Why would Audi choose a turbodiesel derivative to spearhead the release of the all-new A3 in South Africa? Because it showcases the considerable virtues of the upmarket hatchback to good effect. Indeed, it could well become Audi’s most popular A3 ever
Who would have thought that a car as inherently sporty and aspirational as Audi’s new A3 would be offered first in turbodiesel form, ahead of a single petrol derivative?
Even a decade ago, such a decision would have been considered downright foolhardy. But the rise of the turbodiesel engine on the wave of improved technology has allowed this once agricultural stalwart to take on an altogether sportier and more aspirational role.
Audi, of course, has offered oil-burners in its A4 model mix here for some time. But the all-new A3 gets an equally new turbodiesel mill: a 2,0-litre, twin-cam, 16-valve beaut that’s as big on refinement as it is on urge and shove.
Thanks to an intercooled, variable-nozzle turbo-charger, the 1 968 cc unit eagerly delivers 102 kW of power. But the most telling figure is the 320 Nm of torque. It peaks at only 1 750 r/min, and is linearly sustained to 2 500 r/min. Even more importantly, much of the maximum twist is already on tap from just above idle speed.
No wonder then that this A3 gets off the mark with lots of brio, and always feels as spirited and as athletic as the three-door coupé shape infers – a shape that is, of course, completely new.
The second-generation A3 design is very much an evolutionary one, ensuring instant recognition. However, the overall aesthetic treatment is more elegant.
This A3 sports shorter overhangs front and rear, despite a longer wheelbase and wider tracks, and also has a lower roofline. The effect is smoother and less angular than the previous A3, if perhaps a little less masculine, too.
While Audi’s newcomer may not look markedly larger from the outside, interior space has benefited substantially. That’s especially true of the rear accommodation, which occupants will no longer find claustrophobic, even though the rear windows cannot be opened. Leg and shoulder room has been upped significantly, and the A3 is now a full four-seater.
For those up front, the TDI has sculpted sports seats with height adjustment and ample lateral support. The test car’s mix of black leather bolsters and charcoal Alcantara cloth inserts looked smart and felt superb.
Ergonomically, the new A3 excels. The driving position is excellent, and easily customisable to suit individual preference. A steering column with height and reach adjustment contributes greatly in this regard, as does the unambiguous layout of the switchgear.
Black-faced instrument dials with white graphics and red needles allow clear legibility, while the climate control system features individual left/right temperature adjustment and TT-style circular air vents. Polished aluminium accents, textured plastics and black lacquer trim contribute further to the interior’s smart, high-quality ambience.
In line with Audi’s executive image, the new A3 comes comprehensively equipped: selective remote central locking, electrically operated windows and exterior mirrors, the dual-zone climate control already mentioned and a CD receiver with multiple speakers are all standard features.
This test car was loaded with further extras: an integrated six-disc CD changer, a centre armrest, rear park distance control, cruise control and seat heating added R19 050 to the price tag. Base-spec satellite navigation was a further R12 000 extra.
Safety is well catered for, and includes four airbags, seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, all-disc brakes with ABS anti-lock control and EBD brake force distribution, and traction control. The more effective ESP stability control costs R5 000 extra, though.
At start-up, a couple of seconds of clatter is the only reminder that this Audi is a turbodiesel – and then only if a window is open. Otherwise, the cabin’s superior sound insulation limits engine noise to a muted rumble, rising smoothly into growl and ultimately roar as the revs rise.
With all that low-down torque, turbo lag is not a problem when pulling off, and the surge of power that follows virtually immediately thereafter is almost brutal – certainly enough to get the 205/55 WR16 Dunlop Sport rubber chirping, despite the traction control.
Adding to the straight-line pleasure is the short-throw, close-ratio six-speed gearbox. It’s a joy to use, even though there’s no real need for all those gears because of the strong spread of torque. Still, it suits the character of the A3, and keeps the driver fully involved in the motive – and emotive – experience.
Tractability is superb: even in sixth, there’s good response when you floor the loud pedal, and if you gear down one or even two ratios, the effect is electric. However, don’t waste your time chasing the revs into the red: nothing much happens beyond 4 000 r/min, and you may as well swap cogs.
But the new A3’s real talent is its handling. The hatchback’s road manners easily eclipse those of its predecessor, thanks to a chassis that feels taut at every turn. There’s no discernable lean when you pitch the Audi into corners, while the car’s attitude remains almost totally neutral – even under severe duress.
