There are certain car models which feel just right for our market. More than delivering raw thrills, these car models have their basics sorted for our complicated tastes. And there’s hardly a way for these nameplates to not be a hit unless their respective makers screw up with the pricing. The Audi A3 is one such car. From the very moment you look at it, to the time you get off after half a day’s drive – you get every possible vibe that this product, sure as hell, would work in India. Sharp and sexy to look at, opulent on the inside and great to drive – the A3 has all what it takes to make the top honchos at the other two premium German brands lose their sleep. Let’s delve deeper into what makes us so appreciative of this promising new compact sedan, which also happens to be the World Car of the Year 2014.
Design and appearance
The A3 is a sharp, sportily styled machine. For the entry level segment that this perky new machine represents, it offers some real excitement. It looks special and premium in a surprisingly uncompromised way. I had my apprehensions when they played up their ‘no-compromises’ theory for the A3 via their Doberhuahua campaign some months back (Find the video here), but checking this thing out in the flesh put all my reservations to rest.
We had the 2.0 TDI diesel variant available to be tested during our drive on the Udaipur – Mount Abu highway and back, the variant is now termed 35 TDI, and here’s why. Audi has changed the nomenclature for its model variants with the A3 and unlike the badges that represented engine capacities till now, the newer cars will be named based on their performance. The 2.0 TDi engine powered car, for example, with a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.6 seconds, and a top speed of 224km/h is termed as the 35 TDI under the new performance based naming system. The 1.8 TFSI petrol powered car, which is quicker to the 100kmph mark with a time of 7.3 seconds and has a higher top speed of 235 km/h is called the 40 TFSI. In essence, the better the performance of the car, the bigger number it gets badged with under the new arrangement.
Talking design, there’s plenty of detail to be witnessed on that striking fascia. The edgy headlamps taper inwards sharply and feature black surrounds for a contrasting effect. Within the big, bold Singleframe Audi grille you have 7 horizontal and 6 vertical bars filling up the area. The Audi emblem, which itself has 5 horizontals louvers inside, is held in place by the top two horizontal slats.
The lower part of the bumper has a unique central air dam, if you can call a narrow slit that. The slot narrows down further towards its ends. Flanking the A3’s grille at the lower end are faux intakes with aggressively styled fins and a vertical real air intake towards their outer edge. The bonnet has two creases emanating from the windscreen and culminating into the small area between the headlamps and the grille.
All those elements, coming together, lend the distinctive A3 face a lot of dynamism. It’s redolent of youth and passion, and has an effervescent aura about it. However, if I had to pick the one thing I would alter about the car’s face, it would be its bonnet, which in my opinion could have been even more sculpted and sharper. In its current form, it’s a wee bit globular.
An extremely prominent beltline, termed ‘Tornado Line’ by Audi, defines the profile of the A3. Offering muscle and athleticism to the car’s sides, this line is complimented by another lower character line spanning across the two doors. The wheel arches have their flared part pinched into the straight cut towards the wheels. Big 17 inch five spoke wheels suit the sharp styling of the car well, and so do the angular ORVM’s which quite honestly look fabulous when looked at from the mirror side.
The Tornado Line on the Audi A3 wraps the car’s rear as well. It extends itself into the integrated spoiler of the car, below which you have the Audi logo. The registration plate recess is quite pronounced. The tail-lamps have dark, contrasting edges, blending well with the shadow effect created by the deep recess. The tail-lamps by themselves are extremely well designed. The two piece lamp on our test car had a part of it on the boot area in a sharp, triangular shape while the outer wraparound part is trapezoidal. With brakes applied, the outer part emanates a deep yellow light, while the inner portion lights up in a deep red hue, creating a captivating effect. The lighting pattern for the tail-lamp of another variant is different though, as we observed through the stock images.
The bumper has horizontal lines to underline the width of the car, complimented by two slim, wide reflectors on its flanks. Twin chrome plated exhaust mufflers add immensely to the sporty appeal of the car at the rear. The blacked out under-cladding also helps enhance the sporty image.
