Audi A3 Sedan Mild Hybrid 1.5 TFSI S-tronic Review - Real World Intelligence

David Foo
4 Nov 2021
 

Audi A3 Sedan Mild Hybrid 1.5 TFSI S-tronic Review - Real World Intelligence

the A3 feels surprisingly close to the A4, and almost feels like it was built and positioned to fill the gap left by the current A4, which will surely and eventually become bigger and more premium in its next iteration.

Many people don’t realise this, but the concept of the premium compact sedan was actually pioneered by the Audi A3. Since 1996, the A3 has been built as a hatchback, or in Audi-speak, a sportback. In 2013 however, following the launch of the 3rd generation A3, Audi released the A3 sedan. Almost instantly, people all around the world fell in love with it, especially in Singapore, where at one point, it became Audi Singapore’s best selling model. Today, most of the A3s you see on the road are sedans - a clear indication that the A3 sits in a pretty sweet spot of resembling a proper continental sedan that is big enough to be practical, yet affordable enough for the masses. 

A lot of the initial success behind the A3 sedan came from its first-mover advantage. You see, at the time of the A3 sedan’s launch, BMW and Mercedes were still running their entry level cars as hatchbacks, referring to the 1 series and the A-Class respectively. In creating the premium compact sedan segment, the A3 sat in its own space, offering consumers the most financially accessible way to own a marquee German sedan. In fact, the A3 sedan enjoyed this monopoly on the segment for quite a number of years, until BMW and Mercedes finally responded with the 2 Series Gran Coupe and the A-Class Saloon. In retrospect, it seems almost savant-like that Audi understood that people perceived a sedan as more premium than a hatchback, and leveraged this understanding to great effect.

Given its short but impressive history, the new A3 sedan has been eagerly anticipated - But what Audi have produced isn’t really just a newer version of the previous car. In fact, the overall car has been positioned upwards, and seems to target a slightly more affluent demographic than before. The car also features a proper mild hybrid drivetrain that works in tandem with the internal combustion engine, rather than one that serves a more auxiliary purpose, like in the A4. 

Design:

In typical Audi fashion, the A3 sedan is styled quite similarly to the A4, and it's evident that Audi takes the whole Russian Doll design thing a little bit more seriously than its competitors. The A3 even has the same front slit between the grille and the bonnet panel, and its front fascia is bent and styled in a very similar way to the facelifted A4. Although dimensionally, there is a clear difference between the A3 and the A4, it is really not that easy to tell when on the road and in the carpark, and you would totally be forgiven for mistaking an A4 for an A3 and vice versa. In fact, when I was parked beside a Volkswagen Passat the other day, it was visually quite hard to clearly say that the Passat is the bigger car, even though it clearly is, and shares the same platform with the Audi A4. Down the back end, the theme continues, and although not identical, the car bulges and pinches in the same places as the A4. Down the side, the A3 is a little more creased and muscled, and looks less business-ey than the A4, but ultimately still very similar. In the same way that smaller shoe sizes typically look better than the same shoe in a larger size, the A3 actually looks better than the A4 in my opinion, generally giving the impression of a leaner and more effervescent car. 

Inside:

On the inside, Audi’s build quality really shines through with this car, and the A3 is as immaculately built as it is classy. WIth its predecessor, the A3’s interior always looked like a watered down version of its bigger siblings, and everything about it was just a little bit less. With the new car, there is a significant step up in quality, and the interior feels much closer in comparison now to other more premium cars in the Audi range. In fact, tastefully, the A3 even has its own little flavour going on, with the Lamborghini-styled driver air vents prominently perched beside the driver’s display. Personally, I'm not such a huge fan of the air vents, but I can see the appeal. 

Frankly, equipment levels aren’t superb in the A3, and I wouldn’t necessarily call the car fully equipped. However, the main things like smartphone connectivity, touchscreen infotainment, digital driver’s display, automatic seats, automatic lights and wipers, and dual zone air-conditioning are all there, so you won’t really miss a beat either way. All in all, the biggest takeaway from the new interior is that there is now a very clear difference and step up for people who are thinking about upgrading from a Japanese or Korean car. Previously, I felt that the difference wasn’t all that clear, and you had to drive the car to feel the difference in weight and handling - But with this new car, the step up is clear from the moment you pop open the door and first set eyes on the interior. 

Driving:

To provide some context, the original 1.4L 4 cylinder used in the original A3 sedan is in my opinion, the most fun to drive. The 1.0L 3 cylinder later on was what I believed to be the smoothest and most relaxing setup. This new 1.5L Mild Hybrid sits right in the middle of those two, making it neither the most relaxing to drive, nor the most exciting to drive. However, it is by far the most economical setup to drive, and is rated at an industry leading 21.3 Km/L - numbers normally reserved for proper hybrids. In reality though, you’re most likely to achieve somewhere between 18 Km/L and 19 Km/L, which is still pretty damn impressive for a car that isn’t featherweight and is actually quite spritely to drive. A lot of this economy is due to Audi’s cylinder deactivation system, which when coasting on the expressway, allows the car to shut off 2 out of 4 of its cylinders, allowing for huge fuel savings. 

Around town, the A3 retains its personality as something that is easy to drive, with a nice amount of low end torque to help you off the line, and nice light progressive steering to help you maneuver through tighter spaces. What is interesting though, is that despite the car having 148 BHP on tap, and the same 250 Nm or torque as before, the car somehow feels a little more sluggish, and the car feels unwilling to let you rev it past 2,000 rpm. It does feel like there was a deliberate gear ratio adjustment which favours fuel economy more than performance, which if you think about it, makes the car seem pretty smart - perhaps a little too smart for my liking. Despite that, if you insist, the A3 will still break rank and will deliver satisfying mid-end acceleration, along with a strong torque range even at higher speeds. However, make no mistake - The A3 isn’t a performance car by any means, and you can sense that the car knows that it’s mission is to deliver the most refined, spritely, and fuel economical drive it can possibly deliver. 

Our Thoughts:

Currently, the A3 sedan no longer has that monopoly, and goes head to head against the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. We won’t debate the subjective matter of which car is the most beautiful, but as usual, Audi delivers a product that is extremely well packaged. Of the lot, It is competitively practical, is the most fuel economical, and is the most technologically advanced with its mild hybrid system, which by virtue, also makes it the most relevant of the lot to own in Singapore. While the 2 Series Gran Coupe kind of feels like a separate product from BMW’s lineup, and the A-Class feels like it's 2 steps below C-Class, the A3 feels surprisingly close to the A4, and almost feels like it was built and positioned to fill the gap left by the current A4, which will surely and eventually become bigger and more premium in its next iteration. It is for these reasons why I feel that the A3 will still be the car to beat in the premium compact sedan segment, once its main competitors have gone through their facelifts and upgrades and caught back up on price. While this A3 is the most expensive A3 ever, it does come packaged as a much more premium car than ever before as well, and in that way, still presents good value, and we believe the A3 sedan will definitely be the more popular car as compared to its hatchback sibling. 

 

In Summary

We Like

Big step up in quality from the previous car. Much closer in material use and quality to larger Audi siblings now. Superb fuel economy without any compromise on performance. 

We Don't

Power feels less accessible compared to the old car. It's there - but you have to push the car to extract it. 

Verdict

Overall still a very well positioned and well rounded car which will make an excellent daily driver in any driving situation, given its frugality. Presents an even more enticing entry level option for those upgrading from a Japanese or Korean car than ever before. 

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