Audi A3 1.5 TFSI S Tronic (A) Review - City Slicker

David Foo
29 Sep 2021
 

Audi A3 1.5 TFSI S Tronic (A) Review - City Slicker

I found that the coast feature worked best at speeds above 90km/h, where the A3 would glide along effortlessly, barely losing any speed as it went along, even picking up speed significantly as I went slightly downhill.

Although not technically Audi’s entry level car in Singapore, the A3 serves as a sort of gateway into the world of Audi, accounting for an important segment of consumers who are either upgrading from Japanese or Korean make, or affluent new drivers who have a taste for something a little more premium. The new A3 receives a top to toe overhaul, complete with a redesigned exterior, completely new interior, and perhaps most noteworthy of all, is the A3’s return to a 4 cylinder power plant, complete with mild hybridisation. It is little surprise then that the car has been keenly anticipated, and will go head to head with the Mercedes-Benz A Class and BMW 1 Series - A hotly contested segment here in Singapore. So, how different is the new A3 compared to its predecessor? Will it be a homogenous upgrade of the old car, or are we dealing with something completely new and different?

Visually, I think the car looks quite different from the old car - which is a good thing. Traditionally, Audi’s design upgrades on their bread and butter models have always been very calculated, usually preserving the aesthetic DNA of the predecessor, while improving things with slight design accents sprinkled across the car. In the case of the new A3, I would say that Audi has gone a little bit further than usual, which is a great thing if you’ve felt that Audi design upgrades have been a tad boring in the past.

The front fascia has been completely redesigned along with new headlamps and from afar, the front end feels more squinty, with the new grille design and the slit above the grill giving the car a meaner look. When you put the old and new car beside each other, the old A3 looks more like a goldfish, where the new A3 looks more like a shark. Big plus points on this. The sharper front end also helps the bonnet feel flatter and as a result, larger. This gives the impression of a much bigger car. When parked beside a Volkswagen Passat, it was hard to tell the size difference from the front view alone. Round the back, the rear end feels sharper and longer, paired with redesigned tail lamps that remind me a little bit of Peugeot’s “claw mark” tail lamps. Not sure who came up with the design first, but either way, very pretty. 

All in all, the new A3 feels sleeker, meaner, and more grown up. From an image standpoint, I think the redesign will help the car to begin appealing to a slightly wider audience than before, with the sedan version perhaps even encroaching slightly into the demographic turf of A4 buyers. One thought that occurred to me is that at the point of writing, because of the upward COE trend, consumers spending between $140,000 to $160,000 for a car will expect the car to portray the image of a full fledged vehicle. In that way, it's a good time for the new A3 to look a little more mature and grown up, which in my opinion, will set it apart from the more playful looking A-Class and 1 Series. 

Interior:

Its business as usual inside the cockpit, with the build quality of Audi omnipresent from the moment you lay your hands on the door handle. For one of Audi’s entry level cars, the build quality is absolutely praiseworthy, so much so that the absence of any squeaking and rattling is noticeable and comforting. Plush materials line the interior and material use is appropriate, with buttons and knobs all pleasantly weighted and premium feeling. Most notably, the aircon vents are a joy to use, facilitating precise adjustments with a premium touch. The dashboard receives a full design upgrade, the most obvious being the new “Lamborghini” inspired driver air-conditioning vents, as well as Audi’s latest touch screen infotainment system and climate control cluster, which also features in the Audi e-tron GT. Unlike the dual touch screens found on other Audi models, I liked that the A3 featured conventional climate control buttons rather than the more beautiful, but rather finicky touch screen alternative. The user experience is further enhanced by a Full HD TFT driver’s display which really shines through in terms of clarity, and is no doubt a serious piece of hardware on the car that is neatly laid out and easy to use. If I were to be honest though, the graphic designs on the infotainment unit and the driver’s display, while crisp, look a little dated for my tastes, but that is subjective.

Like the exterior, the new A3 feels a lot more grown up and sensible inside, with a departure from more playful design features such as the retractable infotainment screen and the round aircon vents. The cockpit is a lovely place to be, and there is no mistaking that you are in a premium vehicle. However, it must be said that Audi’s sensible approach to things can feel a tiny bit utilitarian (but high quality), with both the A-Class and the 1 Series sporting more charismatic interiors that ooze just a little bit more flair, and are arguably just as well built as the A3. Seeing as how the most catchy things seem to fizzle the fastest, the A3’s more neutral interior could potentially lend itself to be look and feel relevant for a longer period of time than its main competitors, with Audi & BMW traditionally excelling in this area more so than Mercedes-Benz. 

