Audi A3: Evolution not revolution
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New Audi A3 models have a larger new grill, improved connectivity, more powerful and more driver aids
The Audi A3 has been a top seller in the luxury small-car market for years, and the company has just refreshed the models to try to retain that segment sales leadership.
The range has been reduced and simplified to just three models, in part to make way for the introduction of the Q2 small SUV model early next year.
In New Zealand, the A3 accounts for 20 per cent of Audi sales, so although it is an entry point to the luxury brand, it is also important to the brand's commercial success.
The new A3 models have a larger new grill, improved connectivity, more powerful and efficient engines, and more driver aids.
The 1.4-litre TFSI Design model is now the baseline model, available for $49,500.
The mid-range 2-litre TFSI Sport S Tronic now sells for $61,500, and the sportier S3 Quattro all-wheel-drive model is available at $79,900.
The A3 changes are evolutionary in the Audi tradition, designed to update without interfering too much with what is already a successful package.
The new Q2, on the other hand, has a more aggressive, almost crouching stance, and will aim to attract younger, more adventurous buyers to the German brand.
Our road-test model was the mid-range 2-litre five-door A3 Sport hatchback.
The styling is familiar but the subtle changes give it a crisper appearance. This has a stop/start button in the cockpit, sits on 18-inch alloy wheels, and is powered by a new engine that puts out 140kW of power and 320 Nm of torque.
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The larger wheels and the five-arm alloy wheels help give the hatchback a bolder appearance on the road. There is now a rear diffuser to round-out the rear view of the hatchback, and to highlight the twin exhausts.
The engine delivers 0 to100km/h in a claimed 6.7 seconds, about 1.4 seconds faster than the baseline model.
It delivers the quicker performance while remaining reasonably economical to drive -- a claimed 5.9 litres per 100km.
The acceleration is reassuringly quick, especially when the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox is switched into sport mode.
The engine delivers enough power to swiftly and confidently pass the now almost-inevitable line-up of three or four trucks encountered on State Highway 1 passing lanes.
The power surges quickly and efficiently when required, and yet when you return to drive mode, the engine is relaxed and quiet, even when travelling close to the speed limit.
Inside, there are few changes on the existing models, although the Sport has a more contemporary 3-spoke multi-functional, flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, with paddles discreetly positioned behind the wheel.
The A3 cabin has always been one of the most stylish available in the sector, and Audi has retained the quality look, with the inlays on the Sport model in aluminium mistral.
The virtual twin cockpit dials are clear and the new arrangement conveys more information than the previous arrangement, without cluttering what has always been a stylish cabin.
The cockpit can be set to suit a driver's preferences with information such a fuel range, time, date and fuel usage, without even a hint of dashboard clutter.
The navigation system is easy to program and change, and audio controls are a mix of buttons on the steering wheel, or a blessedly straight-forward round button between the front seats.
The pop-up screen in the centre of the dashboard is retained, and provides a clear view from the rear-vision camera fitted on the tailgate. It also includes sensor alarms clearly outlining the position of the vehicle in relation to tight spots.
In addition to the performance of the Sport, perhaps the most impressive and practical new feature on the Sport model is the adaptive cruise control. This can set the distance between the vehicle in front and the Audi, making for a more relaxed driving experience even in relatively busy traffic conditions.
There is also a raft of other driver assistance functions, including blind-spot assist, lane-change assist, and front and rear parking aids.
High-beam assist headlights are not included as standard on the Sport model, but is available as a $350 optional extra.
LED headlights, including automatic headlight range adjustment and LED rear lights, is a further option, but will cost $2800.
The sports seating is comfortable, even on long journeys, and the ride in the Sport is firm and direct but without the harshness of some sportier competitors.
The Sport comes with Rallye Cloth Sports upholstery and a leather seats package is available as a $4500 option.
The three A3 models will be joined in February or March by the new Q2, compact SUV from Audi, which is aimed at a sportier, younger market.
The new and more aggressive styling of the Q2 points is quite a departure from the more angular and familiar styling of Audi mainstream models.
Audi New Zealand is confident, however, that the latest improvements in connectivity, power and driver aids, will maintain the A3's performance in the compact model segment of the market.
Watch out for more high-performance models, including the updated RS hatch and a high-performance A3 sedan to appear early next year.