It was a savvy move by Audi to branch out its A3 small car into two distinct bodystyles back in 2013. In a segment that was made up almost entirely of three- and five-door hatchbacks, the injection of a handsome four-door sedan was a breath of fresh air.
And even five years on from its arrival, the A3 sedan still looks smart. The only problem is that it’s no longer going to be the only three-box sedan in its segment (the Mercedes CLA, as a low-roofed ‘four-door coupe’ isn’t quite in the same league).
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The A3 makes a convincing argument for itself before you’ve even driven away from the dealership. This 2.0 TFSI Sport limited edition arrived in August, bringing an enhanced level of specification above the standard two-litre front-drive A3 sedan, all for a very reasonable $500 above the regular Sport’s retail. Oh, and metallic paint is standard, too.
That’s decent value for a premium sedan, especially given its closest rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 200, has much less power and torque, less equipment, and costs $52,900.
Limited edition spec brings the Technik and Assistance option packages as standard, replacing the regular instruments with Audi’s slick 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument digital dash panel, a higher-end multimedia and navigation system with touchpad interface, a sports steering wheel, active cruise control, lane-keep assist and high-beam assist.
And that’s on top of usual luxuries that you expect in this price bracket, like dual-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlamps. However, keyless entry and ignition remains a cost option at this end of the A3’s model spectrum.
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But for most people, that won’t matter terribly much when they clamp eyes on that electronic instrument panel. Displaying full colour graphics across 12.3 inches of screen real estate and able to reconfigure the data that’s presented to you, it’s a visual centrepiece that definitely adds a high-tech sheen to a car that’s starting to look a little bit behind the times.
At 4.46 metres long and 1.8 metres wide, the A3 sedan is actually slightly shorter than a Mazda3 sedan, but 15cm longer and fractionally wider than the five-door A3 hatch.
Wheelbases are the same, so the size difference doesn’t result in an appreciable gain in cabin space, but it does liberate a lot more cargo capacity for the sedan. With a seats-up boot volume of 425 litres, the A3 sedan can carry nearly 50 litres more luggage than the hatchback before the rear seats need to be folded down.
The A3 sedan comes standard with seven airbags as standard, along with stability control, AEB, ABS, traction control and electronic brakeforce distribution. In Limited Edition form, there’s also active cruise control, lane-keep assist and high-beam assist to further ease the driver’s load – and thus improve their concentration on the road. Rated a full five stars for crash performance by ANCAP, the A3 sedan has a healthy safety score.
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The A3 sedan may belong to a size class beneath the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but in terms of being able to accommodate four adults in good comfort it actually isn’t too far off from those larger, more expensive rivals. The secret lies in its transverse-engine mechanical layout, which maximises cabin space by keeping most of the engine, suspension and drivetrain away from the middle of the car.
Combine those generous cabin proportions with supportive - if slightly flat and manually-adjusted - front seats and a nicely reclined rear bench (along with dedicated rear passenger air vents) and the A3, even at the lower end of its model hierarchy, delivers a premium experience for driver and passenger alike. Ride quality on urban roads is also superb, no doubt helped by the chubby sidewalls of the standard 17-inch wheels
ON THE ROAD
The A3’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder makes a healthy 140kW and 320Nm, enough to supply plenty of oomph for zippy around-town motoring and comfortably highway cruising. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic it’s connected to is a sophisticated unit as well, producing crisp and decisive gearshifts whether in manual or full-auto mode, though it can occasionally stumble when crawling at low speed through stop-start traffic.
Power goes to the ground through the front wheels only (you’ll need to pay more to get all-wheel drive grip in an A3), and wet weather can induce some wheel spin under hard acceleration, but otherwise the A3 is fairly vice-free. The steering is light yet fast and direct, cornering grip is plentiful and it’s a genuinely fun car to drive along a winding road.
Having the ability to change the car’s behaviour between Comfort and Dynamic modes also allows you to soften or sharpen its driveline and steering, while an Individual mode enables even more customisability. In other words, it’s easy to adapt the A3 to your own tastes.
Sure, there are some crow’s feet showing at this point in the A3’s lifecycle, but its transition into old age has certainly been a dignified one. It still drives superbly, has excellent packaging that makes it easy to live with and, if you ask us, it still looks like a handsome three-box sedan.
Until BMW and Mercedes return fire with an equally-competent small sedan, the A3 is still the best of its ilk.