Audi A3

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 09:31 19/02/2014
The Audi A3 full

The Audi A3

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First of all, let's be clear about one thing: The Europeans - and that includes New Zealanders - prefer hatchbacks; while in general the Asians prefer sedans.

So with that as background, an immediate question that has to be asked in the wake of Audi's decision to begin importing a sedan version of its highly regarded A3 sportback, is why?

It's all to do with a changing New Zealand population demographic, explained Audi NZ general manager Dean Sheed at a media conference in Auckland last week.

An increasing number of people of the Asian ethnicities are now living in this country, particularly Auckland, and therefore Audi sees an improving opportunity to sell the booted A3.

Mr Sheed admits the front- wheel drive sedan won't sell in the same numbers as the sporthatch - he forecasts 130 sales this year compared with the more than 250 planned for the five-door models - but it will join forces with an A3 Cabriolet due mid- year to contribute to a healthy 32 per cent increase in total A3 sales.

And a second question was put to Mr Sheed at last week's conference: Won't the arrival of the A3 sedan impact on sales of the slightly larger A4 sedan?

Yes it will, he said. In fact he forecast the A3 sedan has the potential to "eat" the bottom end of the A4 range where there are a pair of front-drive models that are powered by essentially the same 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines as those in the A3, but they cost up to $9900 more.

So the focus will go on the A4 quattro models, leaving the A3 sedan to take up position as an entry vehicle to the A4 range, he said.

It all appeals as very logical. The arrival of the sedan means Audi customers can now choose petrol or diesel sporthatch models for $55,900, or opt for the sedan versions for $62,000. And, just like with the sporthatch, they will also soon be able to opt for a stonking all-wheel drive S3 version that will retail for $86,000.

Obviously the single most important difference between he sedan and its hatchback sibling is that it has a boot. As a result it is 146mm longer and 9mm lower, and the requirement for the boot means it is also 11mm wider and with a 20mm wider track.

The A3 sedan has more luggage space with all seats in use than the sporthatch too - it has a good 425 litres of load space which is 45 litres more than the hatch, and when the rear seats are folded down this can increase to 880 litres.

The immediate impression at last week's launch was that the A3 sedan is a good-looking car with an obvious design connection to the A4. Front and rear overhangs are short, and a feature is a so-called "tornado line" with a distinctive light- refracting edge than runs right along the car's flanks.

The interior is identical to the A3 sporthatch, with nice clean surfaces and lines, and a centre console that is turned slightly towards the driver.

Powering the petrol version of the A3 sedan is Audi's familiar 1.8-litre TFSI turbocharged four cylinder engine which offers 132kW of power and 250Nm of torque, and the diesel model has the equally familiar 2.0-litre TDI in-line four-cylinder turbocharged unit that offers 110kW of power and 340Nm of torque.

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A drive from Auckland to Hamilton and back during last week's media event showed both cars to be excellent drives, with both engines nicely mated to their dual-clutch automatic transmissions - in the case of the petrol A3 it is a seven-speeder, while the extra torque of the diesel means it has six speeds.

Both models come with a generous set of standard features, including sport suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, and sports seats. Options include a panoramic glass sunroof, xenon- based adaptive lights and a range of driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane change assist and lane keep assist which makes slight corrections to the electric steering to help the driver keep on the straight and narrow.

But of course all these features can also be in the A3 sporthatch, which means that the only real difference between the two is that one has a boot while the other hasn't. But that's OK, because the arrival of the sedan brings with it something important in these times of changing population demographics - choice.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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