/ By Waldo Rendell /
What is this?
This is a petrol-powered sedan, which shouldn’t catch you off guard. However, based on the Audi’s plans for 2022 and beyond, it sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s because Audi is fielding a raft of full-electric (EV) models in South Africa for 2022, not to mention expanding the number of compact SUVs to echo market trends.
Not that any part of the new Audi A3 can be criticised for feeling old. This is a complete and bold rework of Audi’s successful formula. It’s sharper literally everywhere, and lets its creative streak run wild despite wearing one of the most modest badges (engine included) in Audi’s range.
In the metal
Audi seems to be channelling all its motorsport and quattro tradition into this innocent little A3. A couple of years ago I would’ve assumed that this was the S3 derivative, so prominent are the grille and inflated bumpers. It definitely makes a strong statement, but those previous A3 owners who appreciated the brand’s subtle approach to styling might prefer to skip the sportier S-line kit. It adds R18 000 to the price, along with new alloys as well. It was just the start of an eye-watering list of options fitted to our test unit, and the result of all this is somewhat bittersweet.
It looks as if Audi has put the door handles on upside down. Is Audi trying to be quirky? There are asymmetrical shapes and symmetrical shapes, parallel lines and diagonal ones, and air vents at different heights. It really shouldn’t make any sense but it actually feels edgy and exciting, and leaves you with a good indication of what life inside an Audi e-tron GT might be like.
Audi’s digital systems work best once they’ve devoured all your personal information from the first press of the ignition button. It then quickly navigates to your preferences to offer a more intuitive experience from start to finish. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but when you finally sit down and accept its demands, it does offer bigger and better rewards.
The quality is mostly good except for a little bit of cheap plastic spied between the seats. Audi’s dual digital-screen set-up helps to manage a potential tidal wave of information by separating and organising various menus across both displays. It’s fast, bright and configurable and shows a steady evolution in Audi’s switchgear minimalism without compromising functionality. A particularly fun highlight is the touch-sensitive audio controls next to the gear lever.
Our model was fitted with the interior S-line comprising racier seats, aluminium pedals and other smatterings to lighten the tones and provide a premium look.
Take the wheel
As mentioned, the A3 takes its driving modes seriously. ‘Dynamic’ provides some of the punchiest shifts imaginable and hangs on to the revs for eternity – poor engine – while ‘comfort’ puts everything back in the middle, where it belongs. Here the chassis shines with direct and positive control as soon as some steering angle is applied. But it’s also nicely sprung on its vertical movements, with enough slack to ensure it never slams over bumps. It rides like a previous-generation A6, which is no light praise.
The 1.4-litre engine isn’t particularly noteworthy. Maybe we’d be more forgiving if Audi’s revolutionary job everywhere else didn’t expose some of the older elements in the package. As it is, the A3 35TFSI feels slightly livelier than its outputs would suggest. But, those who want a lot more performance can trade some of the options available here and go for the larger-capacity A3 40TFSI instead, which also has the dual-clutch gearbox.
In reality, the modern A3 is a lot closer to the sort of experience and tech you’d find in an A4, with the benefit of a younger image and nimbler handling. At nearly R800 000 (for our test unit, at least), the A3 has a similar price tag to the A4, too, and is therefore no longer necessarily the obvious option for someone looking to climb behind an Audi-badged steering wheel for the first time.
Model: Audi A3 35TFSI
Engine: 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 110 kW
Torque: 250 Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Price as tested: R770 000
Slick dual screen display
Looks and performance don’t meet in the middle
High price as tested
Read about other wheels-related stories, here.