Driven: Series 3 A3 3 door hatch
At the end of July, we were fortunate to be invited to an Audi dealer event in Copenhagen & Sweden that was opened up to invited guests (http://www.audifans.net/article708.html ). The main purpose of the event was to “get to grips” with the new A3.
We were fortunate to spend some time with the car- not on a "press launch" route, but through Copenhagen, covering city, urban, rural & motorway, driving to just south of Malmo in Sweden and back.
Our verdict? Read on....
(please note~: picture intensive if on a mobile device; click the images for bigger versions)
The A3 was launched in 1996, with 900,000 models of the series 1 sold; the series 2 sold 1,800,000- and the series 3- from what we’ve seen- can only do better. Admittedly, the series 2 had more options; was available in 3 door, 5 door (fast back) and cabriolet versions, along with the S3 available in the series 1, the RS3 was also available in the series 2, initially in limited numbers. This new version is based on the VAG group MBQ platform, which will be shared with a lot of vehicles across VW, Audi, Seat & Skoda. Size maybe similar, but there’s an internal Audi edict that all new models must weigh less than the model they are replacing. In this case, the series 3 A3 is 80Kg lighter than the series 2- and this will help with fuel economy.
The specifications of the versions we saw may not be available in the UK, and some items may have been “renamed” for the UK market- if in doubt, check with www.audi.co.uk (we saw a 2.0 Tdi quattro, but it doesn’t look like you can order it on their website… yet)
The models available for us to drive were the 1.8 Tfsi with seven speed s-tronic gearbox (red) and the 2.0 Tdi with manual gearbox (white)
Upon first approaching the car, the size doesn’t look much different to any of the other A3’s available previously; close inspection shows a lot of thought and detail has gone into this latest version; visually appealing and nothing is “out of place”. The quality and fitment – particularly the interior is excellent. Typically with “new cars” there are some “niggles” and eventually they start to rear their head. Not so in this case. Having spent so long in one of these, we were constantly finding “new things”- details that continued to impress- sometimes it’s the little things that count. As with a lot of car manufacturers of late, there tends to be “retro” in the styling- sometimes it’s small things- such as the heating controls on this latest A3, through to a full over retro look, akin to the “new” Beetle and “Mini” (BMW’s offering)
The cars driven came with the full infotainment package- heading towards Audi’s “connect” system; the instrument binnacle between the speedo and rev counter gives you full information regarding the car- think Autocheck on steroids. Information covers everything- even things such as the cruise control/ distance to the car in front (which when activated, the car will keep you a set distance from the car in front while maintaining as close to your set speed as possible while safe). Several driver assistance systems are available as well, including active lane assist, traffic sign detection and parking assistance.
The navigation system is excellent- ideal for when you are in a foreign country- giving multiple view options, as well as identifying the speed limit for the road you are on. This is on the central display that shows in depth controls/ information about the car, as well as the navigation and pops up from the centre of the dashboard, but can be “hidden” if required. The mmi (interface) is fairly intuitive, once you get the hang of it. The central selector “knob” also has the equivalent to a scratchpad on the top- like a touch screen on your phone- “write” alphanumeric characters and it recognises them- handy if you need to remember a number, or number plate. We managed to get the car to hook up with my Samsung Galaxy S2, playing music and receiving calls, giving full A2DP options as you would expect. We also hooked this up with an optional cable to Nick’s Iphone, giving him full control of playlists, albums, etc as well.
The cars were equipped with full stop/ start at the push of a button. When stuck in traffic, the car automatically kills the engine to save fuel and help with emissions. Press the accelerator, and the engine comes into life again. This was witnessed with the 2.0 Tdi on the manual gearbox- my lack of experience meant I managed to stall the car twice on the trot- the engine just restarted itself and off we went. There have been concerns raised about systems such as this recently- mainly from a security aspect. With no key required for the ignition, there is no steering lock. A European directive means that if would be crooks were “clued up” and had the right equipment (say a laptop, Bluetooth dongle, etc. and appropriate software) there is no physical deterrent to stop them taking your car. Keys will soon be a thing of the past where cars are concerned.
The steering wheels fitted to the demonstrators were the “flat bottomed” type- with controls available to hand for most car functions, including the audio/ navigation system- meaning (once mastered) there would be little reason for the driver to remove their hands from the wheel- especially if the car is fitted with the S-tronic gearbox.
Ah. The gearbox. The petrol versions were fitted with the 7 speed S-tronic gearbox. Combined with the drive select (This enables the driver to choose from five modes which dictate the car’s driving characteristics – Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Efficiency and Individual. They alter the weighting of the steering, the throttle pedal sensitivity, the shift points of the S tronic transmission if this is fitted and the parameters used by the optional adaptive cruise control system.) this is excellent. Time will tell, though, as one of the achilles’ heels of Audi’s in the past has been the automatic options- Audi have never managed to make a 100% reliable “automatic” box. Multitronic, R-Tronic etc- no matter what they’ve been called, when the cars start to age (unlikely to affect first or second car owners) the gearboxes have often been an (expensive) issue. For now, thought, we were impressed. Complete with “paddle shift” on the steering wheel, the gearbox was faultless and responsive.