Good damping ensures that the firm ride never becomes harsh or uncompromising, allowing a near-perfect mix of refinement, feedback and control. It’s a formula that entertains while instilling confidence, encouraging the driver to explore the high levels of grip and control to the max.
Finally, there’s the fuel consumption to consider. Cruising at highway speeds, the A3 will return miserly figures in the 5 l/100 km region. Driven with gusto in the stop-start urban environment, that figure will rise to 8,7 l/100 km. Our average came to 7,7 l/100 km, which included flat-out testing.
There have been some murmurs of dissent from previous-generation A3 1.8T owners that the new range includes no direct replacement, and that the 2.0 TDI falls short in the dynamic department. In absolute, straight-line terms, they’re probably right, although the initial thrust of the turbodiesel is pretty impressive.
However, considered as a package, the new A3 is head and shoulders above its predecessor. It is quieter, more spacious and more refined. And while it delivers its urge rather differently than the 1.8T, it’s likely to be as quick from point to point. It’s not a direct replacement of the 1.8T, but an interesting and valid alternative.
|Audi A3 2.0 TDI||1 968||103/4 000||320/1 750||R234 500|
|BMW 320d||1 995||110/4 000||330/2 000||R250 500|
|Renault Megane 1.9 dCi||1 899||88/4 000||270/2 000||R199 800|
|VW Golf TDI||1 896||81/4 150||235/1 900||R206 630|
Likes: Excellent chassis makes for superlative handling without sacrificing ride refinement. Solid interior unexpectedly spacious and comfortable. Low-down torque allows athletic shove
Dislikes: Styling could be more adventurous
|Layout||In-line, transversely mounted|
|Cylinders/capacity||4/1 968 cc|
|Bore/stroke||81,0 x 95,5 mm|
|Valve gear||16-valve, DOHC|
|Power||103 kW @ 4 000 r/min|
|Torque||320 Nm @ 1 750 – 2 500 r/min|
|Specific power||52,34 kW/litre|
|Fuel system||Direct diesel injection, VTG turbocharger|
|Front||Independent. MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, anti-roll bar|
|Rear||Independent. Four-link configuration, separate springs and dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Front and rear||6,5Jx16 alloy wheels, 205/55 WR16 Dunlop SP Sport 1 tyres|
|Pressures (front/rear)||220/220 kPa|
|Type||Dual circuit, servo-assisted, ABS and EBD|
|Length/width/height||4 203/1 765/1 421 mm|
|Track front/rear||1 536/1 517 mm|
|Wheelbase||2 578 mm|
|Ground clearance||110 mm|
|Type||Rack and pinion, power-assisted|
|Turning circle||10,7 m|
|Fuel tank||55 litres|
|Mass: front/rear/total||920/560/1 480 kg|
|Power/weight ratio||68,91 kW/ton|
|List price||R234 500|
|Instalments||R23 450 dep, 54 x R5 077,14
(10% deposit, 11,5% interest)
|Service interval||7 500 km oil change/15 000 service|
|Warranty||12 months unlimited distance, 3-year paint, 12-year corrosion. 5-year/100 000 km Freeway Plan full maintenance package|
|0-60 km/h||4,98 sec|
|0-80 km/h||8,05 sec|
|0-100 km/h||11,18 sec|
|0-120 km/h||16,61 sec|
|Time/terminal speed||18,13 sec/125,4 km/h|
|Time/terminal speed||33,12 sec/157,6 km/h|
|60-100 km/h||(4th gear) 8,74 sec|
|60-100 km/h||(5th gear) 12,78 sec|
|80-120 km/h||(5th gear) 11,22 sec|
|80-120 km/h||(6th gear) 14,26 sec|
|1st gear||42,2 km/h|
|2nd gear||78,4 km/h|
|3rd gear||118,7 km/h|
|4th gear||159,3 km/h|
|5th gear||193,7 km/h|
|6th gear||201,6 km/h|
|Top speed||201,6 km/h|
|At indicated 120 km/h||110,2 km/h|
|Error @ 120 km/h||+8,9 %|
|Average time/distance||2,50 sec/27,85 m|
|Average deceleration factor||-8,9 m/sec/sec|
|Average speed (six runs)||123,48 km/h|
|Best speed||123,83 km/h|
|Test average||8,72 l/100 km
|Manufacturers claim||5,5 l/100 km