Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for your new favourite car: the Audi A3 Sportback TFSI. We've been reviewing it, and it's magical, technical and above all: fast.
What Is It?
The Audi A3 Sportback we tested was the 1.4-litre TFSI Attraction model which retails for $35,600 (plus on-road costs). It produces 90kW at 5000-6000 RPM, packs 200Nm of torque at 1400-4000 RPM and completes 0-100km/h in 9.3 seconds.
Our test model had a few excellent options bolted on, including Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights ($1600), a tech package, which includes the Audi MMI navigation plus system, 7-inch display, parking assist and high-resolution rear-view camera ($2990) and an assistance package, which includes the adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system and high-beam assist ($1800).
All up, the Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Attraction we tested came in at $41,990 (plus on-roads).
Where to begin with the A3 Sportback? There's so much to like.
It's worth pointing out that, until now, the Audi A3 has been a little boring. A bit too straight. A bit too plain. Not anymore, though. With the Sportback treatment, the A3 gets some much-needed curves and some beautiful accents. As soon as you hit the unlock button on your key remote, the Sportback immediately asserts its beauty with curvy beams of light streaking from the front headlamps, while the rest of the body is bathed in soft light from the rear lights and window lamps.
Inside the car, you're cuddled by beautiful leather seats as gadgets, controls and the big, beautiful 7-inch screen for the new Audi MMI navigation and entertainment system rises to meet your gaze: a "ta-da" party piece that sets your hair on end as the engine rumbles to life.
The MMI system really is this car's party piece. It's a new platform for Audi, completely overhauled for the new 2013 A3 Sportback, and the work the Germans have put into this really shows. It's got your voice control, navigation, Bluetooth and USB audio, phone, CD and DVD services all locked up, and it's all controlled by a four button control panel and a giant knob in the centre console.
The controls are beautifully simple to use, but shows incredible depth when you actually get into it. For example, the surface of the knob itself isn't just a big pretty button. It's actually a touch-sensitive surface for you to draw letters and numbers on when selecting everything from the next track in a search to a destination street on the satnav. Clever and functional.
So often, car manufacturers can throw a bunch of technology at a car and have it land in a mess of confusing interfaces, unfathomable screens and weird glitches, all wrapped up in good intentions and an apology from your dealer when it all goes wrong. Not the new Audi A3. The new A3's gadgets, UIs and systems are all kept miraculously straight and simple so that you can actually use them quickly when they need to be accessed. No pulling over in between destinations to figure out why your car won't switch from a Bluetooth input to a USB input quick enough, and no fights with you and your significant other because one person can't figure out the GPS navigation. The new in-car entertainment systems are to be applauded.
But the tech-thrill ride isn't over yet: Audi has been tinkering under the hood, and souped up the A3 with a 1.4-litre, turbo-charged engine that really gives you a kick in the chest when you take off: not something you'll expect from a handsome German hatchback, mind. The turbo whine is electric to listen to as you use the paddles behind the wheel to shift up gears manually, and bringing your thrill ride to an end before the next red light is a set of frankly incredible brakes. They're feisty, and stop you so fast you might be plucking your eyes out of the windscreen when you reach 0km/h. When I clambered back behind the wheel of a 2006 Mazda 3 after dropping off the Audi, I had to double check the thing even had brakes. They're top-quality anchors, that's for sure.
Other goodies include dual-zone climate control, steering wheel audio controls, a full colour display mounted in the instrument panel, auto-engine stop to save fuel when idling and excellent storage space with what feels like almost unlimited cubby holes for your crap.
This car is a gadget-lover's dream, and an absolute joy for any petrol head to drive, and it's surprisingly affordable even with all the options when you think about the incredible value you get.
The Best Part
We're truly on the cusp of having driverless cars available to consumers if the A3 Sportback's truly-incredible adaptive cruise control system is to be developed on.
In its current iteration, the cruise control system almost drives the car for you with virtually no input on the brake or accelerator pedals. Normally, a cruise control system is meant for highways or decent stretches of road. Set the cruise control, cover the brake and driving gets easier.
On the A3 Sportback TFSI, the cruise control is radar/laser-guided, which means it will automatically lock-on to a car in front of you, if one appears, to make sure it doesn't go careening into it, and coupled with a nifty setting that lets the cruise control guide you all the way down to a stop rather than simply cutting out at 30km/h like some cars. When it's stopped, the A3 Sportback continues to keep a lock on whatever's in front of you, so that when it starts moving again, you start moving again, right back up to the speed of either the vehicle in front or your designated speed should they turn off.
All you need to do is move the steering wheel as the A3 Sportback's clever cruise control ensures that you don't hit anything.
It's weird in first gear, whether driving in manual or automatic. The lag between putting your foot down and actually going somewhere leaves a lot to be desired. You won't want to go street racing in this thing as you'll be immediately smoked on from the line. Acceleration kicks in hard after a few seconds and the engine roars into life, but in a competitive situation, it's already too late.
And while I know it's a bit much to expect Ferrari-concepts on a $40,000 hatchback, but it would be nice if the paddles for manual shifting stayed where they were when you turned the wheel. The paddles aren't fixed, which means they wander off when you turn the wheel and shifting up a gear into that next amazing corner gets sort of lost when you realise you can't find where you left your paddle-shifter.
This Is Weird
The satnav can't pronounce street names. Honestly, it sounds like it's speaking all your street names with a Dutch accent. That's not really an issue if you're Dutch, but it's kind of a problem when I need to make a left turn and I can't understand the street she's talking about. Thankfully, GPS directions are automatically presented on the driver's instrument display so you know where you're off to without having to listen.
Should You Buy It?
So often in the gadget business, luxury supersedes bells and whistles. We've used it as a whipping boy before, but take the stupid luxury Vertu phone as an example. It's potentially the most expensive phone in the world, and markets itself as the most luxurious, but any $100 Android phone runs rings around it in terms of functionality. That's usually the case in luxury German cars, too: quality sees the amazing gadgets we hold near and dear go by the wayside in favour of wood panelling and space for your leather umbrella and stock folders or whatever. The Audi A3 Sportback is the exception to the rule: it packs luxury and some incredible gadgets into the one, fast and beautiful package. It's a must-drive for any gadget lover looking for a new car.