2017 Audi A3 First Drive Review

Audi’s compact sedan gets a new petrol motor and substantial updates in what is supposed to be a mid-life facelift


2017 Audi A3 35 TFSI Front Quarter



The Audi A3 is one of the most affordable cars from the German automaker. Its compact dimensions, responsive motor and great driving dynamics does make the car an appealing option for the enthusiasts. When it was first launched in 2014, it left us quite impressed with its fun-to-drive nature. Fast forward to today and the car standing in front of us is the new and improved (refreshed) Audi A3. It boasts a host of upgrades but the engine we’re not sure can be considered one. 


2017 Audi A3 Front Focus



How does it look?

For starters, it looks a lot similar to the A4 now thanks to the redesigned LED DRLs. The car that we got, featured all LED headlamps as well, though it is not a part of the standard kit. It now sports the hexagonal ‘Diamond-inspired’ single frame grille as a part of the family design. The front bumper has been redesigned and features slimmer air vents that lend a sporty appeal to the styling. The shoulder line is more prominent and at the rear, the tail lamps retain their shape but the detailing is now different and also boast dynamic turn indicators, like the ones on the new A4


Audi A3 Facelift - Rear



The rear bumper has been given an overhaul as well and now looks a bit more aggressive and sporty. Panoramic sunroof though is standard across the range. It also now runs on new 16-inch alloys shod with Bridgestone or Michelin rubber.


2017 Audi A3 Dashboard



Is it just the face then?

Nope, the cabin has been redone as well though not as extensively but the subtle touches do enhance the in-car experience of the Audi. First, you can choose between the beige-black or all-black interior (looks better), which is draped in Milano leather and soft feel material. The cabin feels premium and upmarket; yet it falls just short of its chief rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLA. The seats feel supremely comfortable and the driver and passenger seats are electrically adjustable. There is no dearth of space especially headroom. Overall, it’s not the most spacious cabin out there but it’s certainly more spacious than the CLA. And the panoramic sunroof only adds to the feeling of space inside. Seating three in the rear is still a squeeze but it can seat four average-sized adults with ease. 


Audi A3 Facelift - Instrument Cluster

The 4-spoke steering has been ditched in favour of a sportier 3-spoke one which can be adjusted for rake and reach making the perfect driving position easy to find. The instrument cluster is the same as before with analogue clocks flanking the Multi Information Display (MID). There is no Virtual Cockpit like on the A4 but the display is easy to read and intuitive to operate. The centre dash design remains relatively unaltered barring one crucial change, the 7.0-inch MMI screen. The screen is now retractable - though a novelty feature, It’s quite cool to see the screen pop out and greet you as you get in and turn on the ignition. The system itself has been upgraded. The interface is intuitive and easy to get accustomed to. The display and graphics have been upgraded for a more dynamic look.  


Audi A3 Facelift - MMI Screen



Most functions like navigation and phonebook can be accessed via voice commands. Also, it now recognises voice suggestions or natural commands . For example, if you say ‘I need fuel’, the navigation system will show you the nearest fuel stations in almost an instant. Plus, you don’t need to sound like James Dean to make it work; it recognises our flat accents. Plus, like the A4, the A3 also features the phone with inductive charging for QI enabled phones. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are yet unavailable but you rarely ever miss them.


Audi A3 Facelift - Boot



It also features a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, rear AC vents and parking sensors front and rear. The CLA does get the camera but misses out on all other features including climate control. What’s more, unlike in the CLA, the space saver sits under the boot floor making the 425-litre boot of the A3 quite usable. 


2017 Audi A3 Engine Bay



What was that you said about the engine?

There are two engine options, a petrol and a diesel but let’s start with the newer one, the petrol. On paper it looks like you’ve been short changed since the engine has been downsized from 1.8 litres to a 1.4-litre 4-cylinder TFSI engine but the sentiment would be misplaced. It is a full 100kg lighter than the 1.8 from before and the difference in weight does reflect in the dynamics of the car.


