New-generation A3 looks bolder look with its larger single-frame grille and prominent air scoops. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
New-generation A3 looks bolder look with its larger single-frame grille and prominent air scoops. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The midsized hatchback scene has been fading in recent times.

As consumers move en masse to crossovers and SUVs we’ve seen the demise of hatches like the Ford Focus and Renault Megane, while Volkswagen and Hyundai now only offer single high-performance derivatives of their five-door cars, namely the GTI and i30N.

There’s still some sales action in the premium end of the segment, however, and Audi recently launched its new A3 range to bring fresh competition for the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A Class. The fourth-generation A3 arrived in five-door Sportback and four-door sedan guises, including high-performance S3 variants.

Sharing its MQB platform with the new eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf, the latest A3 has undergone an evolutionary upgrade without anything to shock or surprise. A style tweak sees the car adopting a bolder look with a larger single-frame grille and prominent air scoops, with more emphasised wheel arches.

The interior’s become more digitised and trapezoidal air vents replace the previous round ones, while the automatic gear lever has shrunk to a small stub.

Offered as an A3 option for the first time are Matrix LED headlights which split the light into smaller beams that turn on and off individually to illuminate precise sections of road — thus providing maximum night vision without blinding other road users.

The interior’s become more digitised but retains some physical buttons for user-friendliness. Picture: SUPPLIED
The interior’s become more digitised but retains some physical buttons for user-friendliness. Picture: SUPPLIED

On test here is the entry-level 35TFSI, which according to Audi’s new naming convention refers to a 1.4l petrol turbo engine in the A3.  

Without delving into the realms of excitement, the outputs of 110kW and 250Nm move this lightweight Audi around with decent vigour and it never feels underpowered. It’s eager around town and the tiptronic auto transmission eases the grind of stop-start commuting. It’s an easy-going cruiser on the open road too, with decent overtaking pep.

It’s capped off by good refinement. The compact turbo engine doesn’t sound buzzy or strained when a kickdown sends the revs higher. Wind and road noise are also muted and the car has a solid, grown-up feel as befits its premium badge.

The A3 comes in three trim lines: standard, Advanced and S line grades, with the test car the middle-spec version which has larger alloy wheels and different exterior detailing.

The test car’s ride was a little choppy with the optional Sports Package fitted, which comes with tauter suspension, a 15mm dropped ride height and 18-inch low-profile tyres instead of the standard 17s. The regular suspension would cope better with bumpy roads, but the upshot of that sporting chassis was very pinned-down cornering ability, adding to the front wheel drive car’s general agility and fun-to-drive nature.

The compact size makes this Audi ideal for narrow city streets, but it’s still roomy enough to be a family hatch and takes four adults without a squeeze. Both body styles are slightly longer and wider than before, though the wheelbase is unchanged. Interior space has grown a little while boot space remains at a useful 380l for the Sportback and a holiday-sized 425l for the sedan.

The test car’s ride was a little choppy with the optional Sports Package fitted, which comes with tauter suspension and 18-inch low-profile tyres. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The test car’s ride was a little choppy with the optional Sports Package fitted, which comes with tauter suspension and 18-inch low-profile tyres. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The interior lays on typically upmarket Audi ambience with high-gloss surfaces and a soft-touch dashboard, but to really smarten up the cabin with leather seats and classy aluminium garnishings one needs to tick some expensive options boxes.

The test car was fitted with R190,000 worth of extras, bumping the price from R586,000 to R776,000.

I was surprised that split-folding rear seat backrest, rear view camera, rear usb charging ports, and leather seats didn’t come part of the standard package; they all cost extra.

A digital instrument cluster does come standard but it you want a fancier one with a larger display, that too requires another expensive tick of the spec sheet.

The standard-fit infotainment is pretty decent, comprising a 10.1-inch touch display which recognises letters entered by hand, and can be controlled using natural voice language. Its computing power is 10 times higher than its predecessor.

The new A3 hasn’t gone fully down the digital rabbit hole like its cousin, the Golf 8. The Audi still uses trusted and more user-friendly physical buttons to complement the touchscreen for an overall cleaner, quicker experience.

Optional safety features include parking assist, lane-departure warning and cross-traffic assist, but even without them the A3 scored a five-star EuroNcap crash rating.

The high safety enhances the appeal of a car that has built a good local reputation including winning the 2006 SA car of the year title. The new A3 retains its grown-up feel and takes a step forward with smartened-up styling and enhanced tech.

 

Tech Specs

 

Engine

Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo

Capacity: 1,395cc

Power: 110kW

Torque: 250Nm

 

Transmission

Type: Eight-speed tiptronic auto

 

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

 

Performance

Top speed: 219km/h

0-100km/h: 8.2 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 6.2l/100km (claimed), 7.9l / 100km (as tested)

Emissions: 140g/km

 

Standard features

Six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, air conditioning, driving mode switch, rain sensor wipers, auto on/off lights, tyre pressure sensor, electric windows, electric mirrors, cloth seats, LED daytime running lights, infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB ports front, remote central locking, cruise control, Audi virtual cockpit digital instrument panel

 

Ownership

Warranty: One year/unlimited km

Maintenance plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R586,000

Lease*: R12,545 a month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

 

Audi A3 Sportback 35TFSI Advanced

 

We like: Styling, handling, practicality

 

We dislike: High cost of options

 

Verdict: Likeable premium hatch with expensive extras

 

Motor News star rating

****Design

****Performance

****Economy

***Ride

****Handling

*****Safety

****Value For Money

****Overall

 

COMPETITION

Mazda3 2.0 Astina, 121kW/213Nm — R509,700

Mini Cooper Clubman, 100kW/220Nm — R548,010

BMW 118i, 103kW/220Nm — R591,020

Mercedes-Benz A200 Progressive, 120kW/250Nm — R639,960

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