SINGAPORE – Could the A3 Sedan be the best car on sale in Category A right now? That’s a pretty lofty claim but there’s a good reason for taking it seriously: pretty much whatever you expect from a big Audi, the little A3 seems to deliver.
Constant digging and resurfacing on Upper Thomson Road near CarBuyer HQ has turned the place into a bumpy mess, but the A3 Sedan rides bumps with the calmness of a big car. It’s actually more refined than the bigger A4 in that respect.
The interior, too, is better than that of some of the larger Audis in some ways. The controls are much more straightforward, for one thing, and the various switches and buttons are all laid out immaculately. Somehow there are fewer of them, even though the A3 Sedan isn’t exactly bereft of high-tech features.
Okay, the cabin materials in the Hungary-built A3 aren’t a match for the posher stuff used in other Audi models, but they’re still plush enough to let you know that you’re sitting in a premium car.
Overall, it’s a quiet, soothing car to be in overall. Until you accelerate hard, that is. At that point the engine pipes up and lets you know it’s working hard.
And work hard it does if you’re in a hurry. Indeed, it’s in the engine room where the A3 Sedan is left behind by its larger siblings somewhat, because there you’ll find a 1.4-litre turbo with just 122bhp to its name.
Two ways to look at that: you could be grateful that it prevents the taxman from making you cough up the money for a Category B COE (since all cars with more than 130bhp are now in that part of the market). Or you could cuss at the powers-that-be, who have basically thrown all the fun-to-drive cars out of Category A.
And to be sure, the A3 Sedan may be many things, but it isn’t much fun to drive. True, the handling’s terrific and the little Audi holds the road supremely well around corners, but there just isn’t enough power to get the pulse racing.
If only the engine were as responsive as the steering. True, it musters plenty of low and mid-range pulling power, but you can feel it run out of puff once the revs build up, and then it’s up the the gearbox to keep things huffing along by quickly snatching another ratio.
Just as well it shifts smartly, though it can no longer be considered smooth by today’s standards.
Yet, there’s an upside to having a tiny engine, and that’s a correspondingly tiny appetite for fuel. On paper you’re supposed to average 5L/100km, but out in the crowded real world you probably won’t.
For the record, we got 7.1L/100km without really trying, which translates to an easy 700km between fill-ups given the A3’s 50-litre tank.
In fact, during our four-day span with the A3 Sedan, watching the miles climb while the fuel gauge refused to budge was the main highlight of driving it. Since you can’t go fast on Singapore roads, you might as well derive pleasure from thinking about how little fuel you’re burning.
If you can keep your cargo needs to 880 litres or smaller, the A3 Sedan works well, too. Folding the rear seats gives you that much space, and even if you keep them up you have 425 litres to play with in the boot.
Yet, you’ll want to try the rear seating out for yourself in the showroom. It’s not exactly cramped (the A3 Sedan is flattered in that respect by the Mercedes CLA-Class), but the back of the cabin is where you’ll be properly reminded that the Audi is, at its core, a small car.
Conclusions? The A3 Sedan feels like a proper prestige car in that it’s refined, handles brilliantly and it glides over bumpy roads like its springs are made of wispy clouds. The cabin’s quality has you feeling like you made a premium choice, too.
But the engine is both a help (it keeps the Audi in Category A) and a hindrance (it’s no powerhouse), and the tight rear seating should make you really think about how much you value a prestige badge over a car that’s spacious enough for family use.
If a bigger car fits your needs better, there are plenty around for similar money or less. Buy the A3 Sedan if what you want is not a big car, but a nice one.
NEED TO KNOW Audi A3 Sedan 1.4 TFSI S tronic Ambiente Plus
Engine 1,395cc, 16V, in-line 4
Power 122bhp at 5,000 to 6,000rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1,400 to 4,000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Top Speed 211km/h
0-100km/h 9.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.0L/100km (combined)
Price $177,700 with COE
Also consider: Mercedes-Benz CLA 180, Volkswagen Passat 1.4 TSI