With the station wagon market seemingly in terminal decline, Audi’s designers must have extensively mulled the exact nature of the practical version of the second-generation Audi A3. On the one hand, going the normal five-door hatchback route would put the Audi A3 in a direct fight against the Golf. On the other hand, offering a small compact wagon, in the vogue of the Volvo V50, would also likely not succeed, as station wagons these days are as popular in higher circles as a mullet. So, instead, Audi has developed what it calls a “Sportback”, a combination of a traditional hatchback and a station wagon, but one which combines the sporty look of the former with a degree of versatility and practicality not currently common to this segment. Is it cool enough to catch the attention of the yuppies out there who are in the process of settling down?
Balanced looks for Audi A3 SportbackThe Audi A3 Sportback may have a completely different profile to the Golf, and it certainly appears more wagon-like towards the rear, but it’s quite a sporty looker nevertheless. Audi has used the extra sheetmetal and glass to create quite a masculine impression, aided further by the standard fitment of large 17-inch wheels that fill the wheelarches with purpose. At the front, the Audi A3 features the new single-frame grille that is soon going to be a common feature on all Audis, while at the rear the light treatment reminds of the A4. Those customers who want to further beef up the appearance of their Audi A3 Sportbacks can also specify an optional S-line trim level that adds sportier front and rear bumper treatments, among other small details. It costs less than R20 000.
It’s the interior that really sets the Audi A3 apart. Boasting the type of attention to detail and perceived build quality usually reserved for luxury cars, the Audi A3 Sportback’s cabin makes driver and passengers alike feel special. The facia is constructed mostly out of soft-touch materials and the silver-trim details look convincing. Audi offers a vast number of different options to individualise the cabin of the Audi A3 Sportback, but spec carefully, as some of these items are quite pricey. As has come to be expected of Audi, the controls all function with a feeling of solidity that no other car in its price segment can match.
Space-wise the Audi A3 Sportback appears to have the measure of most traditional five-door hatchbacks, including the Golf and BMW 1 Series. Front space is good, of course, and rear legroom is particularly impressive, as is headroom. The boot is also bigger than the competition, and with the rear seats folded down, the utility space is probably unbeatable in this segment (excluding a vehicle such as the Volvo V50).
The standard equipment list is reasonable, with Audi including the likes of dual-zone climate control, six airbags and ESP.
Agile and smoothThis particular model is powered by the VW Group’s 2,0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (shared with the Golf GTI) that develops 147 kW and a meaty 280 Nm of torque all the way from 1 800 to 5 000 rpm, suggesting great flexibility. There’s no quattro all-wheel drive for this model, but it does feature another bit of trick technology in the shape of a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This ‘box sends all the power to the front wheels.
In essence then, what we have here is a Golf GTI in a slightly more upmarket and sophisticated dress. Consequently, the performance is very strong, with a 0-100 km/h time of around 7 seconds. Even more impressive is the overtaking acceleration. Leave the transmission to its own devices in “D”, and it’s responsive enough to pressure from the right foot, but there’s also an “S” mode that sharpens things up even further. For maximum enjoyment, there are also shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The transmission is very impressive, shifting up and down the rev range with a slickness and speed that will catch newcomers to the dual-clutch experience by surprise and make them immediate converts. Of course, the other advantage of this transmission over a traditional torque-converter automatic is fuel consumption. Expect to achieve a figure of around 8 litres/100 km, which is very impressive considering the performance potential.
Another shared bit of componentry with the Golf GTI is the multi-link rear suspension. The 17-inch wheels and the sporty set-up endow the Audi A3 Sportback with a firm ride, but it’s never jarring, and it actually improves as speeds rise. Body control is really very good, too, and the grip levels are high. If there’s one negative to highlight about the driving experience it concerns the steering, a usual Audi problem. Though reasonably accurate, the steering feel is numb, which means it takes a while before you really gel with the car.
Audi A3 Sportback - VerdictAt this price it is difficult to not fall for the Audi A3 Sportback’s charms. Not much more expensive that the mainstream competition’s entrants, yet boasting superior build quality, a better powertrain and surprising interior practicality, the Audi A3 Sportback should give Audi’s current sales volumes a healthy push. It’s likely to sell very well.
- Build quality
- Upmarket design and finish
- Lively performance
- Ride/handling balance
- Numb steering
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 147 kW @ 5 100 rpm
Torque: 280 Nm @ 1 800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 236 km/h
0-100 km/h: 7,0 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,7 litres/100 km
- Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG: They share a lot under the skin, but these two siblings are really rather different in character. The Golf, restrained as it is, is the sportier car that will appeal to the enthusiast, while the Audi A3 Sportback is the sophisticate.
- Mercedes-Benz C230K Sports Coupe: A fair bit more expensive, and not nearly as practical as the Audi A3 Sportback. It does possess the Mercedes badge, however, and is certainly a sporty looker. Performance can’t match the Audi’s, either.
- Volvo V50 T5 Geartronic: A really hot station wagon of similarly upwardly mobile pretensions. The turbocharged five-cylinder engine endows the Volvo with very strong acceleration and although it’s not the most spacious wagon around, it certainly beats the Audi A3 Sportback for practicality.