The Drive:

Previous versions of the A3 were paired with different power plants to account for shifts in market trends. While they were all good in their own way, for me the A3 has always felt like a car that goes where the wind blows. With the new A3 however, this is no longer the case. Beneath the skin, huge strides have been taken to optimise the fuel economy in this car, and from the get-go, it is evident that the new A3 will be a benchmark of fuel economy without the need to sacrifice performance. Fuel saving technologies such as mild hybridisation and cylinder deactivation while coasting help the car to achieve a whopping Audi - claimed 21.3km/l. The mild hybridisation works seamlessly with the 1.5L turbocharged engine and 7-speed S-tronic dual clutch transmission to push out a tidy 150 bhp and 250Nm of torque, making for light footed performance around town driving conditions. 

Around town, the A3 is noticeably quick off the line, no doubt as a result of mild hybridisation, as well as a well calibrated turbocharger that gives you a helping help from as early as 1,400rpm. Steering is light and progressive and I found the A3 extremely easy to maneuver around U-turns and tighter car parks. Even under semi-aggressive acceleration when moving off from the traffic light, I found that the A3 rarely revved past 2,000rpm, which bodes very well for drivers who drive often in start-stop traffic. Audi has also subtly hidden the brake hold button within one of the car setting menus instead of using a more easily accessible button within the centre console. This is perhaps to make things a little more difficult for people to turn off, and to eradicate “creeping” habits that are notoriously bad for fuel economy figures. I appreciated the guile employed to help drivers keep good fuel economy habits, but I did find it extremely difficult to parallel park in a tight space with the brake hold setting on, as I had to gas the car in between minor adjustments - I turned it off permanently after the first day. Despite the A3’s apparent obsession with fuel economy, Audi were kind enough not to bury the engine start/stop button somewhere deep in the menus, and it was still accessible through a button on the centre console. 

Up at speed and on the expressways, the A3 continues with its fuel saving theme. Even in “comfort” mode, cylinder deactivation when coasting is still active, allowing for half of the cylinders to shut down. When you step on the accelerator again, the deactivated cylinders pop back into life quite readily without any significant lag. I found that the coast feature worked best at speeds above 90km/h, where the A3 would glide along effortlessly, barely losing any speed as it went along, even picking up speed significantly as I went slightly downhill. Below 90km/h, the coast feature just didn't work as well, with speed loss more apparent, and therefore did not allow me to spend an extended and meaningful amount of time coasting. As a cruiser, the A3 is more than capable, but I did feel that with the latest configuration, it seems that more emphasis has been given toward low end torque for city driving than to long distance cruising. Compared to previous versions of the A3, especially the 1.4L TFSI, the new A3’s engine does feel a little more airy and hollow when accelerating at higher speeds. All things considered though, the A3 still presents an extremely driveable package that is quiet, comfortable, and thoroughly suited for the city driving conditions found in Singapore. Truthfully, it might be one of the most fuel efficient cars we can get our hands on at the moment that is still fun and zippy to drive around town.

Our Thoughts:

Personally, I think the A3 is an excellent all rounder and the car really shines in places that matter, such as its drivetrain and its build quality. It is afterall rare to find a car that balances performance and fuel economy quite so eloquently, making it a very practical car to own. Interestingly, I believe this will be both the A3’s blessing and curse. You see, practical cars attract practical people - and practical people are also practical about money, which then prompts the question of whether or not the A3 is differentiated adequately from a Volkswagen Golf that justifies its higher price tag. On the flip side, if you are after a premium hatchback that offers an extremely high level of real world useability and quality, then the A3 could be the best in its class. To put things into perspective, the A3 comes across as the person that we know we should all aim to be - precise, practical, intelligent, steadfast, and discerning. However, it may not be the person that we dream and wish to be - and that is perhaps where the A3 will separate the men from the boys.

In Summary

We Like

Wonderful balance between usable real world performance and best in class fuel economy. Perfect for Singapore’s driving environment.

We Don't

Not a particularly inspiring car. Could potentially be perceived as a little bit boring

Verdict

Great car if you are looking for a solid all rounder with very little to fault, and a car that you can take on the world with. I could imagine an engaged couple or newlyweds doing quite well with the A3.

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