2017 Audi A3 35 TFSI Front Quarter




Yes, there is a power deficit of 30PS, down to 150PS from 180PS but the torque rating remains identical at 250Nm. Plus what you lose in power you gain in fuel efficiency which is claimed to be 19.2kmpl. Start the engine and you are hardpressed to hear it. On more than one occasion we were left wondering if the engine was even running. It also features COD or cylinder on demand technology which essentially shuts down two of the cylinders depending on the load on the car. The engine is mated to a 7-speed S tronic transmission which powers the front wheels. Sadly though, it doesn’t come with paddle shifters even as an option. 


Audi A3 Facelift - Rear

The diesel on the other hand is the same as before. The 2.0-litre TDI makes 143PS of max power and 320Nm of peak torque. It is as refined as diesel motors go but the petrol engine makes this one feel rather crude. This one is mated to a 6-speed S tronic unit and claims a fuel efficiency of 20.38kmpl which is barely 1kmpl more than the petrol. 


Audi A3 Facelift - Dynamic



Did you drive it?

Hell yes we did and we have to say, the petrol engine is nothing short of a work of art. On the move it feels light to maneuver and surefooted. At lower revs you’re hardpressed to hear the engine though it does get quite vocal as you climb up the revs and really makes itself heard around the 4500-5000rpm mark. Yes, the run to 100kmph takes almost a second longer, 8.2 seconds compared to 7.3 seconds from before but the smoothness of the engine more than makes up for the power deficit. It’s also very sensitive to throttle inputs making driving in the city a breeze. Even at full clip, it’s only the sound that fills the cabin not vibrations. Though past 5000rpm it does tend to run out of steam. The 7-speed S tronic works impeccably and the shifts are unnoticeable at sedate speeds and felt only when you add weight on to the right pedal. And even then, they are almost instantaneous and never jerky. Paddle shifters are sorely missed though, especially when you start pushing the car, your fingers instinctively look for the paddles behind the steering but find only air. 


Audi A3 Facelift - Dynamic

Even on the highway, it can comfortably sit at 100kmph in seventh gear with the tacho barely nudging 2000rpm. The ride is pliant and comfortable thanks to a well-tuned suspension. It takes most undulations in its stride and even the slightly bigger bumps are seldom heard and rarely felt. The car feels surefooted and stable in the corners. The brakes, too, work well and provide plenty of bite and feel. But the chassis setup is letdown by the steering which is completely devoid of feedback. In a car that’s meant to be self driven, it leaves a lot to be desired. 


2017 Audi A3 Interior



The diesel, on the other hand, feels slightly heavier to drive mainly due to the weight on the steering. The throttle though is just as sensitive and the gearbox too is compliant. The strong mid-range torque of the diesel does make it a great highway cruiser and promises to be frugal as well. However, the engine does hit a wall after 4000rpm as it refuses to gain speed with urgency. That said, the engine is as refined as diesels go as no vibes seep into the cabin even with the throttle all the way down. Our only gripe with it would have to be the engine noise that constantly reminds you that you’re driving a diesel. 


2017 Audi A3 35 TFSI Badge



What’s the verdict then?

Well, the A3 surely makes a great case for itself. It is much better equipped than its rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLA (read review here), it rides really well and that petrol engine raises the bar of what you should expect from the segment. The only complain with the car would be the design. It is a tad too understated and Audi’s target market, the young professionals of India generally prefer a more flamboyant design. And that is where the CLA has a slight advantage *cough* frameless windows *cough*. However, with the customers now deviating to petrol engines (the A4 petrol has been outselling the diesel by a huge margin), Audi’s 1.4 with its responsive nature, refinement levels and frugality, 19.2kmpl compared to CLA’s 15.9kmpl, could tip the scales in Audi’s favour. All that remains to be seen now is the pricing which we expect to be between Rs 25-30 lakh.

Audi A3 Video Review

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