features into this category.

The price is very reasonable, too, when compared against the less powerful rivals listed below.

FACTS

Audi A3 2.0 TFSI S Tronic

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual clutch

Power: 140kW @ 4200 - 6000rpm

Torque: 320Nm @ 1500 - 4200rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 6.9 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 244km/h

Price: R465 500

Warranty: 1-year / unlimited km

Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Honda Civic sedan 1.5T executive – 127kW/220Nm – R460 000

Mercedes-Benz CLA200 auto – 115kW/250Nm – R509 212

Follow me on Twitter @denisdroppa

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