There are a few things that one needs to keep in mind while forming an opinion about the 35D variant though. The variants and features for diesel and petrol versions have not been announced officially by Audi yet. We still don’t have absolute clarity on the differences (if any) between the petrol and diesel versions, as our test car did not have a few key features. The diesel version doesn’t get the sharp front LED DRLs of the 1.8 TFSI variant. The styling of the fog lamp housings is different on the two variants, and fog lamps by themselves are not available on the diesel version.
Engine and transmission
The Audi A3 is available in India with a choice of two engines – a 2.0 liter TDI diesel and 1.8 liter TFSI turbo petrol. As mentioned earlier, we drove only the diesel variant for this review. The 1968cc, 4 cylinder DOHC turbo diesel unit did duty earlier on the bigger A4. While 143 bhp of power (between 3500-4000 rpm) may not sound too much fun, the 340 Nm of torque, available between 1750 – 3000 rpm makes this two liter power-plant a worthy occupant of the A3’s engine bay. To put things in perspective, those power and torque figures are slightly better than the BMW 1-series and substantially better than Mercedes A-Class’s 108 bhp – the two entry level offerings from the other two German brands.
In terms of performance, those power and torque numbers translate into a 0-100 km/h sprint time of about 8 seconds, which is quite good. Top speed is upwards of 200 km/h. Put together, those figures are more than adequate to help you travel interstate very swiftly. An ARAI certified fuel efficiency of 20 kmpl is class leading, and a fuel tank capacity of 50 liters should deliver a fairly good range too.
The engine is mated to a six speed dual clutch S-Tronic transmission, which is as good as it gets when it comes to automatic shifters. Extremely clever with its shift points and super quick, the S-Tronic doesn’t leave you any space for complaints. We didn’t have manual pedal shifters on our test car though, which we have been told are available with the petrol motor. The petrol engined A3 is mated with a 7 Speed S-Tronic tranny unlike the 6 speed unit on the diesel version.
You can toggle between Drive and Sport modes by flicking the sexily styled, leather wrapped spherical ‘S-Tronic’ drive selector downwards. Flicking the stick to the left would put you in manual mode.
Behind the wheel, even with the wide, well laid out and absolutely deserted expressway ahead of us the A3 had enough spunk to keep us engaged and delighted. The torquey mill has a good mid-range punch, and once the engine speed climbs upwards of 2000 rpm acceleration is brisk and reassuring. There is a wee bit of turbo lag, but with the proficient S-Tronic taking care of affairs, there really isn’t anything for you to bother about. The 2.0 liter TDI unit, in conjunction with the 6 speed dual clutch gearbox makes the A3 a fairly strong, fuel efficient and practical car, which would suit the requirements of the entry level premium brand customer in India to the tee.
Cabin quality, comfort and features
The center console of the A3 in the pictures gives the impression of it being too minimalistic. We had our strong apprehensions too. However, get inside the cabin, and you suddenly realize that there is an air of freshness, great quality and workmanship about it. The cabin of the A3 sedan is amazingly well put together, and it charms you with its simplicity, attention to detail and hi-quality bits.
To start with, the new rotary A/C vents on the dash are absolutely fantastic. The turbine inspired vents not just look great, but also offer great functionality with their spot diffused function. Operating the air flow control bezels through their soft touch grips and experiencing their tactility makes the underlying quality and attention to detail adequately evident.
Another interesting detail of the A3’s interior is the use of new materials and patterns as inserts. Breaking away from the ‘play-safe’ philosophy of using wood, brushed aluminium or chrome as panel inserts, Audi have used new materials on the A3. For the 35 TDI variant, a lacquered insert with a pattern resembling the scales of a snake infuses some more freshness to the A3’s cabin. The slide out central MMI screen and the slim panel for climate control adds further to the novelty factor.
The slide-out central MMI screen adds a sense of theater to the immaculately built interior. The four spoke steering wheel is a familiar unit, though the instrument console peeping through it is slightly different from the ones we have seen on the A6 and A7.It’s typically German with easy to read white markings on black dials with a hi-res central MID delivering a host of useful information.
