New Audi A3 Sedan. FIRST DRIVE

It’s an Audi A3. But with a different-shaped boot. We went to Hungary to have a go in it.

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The A3 has been around in hatchback form since 1996, but it’s only now that Audi has decided that it’s worth grafting a longer boot onto the back of it. The new A3 Sedan follows a year after the introduction of the third generation A3 in familiar three-door and Sportback forms, and Audi Middle East has confirmed that it’ll be coming to the region.

The new saloon (as a Brit, I shall always say saloon, but the official name is A3 Sedan) is 15cm longer than the A3 Sportback, and consequently offers a bigger boot space. However, it’s still some 24cm shorter than the A4, so it fits into a new saloon-shaped niche in the Audi line-up. As a premium compact car, it’s hard to find real rivals. The only one that really springs to mind is the BMW 1 Series, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it finds customers in the Middle East. The model was pitched as a solution to growing demand for small saloons in the US and China, but with hatchbacks still a relatively small market for Arabia, it makes sense to bring it here.

Two petrol engines will be available in the A3 Sedan at launch, and we tried them both on the international press launch in Hungary, not far from where the cars will be built at Audi’s Györ factory. The entry-level powerplant for now is a 1.4-litre turbocharged TFSI engine with 138bhp, and in automatic guise – the only transmission choice coming to the Middle East – it’s mated to a seven-speed S Tronic gearbox. There’s also a 1.8-litre turbo unit with 178bhp, attached to a six-speed S Tronic. Both will apparently be available in either front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive formats, but which will come to the region has yet to be confirmed.

We started off in the 1.8, but paused to take a look at the car. It’s a fine-looking machine. Audi has managed to avoid the oft-seen problem of small sedans looking somewhat dinky and retained the air of class and sophistication seen in the A4, 5, 6 and 8. It’s just smaller. The front is virtually unchanged from other A3 models, while the rear strikes a balance betweem the traditional three-box saloon look and a coupe, so that it looks sleek without overly compromising space in the back.

The interior is familiar Audi territory, which is to say smart but not particular daring or exciting. The quality of materials however is excellent, if a little scratchy lower down compared to more expensive Audi models. It’s completely understandable given the price point, however, and everything is beautifully screwed together. Our test cars feature Audi’s latest infotainment system, a very intuitive combination of a screen rising from the dashboard and a rotary dial with a touch pad integrated on the top. In Europe, this allows web access and a wi-fi hotsport through a SIM card, but it remains to be seen whether this feature makes the journey to the Gulf.

On the move, the Audi feels composed, comfortable and solid, but not particularly exciting. The ride, over the pretty dreadfully maintained roads outside Budapest, was admirably compliant, but the steering feels numb and the 1.8-litre engine feels lacklustre, with long gearing not really making the most of the power available. Intriguingly, the 1.4-litre engine is a different story. It’s the same unit as we’ve got used to in our old long-term Volkswagen Golf, and it’s still a little cracker. It might not have the outright pace of the larger engine – it’ll hit 100kph in 8.4 seconds versus 7.3 – but it has much more fizz and punch to it, feeling more eager to pile on speed. The extra gear certainly helps, but so does the torque – with 184lb ft it has exactly the same twist as the larger powertrain.

Handling is capable, if not scintillating. Our test cars had Audi’s magnetic dampers fitted which lets the driver stiffen things up for sportier moments. Although it’s no sports car it handles quick changes of direction well, but doesn’t feel that sharp. For cruising though, there’s little faulting the set up.

Our 1.8 test car was fitted with all-wheel drive, while the 1.4 was front-driven. Although the Quattro is great for composure, it again contributes to the feeling of sluggishness – there’s not quite the power to really haul hard out of corners, and the two-wheel drive version brings more enthusiasm to the process, squeaking the front tyres on acceleration and wiggling the back end around on hard braking. Overall, the smaller-engined version is just more fun.

A 296bhp 2.0-litre turbo unit is on the way in the S3, and hopefully that will inject a bit more excitement into the car. From a practical and comfortable point of view, the A3 Sedan is very accomplished, and it looks great, but we hoped it might have offered a few more thrills. Ultimately, the most fun comes from the entry-level model. Which isn’t really the way it should be.

Audi A3 Sedan
Engine: Inline 4-cyl / 1395cc/1798cc / turbo
Power: 138bhp @ 4500-6000rpm/178bhp @ 5100-6200rpm
Torque: 184lb ft @ 1500-3500rpm/1250-5000rpm
0-100kph: 8.4/7.3sec
Top speed: 217/235kph
Basic price: TBC

Categories: Car Review,Road


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