Singapore - It isn't easy trying to beat the last generation Audi A3 Sedan's winning formula in Singapore. It was an affordable family sedan with stellar fuel economy and a Category A COE compliant powertrain, all of which helped it to become the top-selling vehicle in Audi Singapore’s range.
So what's this new one like, but more importantly, how does it differ from its predecessor?
For starters, it looks the absolute business. To casual observers, this Tango Red sedan could almost be mistaken for a sporty variant thanks to the rims and the aesthetic cues.
There’s a massively updated cabin with the latest tech goodies from Audi, a bigger and more powerful engine, and a trick mild-hybrid powertrain that somehow manages to toe the line between power and fuel economy. But more on that later.
This brand spanking new Audi A3 is quite the looker. Even standing still, the squat stance and broad shoulders exude an air of sportiness that was absent in the previous iteration.
Audi’s distinctive 'Singleframe' honeycomb grille takes prime position up front, flanked by two non-functional vents with satin silver surrounds, which are reminiscent of the brand's high-performance 'S' and 'RS' models.
The standard LED headlamps on the A3 are much more angular, with both the front headlamps and rear taillights imbued with design cues and lighting elements borrowed from the larger Audi models.
However, there's none of the flashy LED welcome animation (or 'light sequencing' in Audi-speak) we’ve grown accustomed to from the larger Audi models that come with the optional matrix headlights.
The rear bumper gets the same faux vent treatment, with a satin chrome strip running across the bottom half of the bumper to accentuate the car's width.
The new A3's side profile shares some similarities with its predecessor, albeit with wider hips and more angular creases in the sheet metal.
Our test car was shod in optional 18-inch Audi Sport rims wrapped in 225-section Pirelli rubber, which fill the arches convincingly and give a boost to the base model's sporty aspirations.
Of course, one could say there are cheaper variants offered by brands lower in the VW Group hierarchy that share the same MQB Evo platform as the A3.
(Click HERE to read our first drive review of the 2021 Volkswagen Mk8 Golf 1.5 eTSI R-Line)
(Click HERE to read our first drive review of the 2021 Skoda Octavia Mk4 1.5 TSI e-TEC)
However, no one looks to an Audi because it's the cheapest, but rather because of all the qualities we've come to expect from the brand. The Audi treatment to any model injects an air of poshness to the proceedings that includes design, as well as tech and tactile elements to create a real class act.
Granted, the A3 would have to be the most elegantly tarted up and well-finished among the MQB Evo cars given its S$167k price point. And without a shadow of a doubt, it is.
If the 'Lamborghini-esque' styling cues aren’t enough of an indicative factor of the improvements made to this new A3, the interior should convince you.
The cabin of the A3 is decidedly more posh and upmarket than the other similarly classed offerings from the VW Group, with a wraparound dash that puts the driver front and centre of all the action.
With the 10.1-inch MMI infotainment screen and highly customisable virtual cockpit gauge cluster, the cockpit is almost fully digitalised, save for important functions that are still served by physical switchgear (instead of nesting them under many sub-menus), which is something we appreciated.
Some of the few digital interactions with the A3 is with the MMI touch display (which is running Audi’s latest MIB 3 OS) and a rotary volume touch dial on the centre console.
Everything else, from the climate controls to the drive mode and driver-assist systems, as well as the steering wheel controls are operated by way of physical buttons.
While these analogue touches mean the A3 isn't as 'minimalist' as other cars in the segment, they do prove incredibly useful when you’re on the road and on the move.
At the heart of this compact sedan is a 1.5-litre four-pot that produces 150hp and 250Nm.
Unlike its predecessor, these figures aren't modest enough to fit within the Category A COE band. However, we should qualify that the Cat A to Cat B price differentiation isn't as significant as before, and shouldn't be that big a deal for people looking to enjoy the Audi experience.
Happily enough, the car qualifies for a VES Band A2 rating, which contributes to its fairly competitive price.
The A3 Sedan may be Audi's smallest sedan, but it proves spritely yet surprisingly frugal, is feature-packed with tech toys and offers a level of usability that belie its compact proportions.
A crucial element to the car’s frugality: an 48V mild hybrid system. While cruising, the engine is able to shut two cylinders at low load, or shut down the engine entirely by relying on the car’s inertia to keep it coasting.
Even under braking, the engine shuts off akin to a typical stop/start system, but fires up seamlessly as the belt-driven alternator starter fires everything to life and lets you peel off the line quicker than its performance figures would suggest.
All of this is done in such an intuitive manner, you’d be forgiven if you miss it.
Now, similar systems have been employed in numerous other cars. Case in point, the start-stop system in the preceding A3.
This new one does it more frequently but yet so seamlessly that I often found myself unaware that the cylinders have been deactivated until I glance down at my rev counter.
But the 48V MHEV system doesn’t just work towards reducing fuel consumption, it also gives the engine a supplementary boost of 50Nm that gives you a quick hit at low revs.
This trick MHEV system isn't a gimmick and it does deliver in terms of both power and fuel economy.
I took the car on a two-way PIE expedition over my usual driving roads to/from the office and home and I managed to eke out 5.9l/100km from the hybridised four-pot.
Not once did I wish the car had more grunt or more speed. As is, the new Audi A3 is an incredibly competent car that can handle everything from mundane driving duties to spirited drives through narrow twisting back roads.
The brand new Audi A3 is in no stretch of the imagination a performance car, but it does have great bones and an excellent chassis, which bodes very well for the coming S3 and RS3 variants.
At the very core, this A3 Sedan is a compact luxury sedan that delivers excellent fuel economy, but it is no stranger to having fun. And hey, a little fun never hurt anybody.
PHOTOS Jay Tee
Audi A3 Sedan 1.5 TFSI S tronic
Engine 1498cc, inline4, turbo
Transmission 7spd dual-clutch
Top Speed 224km/h
Fuel Consumption 4.8l/100km (combined)