Audi doesn't call its A3 hatchback a hatch - it's a Sportback.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Drivetrain: Transverse FWD 1968cc direct-injected and turbocharged four cylinder diesel engine with six-speed twin-clutch S-tronic automatic transmission with paddle shift.|
|Outputs: 110 kW at 3500 rpm, 320 Nm at 1750-3000 rpm., 4.5 L/100km, 119g/km CO2.|
|Chassis: McPherson strut front suspension, four-link setup at the rear. Electric power-dricven rack and pinion steering. Audi Drive Select with eco function.|
|Safety: Electronic stability and traction control; ABS brakes; front, side, curtain and knee airbags; five-star EuroNCAP.|
|Dimensions: L 4310mm, W 1785mm, H 1425mm, W/base 2636mm.|
|Hot: Sharper looks, lighter weight, simple yet sophisticated interior, flexible diesel engine.|
|Not: Prices improved, but still can't help comparing the A3 with the VW Golf.|
|Verdict: Audi A3 is a classy new hatch - sorry, Sportback - that should continue to be popular in New Zealand.|
And if this means calling the A3 a Sportback, that's fine.
But despite that, personally I still find myself comparing the A3 to its first cousin the Volkswagen Golf.
That's because in many respects they are the same car - same platform, engines and some running gear - but the A3 costs a lot more to buy than a Golf.
For example, the top-spec 2.0 TDI Sport that we have just been driving retails for $55,400 which, while $5000 less expensive than the model it replaces, is still $11,650 more than the Golf with the same engine.
So why the difference? The quick answer is that it is because the Audi A3 is the superior car - and that's saying something, considering the Golf was this year named World Car of the Year.
But the A3 is the better build, making good use of alloy body panels so it can be as light as possible, it has higher levels of standard specification, and it is a quality drive.
And of course it carries an Audi badge, which to many is the most important feature of all.
This new Audi is one of the first of Volkswagen Group's vehicles to by built to a new vehicle platform design strategy called MQB, which involves all the group's transverse-engined vehicles having common engine mounts.
In this strategy, every other vehicle platform dimension - width, length, wheelbase and track - can be changed to suit the particular requirements of individual vehicles, but VW Group says massive savings in engineering and parts costs can be achieved by ensuring that all vehicles have their engines and transmissions installed in exactly the same place on those common mounts in the fixed area between the front axle and the firewall.
Not only that, but he time taken to build a car can be cut by as much as 30 per cent via this standardisation of design and the fact parts are able to be shared by an enormous number of vehicles - the future is likely to see at least 50 Volkswagens, Audis, Skodas and Seats built on the MQB platform.
This is a primary reason why the new A3 Sportback carries lower retail prices than the model it replaces, despite the fact it is larger than before and carries a lot more equipment.
The latest A3 looks remarkably like the previous model, even though the body is considerably more sculpted than before. It also now sports Audi's larger six-sided grille, which helps give it plenty of on-road presence.
Wheelbase is 58mm longer, and greater bodyshell dimensions all round mean there is more rear seat room and extra luggage space. With all seats in use the space at the back is 380 litres which is pretty good, and this can increase to 1220 litres when the back seats are folded down.
Interior is very nice, with the dash area featuring a multimedia screen that retracts out of the way at the touch of a button - and that's a point of difference from the equivalent BMW product which has the screen permanently stuck in place.
Perhaps the best feature of the interior is its simplicity. It is quite spare in its design, but it works very well. Many of the controls for such items as audio and other multimedia are housed in a small rotating control wheel located behind the gearshift, which leaves the air conditioning as basically the only controls on the dash itself.
Overall, the interior is an outstanding example of how simplicity of design can be best.
The TDi is powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that develops 110 kilowatts of power, and 320 newton metres of torque from 1750 rpm.
While the other members of the A3 family have seven-speed S Tronic twin-clutch automatic transmissions, the greater low-down torque of this diesel mean that only six speeds are needed.
It's a very good engine that allows the driver to enjoy very flexible motoring while at the same time achieve an average fuel consumption of 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres. And, if the need arises, the driver can use Audi's drive select system to choose a variety of modes to best suit the job at hand.
These modes are comfort, automatic, dynamic, individual and efficiency, and they change the car's throttle, steering and gearshift protocols.
End result is a new A3 that is a beautiful drive. Mind you it should be, because its high price demands as such. But it is a lovely motor vehicle that is an excellent illustration of just how good small hatchbacks can be.
- © Fairfax NZ News