FIVE INTO THREE
The Audi A3 Sportback demonstrates that class is permanent. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewThis third generation Audi A3 Sportback is much bigger than before and rides on a completely different chassis to its predecessor. A thoroughly modern concept and execution, it nevertheless follows a trend line established by the two prior models and is guaranteed to do well.
If the current generation three-door Audi A3 looks very similar to its predecessor, the same can't really be said of its five door sibling, the A3 Sportback. Significantly bigger than before, this A3 changes the rules of the game a little. It seems that much more comfortable as a model in its own right rather than being simply a sideshow to the regular A3.
That's something that seasoned industry watchers could have predicted. Ever since the A3 Sportback first appeared in 2004, its proportion of sales relative to the three-door car has steadily grown. The 2012 launch of the third-generation A3 saw only a few months pass from the introduction of the three-door car at Geneva in Spring to the unveiling of the bigger five-door at the Paris Show in autumn. Big brother had become big business.
Driving ExperienceMost A3 Sportback customers will select a diesel, either a 105PS 1.6 TDI unit (that makes 60 in 10.9 seconds with a top speed of 121mph) or the altogether more satisfying 2.0 TDI. Many will want this in 150PS form, but Audi has also developed it in 184PS guise, a model which gets to 62mph in just 7.4 seconds. The next best seller is the 122PS 1.4 TFSI petrol unit (0-62mph 9.3s/126mph) which is out-done at the pumps by the 140PS version of this engine? Why? Because that unit features clever CoD, or 'Cylinder on Demand' technology which enables the powerplant to run on only two of its four cylinders at low to medium throttle speeds.
The few potential A3 Sportback buyers not served by this portfolio can talk to their local Audi Centre about an entry-level 105PS petrol 1.2-litre unit. Plus there's a 180PS 1.8 TFSI petrol variant that's designed to be mated to Audi's silky-smooth 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto transmission, in which form it can make rest to 62mph in 7.2. At the top of the range lies the 300PS S3 quattro hot hatch model with its 2.0 TFSI petrol engine.
This chassis is significantly longer than the previous generation A3 Sportback - and it's also lengthier than that of the current three-door version. Plus there's an electromechanically assisted steering system and a next-gen stability control package which includes an electronic limited slip differential for composed deployment of power. The optional Audi drive select system lets the driver vary the throttle response, steering weighting and, where the S tronic transmission is present, the gearbox shift points. What's more, it can also be upgraded to manage the optional Audi magnetic ride system with its clever magneto-rheological fluid-filled dampers.
Design and BuildWhen we first saw the A3 Sportback it was like getting a flashback to an early A4 Avant, so similar are its basic proportions. In fact, at 4,310mm long, it's only 178mm shorter than the original A4 Avant but the wheelbase is actually longer, making it feel more spacious inside for both driver and passengers. That wheelbase has increased by 58mm compared to its predecessor and it's 35mm longer between the axles than the three-door version. Despite getting bigger, the A3 Sportback has shed weight, with some models being 80kg lighter than their direct prior equivalents. In fact the 1.4 TFSI tips the scales at just 1,205kg. Which helps improve going, stopping and steering as well as economy and emissions.
The credit for much of this goes to Audi's MQB platform upon which this A3 Sportback sits. It saves on cost and weight, thanks to a hybrid of steel and aluminium panels. As for styling, well you be the judge of that. Our take is that the car now looks a bit leaner and cleaner. The interior won't generate too much shock and awe, but the ultra-thin pop-up sat-nav screen is a welcome touch. Luggage space out back is 380-litres, rising to 1,220-litres with the seats folded.
Market and Model
A3 Sportback ownership requires a very reasonable £620 premium over three-door models - which means pricing starting at around £20,000 and ranging up to around the £30,000 mark, with customers choosing between SE, Sport and S line trim levels. You'll be very tempted though, to up the price of your car by adding numerous options. Things like the LED interior lighting package, a panoramic glass sunroof, sports seats, heated seats, advanced key keyless access, deluxe electronic climate control and an adaptive lighting system for the xenon plus headlights, which can be supplemented with variable headlight range control.
Where Audi has made the biggest strides in recent years is in connectivity of electronic systems and the A3 fully embraces these advances. The Audi connect system bundles all infotainment technologies that let the driver network with the Internet, infrastructure and other vehicles. The central component is the Mobile phone preparation. It produces the connection to the Internet and passengers can conveniently surf and email with up to eight mobile devices via an integrated WLAN hotspot. Watch your roaming charges though.
For the driver, the Mobile phone preparation brings features such as navigation with images from Google Earth, a web radio function, a Google Points of Interest search by voice control and Google Street View. There's also an Audi online traffic information system that takes the movement data from the thousands of smartphones and navigation units that are travelling on the road and can inform you of average speeds, predicted journey times and recommended re-routes.
Cost of OwnershipThe A3 Sportback pins its colours firmly to the mast of improved efficiency and posts numbers that are markedly more impressive than its already creditable forebear. That's a given. As is the fact that it'll rival the very best in class for residual values. Let's have a look at the numbers for each of the three lynchpin models in the range in turn. The 1.8TFSI will do 50.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits 130g/km. Go for the 1.4TFSI and you're looking at 53.3mpg and 123g/km, while the 2.0-litre TDI 150PS manages 67.3mpg and108g/km. So far, so excellent.
From there, things get a bit more interesting. Take the 1.2-litre TFSI, a car in which owners can get ready for 57.6mpg from a petrol A3 Sportback. The 1.4 TFSI with the 'Cylinder on Demand' system offers 140PS of grunt when required and 60.1mpg when you're not in quite such a hurry. Audi's also talking about 74.3mpg and 99g/km from the 1.6-litre TDI.
SummaryThere aren't too many cars which move the game on quite as relentlessly as the Audi A3 Sportback. It's almost like a barometer signalling which way the weather is blowing in vehicle production. Bigger, lighter, better built, quicker, cleaner, more space efficient and safer, the five-door A3 is all of these things and more. Admirable isn't it? But would you buy one?
If you're in this market, the chances are the answer to that question is 'yes'. With everything from a 99g/km, 74.3mpg diesel model to a turbocharged, all-wheel drive S3 sledgehammer, there's something for almost everyone, backed up by styling that's become cleaner and more discreet than ever. True, for some people, this car might be a bit too efficient, even a little austere. Likewise, some will hanker for a more involving drive. So it isn't perfect then, but it's as close as you could reasonably expect for a car with such broad appeal. Chalk that up as a success.