Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI

BY Joel Tam

Audi's sportiest A3 offers space, power and style. But is it riveting enough a package to lure buyers away from the sportier Golf GTI and the more stylish Volvo V40? We find out.

The luxury hatchback segment has always been a rather tough group to justify here in Singapore.

If I'm in the market for a luxury car, I wouldn't be looking at a hatchback, at least not with car prices the way they are here. On the other hand, if I wanted a hatchback, I would probably not pay a 'luxury' price for one. That said, car manufacturers still see the need to cater to this group, however small it might be. But to compete in this segment, they each need a good product for themselves. 

Against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Volvo V40 and BMW 1-Series hatchback, the Audi A3 puts up a pretty good fight. Well-built (as always), blending sportiness and luxury through both design and technology, it makes for a very convincing package indeed.

But at a price region of S$215,000, the Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI we have here is in Volkswagen Golf GTI territory. Granted the Golf is more sporty than luxurious, but with newer tech inside and out, and a more powerful engine that excites even the non-enthusiast, you have to admit that it does pose a threat to the Audi too. It is not exactly a bare bones car either. So the A3 1.8 has to do the "luxury" thing very well to make it a compelling buy.

On the outside, the car looks identical to its 1.4 TFSI sibling. It has a mini-Avant (Audi speak for wagon) look, and sports a handsome profile without being as loud as say, an A-Class. The new LED lamps help to differentiate the new model from the old. But still, the similarities to the previous model are too close to make this new model standout. That said, the A3 is a nice car - though more elegant than exciting.

If the outside is good, it always gets better when you step inside an Audi. The A3 is no different, with quality materials and leather in all the right places. From the lovely design (especially the cool air ducts), to the robust tactility of the switches, Audi gets in right once again. Seat and steering adjustments are flexible and will accommodate a driver of almost any build. The visibility is great and the controls more intuitive that some of Audi's larger models. It's also the first Audi I've seen with the 3D-look “Optic” inlays.

Before I manage to drive off though, I'm met with a not-so-nice thing; the test-car has a squeaky brake pedal. 'Croaky' is a better word actually, because that's exactly what it sounds like. Nothing a bit of lubricant can't solve, but it's annoying nonetheless, since I need to depress the pedal…um…quite often. That aside, the rest of the controls are solid, and quiet.

With 180 bhp and 250 Nm of torque, the A3 1.8 feels meatier throughout the rev range compared to its 122 bhp 1.4 brother with 200 Nm, it's smoother too. But in terms of outright punch, the extra 58 bhp doesn't quite make its presence felt like you would imagine it to, that is until you go higher in rev range. Flog it, and the A3 will reward you by blurring the view outside rather rapidly. 100 km/h comes up in 7.3 seconds, and it will see 232 km/h if given a long enough road. So it's fast, comfortable and rather roomy, at this point, I must say that the A3 is doing remarkably well (save the noisy brake pedal).

Turn the Sportback into a series of corners though, and while it holds true to its line, the car is lacking in feel. Even with the Audi Drive Select put to Dynamic mode, the steering is still not as sharp as it should be. After all, the 1.8 is the closest thing to a sporty hatchback from Audi before the S3 arrives. The quick shifting 7-speed S tronic is a joy to use though, and grip levels are awesome. Despite not being pin-sharp, the A3 handles confidently, with body roll kept to the minimum. Ride quality is exceptional for a hatchback even when in Dynamic mode, befitting of a luxury hatchback.

Based on their prices, the A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI has the more premium badge compared to the Golf GTI, or even the V40. It's a better package than the A-Class and the 1-Series, and it's got the most space among the five. It even goes nearly as quick as the VW, and wears the luxury segment title convincingly. These are excellent reasons enough to pick it above its rivals. But for this car-crazy writer, my money would still go to the hot hatch from Wolfsburg.