The new A3 also features the new generation MMI infotainment system. We wish the central MMI screen had a more hi-res display though. The A6, A7, and A8 feature a touchpad next to the MMI controller on which drivers can scrawl characters with a fingertip as a means of entering information. In the A3, however, this touchpad is integrated on top of the MMI knob itself, saving space, and making the system more sophisticated. It works perfectly well by itself and identifies characters even with some really bad handwriting. For India, however, since the touchpad falls towards the left hand, it’s even more difficult for the driver to scribble numbers or characters clearly.
Our test car did not have a rear view camera, though it did have the park assist program. The car also didn’t feature satellite navigation, though we are told all these features will be available upon launch. The A3 will come with an in built storage of 20 GB to store and play all your media files. The car also comes equipped with 2 external SD card slots.
In terms of storage space, the A3 features plenty of bottle / cup holders and cubby holes to let you travel long distance in comfort. Front door pads have space for a large bottle with some more space left, which can be used to store a smaller bottle or other smaller articles.
There are two cupholders ahead of the driver selector with illuminated rings to add some style and functionality for night use. Ahead of the cupholders you have a rubberized surface which would hold your wallet or cellphone with ease.
The central armrest has a good amount of space within and it can swallow a bunch of wallets or cellphones. Glovebox is decently sized too. There are enough cubbyholes in the front part of the car to prevent you from fumbling around, looking for a place to put the toll-ticket, the loose change or the half-used water bottle.
At the back, the door panels have space for a big bottle each. Central armrest is equipped with slide out cupholders and the arm-rest itself flips open to reveal a flat tray like surface to put eatables. The arm-rest can also be completely flipped down to reveal an opening to the boot area.
Seat comfort in the front row is fantastic, with good back, thigh and lateral support. Both driver and passenger seats are powered. At the back, the seats have great contours to offer support. However, the A3’s compact size means that the backseat space is not generous. For a 5 foot 9 inch guy, the knee-room is just about sufficient with some space left between the knees and the back of the front seats. Head room, however isn’t too great, and tall guys will have their heads brushing with the roof.
We also feel the thigh support for the back seats could have been a bit better. Though not liberal in terms of space, the backseat doesn’t feel cramped either, and allow for long distance journeys provided you don’t seat 6 footers in the second row.
Audi is providing the A3 with Milano leather upholstery. Our test car’s interiors were all black with the lacquered inlays we mentioned earlier. The car is also available with beige interior treatment, which thanks to the lighter color looks even more spacious. The beige theme features sporty looking red and silver inserts which look fabulous.
In terms of equipment, the A3 is richly equipped, though some specific features are not available on specific variants, the list of which has not been revealed by Audi India yet. The long list of the A3’s equipment list includes rear view camera, bi-xenon headlamps, panoramic sunroof, 7 inch MMI screen, light and rain sensor, MMI touch, S line exterior package, Audi Sound System and a whole host of active and passive safety features including 6 airbags, and a comprehensive electronic safety net.
In terms of cabin quietness, you can hear the muffled purring of the diesel motor at low to medium revs. The engine gets a bit more vocal as it crosses 3,000 rpm. The cabin is quite well insulated from ambient sounds otherwise though and rolling the windows up shuts you in from the annoying noise of motor horns and other unpleasant road noises. Tyre and road noise is very well controlled too, though some wind noise manages to filter once the needle has climbed a few notches above the ton mark.
In all, the A3’s cabin impresses with its immaculate finish, great attention to detail, and an unusual air of novelty. It’s a comfortable, well equipped and well crafted place to be. The back seat isn’t the plushest we have seen, but it surely is one of the better options in the segment this car represents. The A3’s cabin should be able to draw a lot of customers with its allure, which works best when experienced firsthand.
