As the fanciest model to use the Volkswagen Group MQB Evo platform, is the A3 Sportback worth the extra dough? We check out what extras it offers over its siblings.
We’re no strangers to the Volkswagen Group’s new MQB Evo platform. Having driven the 8th-gen Volkswagen Golf and the 4th-gen Skoda Octavia, it’s now turn to sample Audi’s version of the triplets. Ok, technically they’re part of a quadruplet, as the SEAT Leon’s just arrived in Singapore.
Look at the price of the A3 (S$187,635 as of December 2021), and you might balk at how much more it costs over its platform-mates. With that price tag, it puts the A3 S$30k over the Golf, and nearly S$50k over the Octavia!
But, bear with me. View it from a different viewpoint – despite its humble underpinnings, the A3 Sportback isn’t a regular hatchback, but a premium one.
That means that it isn’t going up against the Golf, nor the Octavia, for that matter. What Audi is pitching the A3 against are stalwarts of the luxury car scene; Mercedes-Benz, with the A-Class Hatchback, and BMW, with the 1 Series.
Under the bonnet of the A3 is the same drivetrain as the Golf and Octavia’s. It’s the now-familiar mild hybrid 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, with 148 bhp and 250 Nm. The 48V mild hybrid system saves fuel while coasting, and functions as a torque-fill for low-speed acceleration.
While they’re identical on paper, the A3 feels sportier in the real world. Acceleration around the city is quick and creamy, with an eagerness that’s slightly MINI-like. This makes it a bit harder to keep your right foot in check, unless you’re perfectly fine with straying from the claimed 20.8 km/l fuel economy figure.
Show the A3 some high-speed corners and it (unsurprisingly) remains composed and planted. Through tighter corners, you can chuck the car in with some er, enthusiasm and it’ll get through fine. Replace the factory-fit Pirelli Cinturatos with some P-Zeros and you should have even more fun.
Unfortunately, what lets the A3 down in the handling department is its rather vague steering setup. Leave the car in ‘Comfort’ and the steering seems unnervingly light, pop it into ‘Dynamic’ and it becomes needlessly heavy. Either way, the front wheels never really quite communicate exactly what they’re up to. Slightly unsettling, especially over unfamiliar b-roads.
Shared interior… not
Ok, before you yell at me, yes, there are similarities with the interiors of its siblings. There’s that unmistakable gear selector that looks like a rabbit’s tail, and the lighting controls that are now near the door.
Now, the differences. For starters, the infotainment screen in the Audi has been neatly integrated into the dash. Controlled either on-screen or with the iPod click wheel-esque dial next to the gear selector, the infotainment has the usual Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay functionality.
Unlike the Golf, climate control thankfully hasn’t gone digital, with a row of satisfyingly click-y switches under the infotainment screen. Oddly, these switches don’t offer any backlighting, which made them slightly tricky during my first night with the car.
Connectivity-wise, there are two USB-C ports and a wireless charging pad at the bottom of the centre stack. The rear passengers get another pair of USB-C ports, located below the rear air-con vents.
All around the interior, the A3 offered markedly higher quality materials as compared to its siblings. From the stitched steering wheel, to the dash plastics, to the stylish door handles – it all reminded you that this was a more premium product.
Then, there’s the seats. The S-Line sport seats cost just S$100 more, but the way they cocoon your body make them worth every single cent. There’s more – not only are the seats beautiful and supportive, they’re sustainable too! Up to 89% of the textile used in the A3’s interior comes from recycled PET bottles, with over 100 1.5-litre PET bottles used in each car.
Should I buy one?
Compared to the Mercedes-Benz A180 and BMW 116i, the A3’s unmistakably more expensive. Even overlooking the A3’s humble underpinnings, the Mercedes and BMW both offer more brand appeal.
But, what the A3 has going for it is its power output – over 40 bhp more than the BMW – and refinement, something the Mercedes didn’t particularly excel at.
So, the A3 Sportback might be slightly more expensive to purchase, but it’s well worth the extra dough. Combining Volkswagen reliability with a sporty character and premium interior, it’s my pick for a premium, fun hatchback.