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2017 Audi A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback Review | Base Small Car Falls Flat

Base is best. It’s a line that emerges frequently – and deservedly – in car reviews, and the 2017 Audi A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback is both the new entry point to this premium hatch range, and more simplified than most cheaper, mainstream small-car rivals.

Calling the entry A3 a ‘pure’ vehicle might be a euphemism, but this new base model does feature only three cylinders (boosted by a turbocharger) and a more basic torsion beam rear suspension setup than the other four-cylinder models in the range.

Its cousin, the Volkswagen Golf, gets both four cylinders and a more sophisticated independent rear suspension as standard, for around $15,000 less than this Audi.

The flipside is that the 1.0 TFSI Sportback is amazingly fuel efficient on paper, while still offering the benchmark cabin quality for which the A3 is renowned, plus more kit than ever before. This base model could well be a bargain, then – pure and simple.

Vehicle Style: Small hatchback
Price: $35,900 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 85kW/200Nm 1.0 3cyl turbo petrol | seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.8 L/100km | Tested: 5.7 L/100km

OVERVIEW

The 1.0 TFSI Sportback opens the A3 range from $35,900 plus on-road costs.

While pricing is unchanged compared with the 1.4 TFSI Sportback it replaces, the new model adds satellite navigation with a larger 7.0-inch screen, front parking sensors and a reverse-view camera, which were previously a $2990 package option.

It also goes a step further with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard, where it previously wasn’t available at all.

While the new 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine can’t match the previous 1.4-litre for power – 85kW versus 92kW – it can mirror the old engine with 200Nm of torque. Combined-cycle fuel efficiency of 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres is 0.1L/100km thriftier than before, but the 9.9-second 0-100km/h claim is six-tenths slower.

THE INTERIOR

  • Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, cruise control, and automatic headlights and wipers.
  • Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation, voice control and eight speakers.
  • Options Fitted: None.
  • Cargo Volume: 380 litres.

Blink and you’ll miss the exterior changes to the Audi A3 range. It’s limited to minor alterations such as reshaped headlights and more angular grille edges. The same goes for the interior, but that part arguably needed no further upgrade at all.

Despite some new additions, standard equipment in the 1.0 TFSI Sportback isn’t generous for the price. Only 16-inch alloy wheels and cloth trim are included, with full leather trim bundled with electric-adjust and heated front seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and keyless auto-entry as a $2700 extra-cost option package.

Larger 17-inch alloy wheels are packaged with LED headlights for $2500 more, and although navigation and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity is standard, even USB connectivity is bundled with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology for $650 extra. Digital radio even needs $500 more. The exclusions are especially disappointing from a technology-focused brand such as Audi.

For some context, a $34,490 (plus orc) Golf 110TSI Highline gets every single one of the optional features listed above as standard, with the exception of an electric-adjust passenger seat, while further adding a sunroof that costs $1950 extra here.

Add all of the above features to the A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback and the total price reads $44,200 (plus orc) – or $9710 more than the gutsier 1.4-litre Volkswagen.

Arguably, there is inherent value in the lush plastics, tactile switchgear and intuitive ergonomics that make this Audi’s interior the benchmark in the small car segment. More than that, it’s a quality benchmark compared with any sub-$40,000 vehicle.

With the nav glowing in high resolution and the standard dual-zone climate controls even wafting cool air through the entire cabin thanks to included rear-seat air-vents, passengers who were seated in this A3 – which was only optioned with leather, and that’s it – guessed that it was much more expensive than it is.

Complete with comfortable seats front and rear, decent back legroom and a roomy 380-litre boot volume, a conundrum appears: the 1.0 TFSI Sportback to the standard eye looks and feels like a premium car, but in terms of long-term ownership and niceties for the price, it lacks some depth at base level.

ON THE ROAD

  • Engine: 85kW/200Nm 1.0 3cyl turbo petrol
  • Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
  • Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
  • Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
  • Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering

Particularly when coated in standard Ibis White paint with sensible 55-aspect standard tyres, the A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback feels like the efficient hybrid to have when you’re not having a hybrid – with all excesses removed.

Driven normally around town, this light hatchback (with a kerb weight of 1200kg, or 65kg lighter than an equivalently priced Golf) slips effortlessly through traffic on light throttle, with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic briskly plucking higher gears.

The three-cylinder is amazingly refined, with none of the vibration and buzz typical of a breed of engine once associated with only the cheapest models in the car market.

Yet with a quarter less reciprocating mass than a four-cylinder engine, it revs quickly when needed, and with a turbo, delivers peak torque from 2000rpm until 3500rpm – so in other words, it doesn’t need to rev. With maximum power from 5000rpm until 5500rpm, it also feels much quicker than its acceleration claim. It’s a perky unit.

Too often turbo petrol models also wildly exceed their combined-cycle fuel consumption claims, but the 1.0 TFSI Sportback is an exception.

In traffic we saw 6.5L/100km, when the city claim is 5.7L/100km. On the freeway we saw 4.9L/100km, when the claim is 4.3L/100km. Our overall 5.7L/100km is only 0.9L/100km above the claim.

This entry A3 also maintains the smooth and light steering of the four-cylinder models, with handling that is if anything is even sweeter. Despite only modest tyre grip, this base Audi feels rewardingly agile and superbly light on turn-in to a bend.

A major downside to this, however, is ride quality that is far too stiff and occasionally abrupt. An A3 with independent rear suspension (IRS) starts from $39,900 (plus orc) in carry-over 1.4-litre turbo guise, and it provides among the most supple chassis settings of any car for the price.

Audi has worked hard over the past decade to banish the overly hard suspension settings it once forced onto most of its range – so it’s disappointing to see a retrograde step made, particularly in an expensive small car.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Audi A3 range scored 36.41 out of 38 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2013.

Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.

Servicing: Audi’s three-year/45,000km servicing package includes three dealer checks, one every year or 15,000km, for a total $1680 – or a higher-than-average $560 each.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

A 1 Series is the driver’s choice in the segment, while the A-Class dominates for fashion and form, although it’s ultimately a bit underdone. A Golf frankly creams all of these models for driveability and value, while even outgunning the BMW and Benz – if not this Audi – for high-end finish.

  • BMW 1 Series
  • Mercedes-Benz A-Class
  • Volkswagen Golf

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

Price and options aside for a moment, the Audi A3 1.0 TFSI Sportback is a likeable small car with a less-is-more character that is very persuasive.

Lighter in weight, delivering great real-world economy without a driveability sacrifice, and providing utterly superb interior quality rather than being jammed with glitzy equipment items – these are all impressive things.

The standard screen and nav, and climate controls, are also enough to have occupants thinking you’ve bought a much more expensive Audi. Objectively, however, the 1.0 TFSI Sportback not only offers less kit and reduced performance compared with a Golf, but also inferior ride comfort and with inflated options pricing.

The facelifted A3 remains an excellent range, but the $4000 spend to the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is worth it for the superior ride alone. In this case, base isn’t quite best.

MORE: Audi News and Reviews
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Audi A1 Models – Prices, Features and Specifications

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