The A3 might be the smallest Audi in the range. but it has the potential to be in the hands of more people than any other model. So, we give it a closer look.
I've always liked the idea of a compact sports sedan. Practical enough to be a young family transporter and fun enough for solo drives on weekend mornings. The Audi A3 always figured high on my shortlist and as fun-to-drive the last generation car was with its explosive 1.8TSI motor, it was a bit too spartan on the feature list for my taste and sensibilities of a luxury-car shopper.
Sharper suit for 2017
Two years into its life and Audi has given it a nip and tuck to bring it up to its latest design language. Edgier LED headlights with a kink and more aggressive looking air intakes are all the cues you'll get up front to the refreshed design. Around the rear, dynamic turn indicators remind you that you're looking at a MY2017 Audi and that's about it. It was a great design to begin with and Audi has done well not to mess around with it.
The proportions still are spot on with a sharp crease running through the length of the car that accentuates its sportier intentions while the distinct lack of flash is decidedly Audi. The wheels sure feel like they're down a size, but it does have its advantages while tackling Mumbai's Metro-bombed roads.
On the inside, it's pretty much the same story with even more minor tweaks that are harder to spot than the exterior. The 7in Audi MMI screen gets updated graphics and 3D maps and the storage box in the armrest gets a wireless charging mat for Qi-compatible phones. There’s an addition of a reverse parking camera, but the resolution and fish-eye lens effect make you wish it wasn’t included.
As a supplement to it, parking sensors that are calibrated for Icelandic population start beeping every time you’re within spitting distance of another object start getting on your nerves pretty quickly. Thankfully, they can be deactivated. That’s about it. Don't bother exploring the menu for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is shocking since almost every Maruti is ready to play with smartphones these days. There’s no keyless go either, but you do have a panoramic sunroof. No Virtual Cockpit but legible, large analog clocks. You get the drift.
The new motor doesn’t call attention to itself when you turn on the ignition. Refinement levels during idle are outstanding and Audi has also done a fine job with the cabin insulation. Most of the elements from the outside world are left where they belong, outside. Shut the door with a solid thud and you are transported to Audi’s world of absolute quality and precision.
The satisfying click from the AC vents as you twist them to cut off the airflow, the over-engineered flaps that provide a diffuse or focused flow and the way the MMI wheel feels when you give it a turn - it all feels and looks unapologetically German. There are no Drive modes on offer here, but the 7-speed DSG transmission does have a Sport mode with manual override that does hold on the gears.
From the get-go, there is no hiding its front-wheel drive architecture. Step on the pedal with a lead foot and the front wheels struggle to grip and the traction control light starts manically flashing in the instrument cluster and there can be wheelspin even in second gear. Torque is plenty but it kicks in only above 2000rpm and before that, there is a hesitation from the drivetrain to move along swiftly.
Once you get it in motion though, there is little to tell it apart from the earlier 1.8TSI motor. Sure, it lacks the mid-range punch, but progress never feels slow and the lightness of the body certainly helps in making it feel chuckable and agile. The engine note is entertaining as you rev higher and it holds the line remarkably well around the corner, understeering ever so gently towards the exit.
It’s an easy driver's car that won’t provoke your senses, but allows them to explore a little when you do feel up to it. The seats offer great support up front, even if the cushioning was a tad firm for our tastes. The back seat is purely functional and better suited to shorter distances, with poor under thigh support and a short squab. But it’s an A3 after all and if you’re planning on being chauffeured around in this little wagon, maybe you got it all wrong anyway.
Around town, the most impressive quality of the A3 is its ride quality that competes with and even annihilates some cars at twice its price. The suspension has been tweaked to perfection, making it supple enough right over potholes without upsetting the occupants while remaining firm enough to make it dart into corners. The steering might not live up to the chassis with its lightness and lack of feel but it is smooth, responsive and direct. Everything a city car should feel like. It’s a car that will make you feel that you spent your money well, on a car that shows it.
Let's talk tech
Probably the biggest chunk of tech here is the 7in MMI screen. While it is perfectly handy and also promptly gets out of the way when not required, the resolution and graphics aren’t quite 2017. There are hot keys for a lot of the oft-used functions like radio, media, sat/nav and telephone along with a scroll wheel and four corresponding buttons that act like target keys for on-screen menus. It may be just me, but it seems like the once straight-forward and easy to master Audi MMI is becoming more confusing with this new generation with a lot of keys that don’t seem to be self explanatory, especially while inputting a typically long Indian postal address to chart out a new route.
Audio is bog-standard, but does get a 10-speaker surround feature and 180W of power that allows you to anchor the soundstage for the driver or create a more wholistic sounding experience for all the passengers. Sound quality itself is reasonable and requires some boost in the bass and treble controls to bring up the excitement levels. It’s nothing to write home about, but it serves the purpose of listening to radio and streamed tunes.
Controls on the steering wheel make life easy for the driver and doesn’t warrant the need to lift your fingers off the wheel for any of the functions at all. It uses scroll wheels and function keys effectively making it a doodle to carry out every task related to car or media functions.
Brisk, economical and sharp looking, the Audi A3 is the sensible man's city car. It’s a great entry into the world of German luxury sedans and offers a decent spread of features, if not extensive. Mechanically, there is no denying its abilities with a ride that walks over the competition and handling that is surefooted and predictable.
It will even shut off two of its four cylinders when you're a victim of bumper-to-bumper highway jams, making you smile at the petrol pumps eventually. It's a well sorted package that is no-nonsense that now looks better than ever. Just get your cabin tech fix elsewhere.