ROAD TEST: Audi A3 sedan 2.0 TDI SE AT
With the Audi A4 having done a fine job at 'growing up' over the past two generations, it was inevitable that a sedan version of the A3 would eventually hit the scene.
Perhaps less expected was that Audi's first attempt would have such a striking design. Whoever said that smaller sedans are difficult to design never worked on this project. With its taut, muscular lines (it's 9mm lower and 11mm wider than the A3 Sportback), the A3 sedan actually makes the A4 look like it has too much excess fat.
And here's where things get a little tricky as the A4 is something of a volume seller and Audi is clearly scared of cannibalising it. This is likely why the A3 sedan is only sold in high-spec grades and the result is that it's not much more affordable than the A4 in the grander scheme of things.
In fact the range kicks off at R336 500 for the 90kW 1.4T SE, which is just six grand shy of the lesser-equipped rental-spec 88kW A4 1.8T. Opt for the A3 2.0 TDI S Tronic featured here and you're looking at R386 500 before all the tasty options that pushed our test car well beyond the R400 000 barrier.
The A3 sedan is not quite ready to be a volume seller then, but what it does offer is a tantalisingly desirable option for those chasing something smaller and more athletic than the A4.
Sink behind the wheel and everything surrounding you is a reminder that you're driving something premium, something well above average. There's a sporty flair in the way the interior lines converge and the surfaces have a high-quality look and feel.
Yet despite the fairly generous 425-litre boot, this is not the most practical sedan in its basic size class. I stepped straight out of an Astra sedan before driving this and must admit to having felt a little claustrophobic in the Audi at first. Hop in the back and the legroom is reasonable enough but the car's coupé-like roofline doesn't leave enough headroom for an adult that’s taller than average.
As mentioned, you can only get the A3 sedan in high-spec SE guise and the upside is that you get many bells and whistles that lower-spec Audi's don't come with.
Standard issue on this one is an LED interior lighting package, automatic headlights and wipers, multi-function three-spoke sports steering wheel with shift paddles (S Tronic models), dual-zone automatic climate control as well as sports seats.
Audi's MMI Radio is standard and comes with a nifty colour screen that pops out of the top of the dash but you'll have to find an extra R22 200 for a navigation system with a built in music hard drive though.
The SE models also come with a sports suspension system and our tester was kitted out with optional 19” rims. Not only did they do a much better job of filling the generous arches than the standard 17-inchers, but they also conspired with the SE-spec stiffer suspension to provide a taut and sporty feel on the road. Yet despite feeling a little on the firm side, the ride quality was in no way uncomfortable.
The most comfortable part of the equation in this instance, though, is the 110kW/320Nm 2-litre turbodiesel that has a perfect partner in the optional seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch transmission. It gets about its business with no turbo lag hesitation and won't leave you wishing for more clout on the open road. It also proved reasonably efficient on the highway, sipping in the late fives and early sixes according to the l/100km readout.
With its good looks, quality feel and the decent drive it offers, Audi's new A3 sedan features very high on the desirability scale. But it does command a premium. Although it is less overpriced than the Mercedes CLA, this A3's price tag is likely to prove hard to swallow for many of its admirers.
Audi A3 sedan 2.0 TDI SE AT
Engine: 4-cyl, 2-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: 7-speed S Tronic
Power: 110kW @ 3500 - 4000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1750 - 3000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 8.4 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 219km/h
Consumption (claimed): 4.5 l/100km
Price: R386 500
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km
Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 CDI (125kW/350Nm) - R413 500
VW Jetta 2.0 TDI Highline (103kW/320Nm) - R331 800