Some more features and details explained through images and captions
There is a difference in the styling of the headlamps and tail-lamps for different variants. The specific details about various trim levels has still not been revealed by Audi India though. Watch this space for all the details as they are revealed
The stylish, edgy ORVMs look fabulous, more so from the mirror side with the contrasting grey internal treatment
Love those snake scale mimicking inserts – fresh new change
Big sunroof – Audi is cutting no corners with the A3
In addition to the bigger 17 inch wheels, we also found these 16 inchers on some of the test cars
Twin exhaust mufflers go a long way in establishing the sporty character of this compact sedan
Audi key has to be inserted in a slot. No Stop / Start button or keyless entry here
The climate control unit may look slender, but its perfectly functional
Spare wheel is a space saver
Central armrest drops down to create an opening into the boot area. Seats are 60:40 split foldable
Knee-room is acceptable. Head-room, though may be an issue for taller passengers
Height adjustable seat belts
Separate reading lights for the back benchers
Glow lining for the cup-holders for ease of use in the dark
Ride and handling
The Audi A3 has a front wheel drive layout, which traditionally hasn’t been known to bode well for exciting, sure footed handling and dynamics. The A3, however, hasn’t bagged the World Car of the Year Award for nothing – and we were amazed with the grip levels and precise steering offered by the A3 during our 250km long drive.
Our drive route comprised of some hi-speed stretches peppered with inviting long sweeping corners. Typically, a car with not so well sorted dynamics will put you in two minds about taking such bends while being on the throttle – for the A3, it was a piece of cake. Not just did the car offer great grip and body control, the electromechanical steering too was a delight to operate with its precision. It doesn’t have the communication, feedback and feel of a hardcore driver’s car, but with its weight and precision, it equips you with loads of confidence to attack hi-speed bends without lifting off.
Some viciously subtle undulations, which don’t matter at slow to medium speeds, but can put the car’s suspension under tremendous load at high speeds, were handled with aplomb. Even mid-corner undulations were disposed with utter ease, with no hints of the car getting imbalanced.
The ride feel of the Audi A3 is at its best once you have gathered pace. It takes in its stride expansion joints, wavy undulations and sporadic rough patches with utmost assurance. It’s sprung on the stiffer side, which adds greatly to its dynamic character and the ability to gather pace without any hint of nervousness.
The car features a McPherson strut front set-up with lower wishbones, aluminum subframe and tubular anti-roll bar. At the rear, you have a four-link system featuring separate spring/shock absorber arrangement with subframe and tubular anti-roll bar. Tuned immaculately, the suspension system offers a ride and handling feel which is something for Audi to be proud about.
The relative firmness of the suspension setup is evident in the way the car behaves at slower speeds though. Stiff damping means that bigger cracks in the road, ridges, crinkles and small potholes can be felt inside the cabin at crawling speeds. The ride quality improves commendably as you gather pace, becoming very compliant once you cross 50 kays.
We took the car off the road to a location which required us to ascend a terrain which was a mix of mud and slippery Mica rocks. The A3 fared incredibly well in clearing the obstacles, and in the process gave us sufficient evidence of its good ground clearance. Audi India have not released any data on the car’s clearance, but the experience had us convinced that clearing even the most vicious speed-breakers shouldn’t be a problem with this one, even with full load.
The A3 is a compact sedan, and should be offered at a price that invites the young achievers into the luxury segment. For the entry level luxury segment, the A3 is a big draw with all its virtues – a sedan shape, well built cabin, great dynamics, a fuel efficient and capable engine, decent equipment and more space than its hatchback counterparts in the class. As we stated in the beginning, the A3 gives you very positive vibes as a suitable product for India.
The price of the car is expected to start from 26-28 lakh, at which point the A3 should present itself as one of the most desirable product for the sedan-centric Indian market. Space at the backseat isn’t great if you look at it in isolation, but the A3 scores over its immediate rivals in that department too. We really cannot think of a reason why this product wouldn’t set the segment on fire. Heck, we would like to own one ourselves!
Tech Specs: (Click to expand)
Audi A3 sedan image gallery
S Line package – petrol / diesel
Other differences between the two cars