Now halfway through its life cycle, the Audi A3 has come in for a freshen-up, both inside and out. Its exterior plastics have been massaged at the front to mimic the crisp design of the new-gen A4, and there’s now more equipment included as standard.
Prices have been fiddled with too resulting in a drop in the price of entry to $35,900, but more significantly Audi has brought out a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine for its A3 1.0 TFSI base model – the first A3 to be sold in this country with less than four cylinders.
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The Audi A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback is powered by an 85kW/200Nm turbocharged petrol 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, developed from the smaller A1 hatch’s three-pot.
There’s also one other substantial mechanical difference at the other end of the car: the A3’s multi-link rear suspension has made way for a less complex (and cheaper to manufacture) torsion beam axle.
So it’s basic, yes, but equipment levels are healthy considering the 1.0 TFSI’s bottom-rung position in the A3 line-up – especially when it’s lined up against key rivals like the Mercedes-Benz A180 and BMW 118i.
Equipment levels are strong. The A3 1.0 TFSI’s leather-wrapped steering wheel is new for the 2017 model year, feels great to grip and has better switchgear than the model it replaces; there’s dual-zone climate control as standard; automatic emergency braking is part of its standard safety suite (as it is in all A3 models from now on) and integrated satellite navigation is also factory-fit.
Comfort. It doesn’t suffer for cabin comfort, though its cloth upholstery does mark it out as being the cheapest model in the A3 family – all other A3 models get leather as standard. However, with superb material quality, supportive front seats and a rear bench that’s roomier than those in an A-Class or 1 Series, the A3 1.0 TFSI’s interior is a nice place to be.
Driveability. A single litre of displacement may not sound like much, but the 1.0 TFSI’s 200Nm peak torque figure enables it to punch well above its weight when it comes to driveability. All of that torque is available between 2000rpm and 3500rpm, which is where the engine spends most of its time when being driven normally. That results in relaxed performance that, while not exactly brisk, is more than adequate for day-to-day duty.
Slick gearbox. The A3 might get a simplified engine, but its dual-clutch seven-speed automatic gearbox is cutting edge. Lightning-fast shifts and improved off-the-line refinement deliver near-seamless performance, and with seven ratios to choose from it enables the car to extract the most from its little 1.0-litre motor.
Ride comfort. With a torsion beam axle at the back, you’d expect the A3 1.0 TFSI to have compromised ride quality compared to its independently-sprung siblings. Happily, few will find much fault with how the 1.0 TFSI rides. It soaks up big bumps easily, and there’s enough sidewall compliance on its fat tyres and 16-inch alloys to iron out smaller-amplitude imperfections.
It’s no powerhouse. Yes, it may be easy to drive around town, but overtaking at highway speed requires plenty of space to account for the three-pot’s relatively relaxed acceleration. Bear that in mind before pulling onto the wrong side of the road to get ahead of slower traffic.
Tyre noise. Although fitted with small 16-inch alloys and high-profile tyres, the A3 1.0 TFSI has more tyre noise than we expected on coarse-chip highways. It’s not cacophonous, but it’s elevated considering the compliance of its rolling stock and its luxury positioning.
Start-stop refinement. Like all A3s, the 1.0 TSFI is equipped with automatic engine start-stop as standard. It shuts the engine down when the car is stationary (such as when sitting at traffic lights) and re-starts it when the driver lifts their foot off the brake, however the engine shudders as it fires back into life in a way that is at odds with its otherwise smooth-running nature.
No three-cylinder sedan. If you’re attracted to the idea of an Audi small sedan with triple-cylinder power, you’re fresh out of luck: the 1.0 TFSI engine is limited to the five-door A3 Sportback only. And that’s a shame, not only because the A3 Sedan is one of the more attractive small sedans on the market, but because it would also have allowed Audi to drop the A3 sedan’s price of entry somewhat.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
Luxury small hatch competitors for the A3 Sportback 1.0 TFSI include the Mercedes-Benz A180, Lexus CT 200h Luxury and the BMW 118i, however all are priced higher than the A3.
In the mainstream market, cars like the top-grade Mazda3 SP25 Astina and Volkswagen Golf 110 TSI Highline offer more power and equipment for similar cash to the A3 – but with less badge cachet.