The interior trim/ fit/ finish is excellent. Gone is the “plasticy” feel (not that Audi’s really suffered with this in the past) akin to that in the series 1 A3, and subtle touches were everywhere. Space utilisation has been maximised- cup/ bottle/ can holders in the front and rear; stowage compartments in the arm rests/ lower rear seat squab for things such as hi-vis vests mandatory in most of Europe now), trim around the (optional upgrade) B & O speakers to match the colour of the car. The Bang & Olufsen upgrade was in all the cars I saw; where there once was a rear wheel (not sure if you could fit a full sized spare in there, or just a space saver) there is now a sub to generate additional bass (if required)- easily removed/ disconnected if required.
On the subject of the boot/ rear of the interior; lots of ingenious storage spaces, etc.- including the warning triangle in the hatch lid. We saw both quattro and front wheel drive models, and the option of a single rear seat, or split/ folding rear seats. Access to the under floor compartment (where the aforementioned sub/ spare wheel well/ tyre inflation system is located is easier; you can lift the floor and a system to hold the floor up while you gain access is novel and non intrusive (and you would miss it at first look into the boot)
So, enough praise about the interior (which a lot of manufacturers could learn from), and the excellent level of trim, the details, the seats (which some were electrically adjustable- front seats: forwards/ backwards/ rake/ pitch/ up/ down plus 2 lumbar support controls for upper and lower back)- if you couldn’t get comfy in these seats, I would be surprised, and the full length sunroof, and the details; what’s it like to drive?
The 1.8Tfsi was surprising. Refined, no noticeable lag. Punchy when needed. The whole car handles really well- no upset in balance with any of the roads we drove on- city, rural and motorway. The noise from the engine- we didn’t expect much, if anything. It sounds really good, but not intrusive. (We had the windows down and was seeing how responsive the engine was and the “kickdown” in the S-tronic box. (Excellent, if you wondered) It was interesting to see how the engine. Gearbox responded when selecting the various options in the drive assist system- especially from “manual” mode where Nick was holding onto the gears to then going into “efficiency” to watch the gears change and revs drop accordingly- all fairly quickly with a minimum of fuss (if any).
The dynamics of the car are excellent; we had the opportunity to put one through it’s paces on a handling course created specifically, including dips/ bumps, twists and turns. The car handles really well, and the cars were getting some serious “abuse” from enthusiastic drivers. No issues with braking efficiency either (thankfully)
The diesel was no slouch either, the 2.0 litre Tdi units produced by Audi are excellent, and have been for a while. The manual gearbox is precise, although a little “awkward”- mainly because this is the first left hand drive car I’ve driven for a while (like 4 years)
All in all, the package is excellent. Whether “Audi exclusive” variations/ models will be available in the future in the UK is unknown; UK specification (at launch) is as follows:
Three reworked engines at launch delivering efficiency gains averaging 12 per cent – 1.4 TFSI (122PS) and 1.8 TFSI (180PS) petrol and 2.0-litre TDI (143PS)
Three specification levels – SE, Sport and S line - all including alloy wheels, air conditioning or climate control, MMI radio with electrically folding screen, Audi Music Interface iPod connection, Bluetooth interface and navigation preparation
UK A3 models launch with a choice of three specification options – SE, Sport and S line - all of which are impressively well appointed. The entry level SE model features 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, the acclaimed MMI radio with its 11 millimetre-thin electrically folding screen, preparation for SD card navigation, Audi Music Interface iPod connection, a Driver Information System, the Bluetooth mobile phone interface and a multi-function steering wheel.
The Sport models upgrade to 17-inch alloy wheels and the Audi drive select adaptive dynamics system. Additional Sport features also include two-zone climate control, sports seats, sports steering wheel and aluminium detailing inside and out.
Highlights of the top S line specification include 18-inch alloy wheels, S line body styling, xenon headlights with LED daytime running lamps, an S line sports steering wheel and part-leather-upholstered sports seats embossed with the S line logo.
Suspension grades across the three specification levels are more interchangeable in the latest A3. As standard, SE models feature more comfort-oriented standard suspension, while Sport and S line versions move to a firmer sport setting which in S line models can be taken to an even more overtly handling-focused level with the no-cost option of dedicated S line sports suspension. A3 Sport and S line customers can now, however, also take the opposite approach by combining the attractions of Sport and S line specification with the optimum comfort of standard suspension.
Key options also include SD card activation for the onboard navigation system, a 705-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system, the Audi phone box which enables wireless connection to the car’s antenna simply by placing a phone in the compartment and a parking assistant that can take care of steering during parallel parking manoeuvres. The list of high performance driver assistants from the classes above doesn’t end there – it also includes radar-assisted adaptive cruise control, Audi side assist blind spot monitoring, Audi active lane assist lane departure warning, speed limit detection and display via the MMI and the Audi pre sense basic safety system.
The 1.8-litre TFSI is linked as standard to a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission; the 1.4-litre TFSI and 2.0-litre TDI are paired with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Priced from £19,205 OTR to £26,560 OTR - first deliveries in September.
Is it a car we could live with? Definitely. A very capable car which punches over and above what you would expect. 5 door models have been “spied” in testing, but no mention of delivery dates/ availability on this, or UK quattro models.
There’s also a saloon version expected at some point, similar to the A3 e-tron we saw at Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this year- if the handling and packages are similar to the 3 door hatch, they’re onto a winner.
As for the S3- we wouldn’t expect details for at least another 6 months- and we would be disappointed if it didn’t come with the award winning 2.5 litre Tfsi 5 cylinder engine.
All in all, Audi should be pleased with what they have managed to achieve- hopefully sales (and residual values) will back this up.
Photo album (facebook) : Audifans.net A3 Photo Album