Road test: Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e
It’s not officially recognised as a mental disorder but trypophobia – the aversion to patterns or clusters of holes – can cause horror or even fear among those who suffer from it. I’m borderline: I won’t break out in sweat if I come across a picture of a bee’s honeycomb, a buttered crumpet or the head of a lotus flower, but I don’t linger over their beauty and majesty either. Not keen.
Which is why I was delighted that the Audi A3’s front end was out of sight every time I took to the road in it. Safely in the driver’s seat, of course, I didn’t have to behold its incredible modern headlamp display nor – importantly, so this road test makes sense – its oversized plastic mesh finish. It’s what we used to call a ‘radiator grille’, except nowadays they’re a big part of most cars’ designs. But the Audi’s is the size of a small country.
The German firm calls it a ‘Singleframe’, and there’s more honeycombing going on there than on a Cadbury’s Crunchie production line. Now I’m willing to accept that the problem is mine, and in fact most people I met while with the A3 told me, quite unprompted, how lovely they thought it looked. I mean, it is the height of modern design, especially as Audi has given it a recent make-over inside and out.
This is the fourth time Audi has upgraded its popular A3 and, 25 years since the first one rolled off the production line in 1996, this version of the premium quality five-door hatchback is the best and most high-tech yet. With that striking modern image outside, an angular and fully digitalised interior, powerful and efficient engine and electric motor and a raft of new and clever safety systems, this is the new look and feel of the A3 range. It’s quite different from its predecessors and yet instantly recognisable as an Audi. Vorsprung durch Technik and all that. On the road it’s a revelation in quietness and refinement. I had the 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid and I could hardly tell when it was in electric mode or petrol-driven, the refinement is that good.
Touch the throttle a little more and you’re definitely in engine power mode as the car whisks up the road with performance and style. It sits quite flat, soaking up bumps and undulations, and turns beautifully into corners, its ‘S tronic’ electronic automatic gearbox – controlled via a tiny lever – doing all the work for you. Audi’s TFSI four-cylinder petrol engine offers peak power on its own of 150 hp and more than 250 Nm of torque. It works with an electric motor which Audi has integrated into the housing of the six-speed transmission.
Together, the 1.4 TFSI and the 80 kW electric motor deliver 204 hp, combining to sprint the car from 0 to 62mph in 7.6 seconds on its way to a top speed of 141mph.
But drive it carefully and there’s savings to be had. A belt alternator starter (BAS) feeds a lithium-ion battery. When decelerating or braking, the BAS can recuperate up to 12 kW of power and feed it to an energy storage unit. When driving off, it assists the engine with power and even allows the car to coast with its engine deactivated for up to 40 seconds. All that adds up to official fuel consumption figures of 282 mpg and CO2 of just 25 g/km. The Audi can be charged using a home plug socket and takes four hours to fully replenish the battery. Inside there was a definite sporty feel to my S-Line specification car, complete with deep driver and front passenger seats (embossed with an ‘S’), neat, angular dashboard and instrument panel, and easy-to-use 10.1-inch touch display as standard.
The car is versatile and spacious for a compact car and would easily make a very accomplished family run-around. Five comfortable seats, plenty of head and legroom and a 380-litre boot space with changeable floor levels will take care of family chores. With all the sportiness, you have to remind yourself that this is a versatile family hatchback. Or a decent company car for the discerning business user. Who wouldn’t want to turn up at a meeting in one of these?
Just don’t arrive at the supermarket or convention centre car park when I’m standing there. If I see that front grille, I might look away in horror…
Audi make my kind of car. They’re lovely to look at and lovely to drive. I have owned three Audis myself and although this is a newer model, I can still feel similarities instantly and I instinctively knew where to go for controls. Well I found my way around the cockpit and instruments quickly – it’s intuitive, the switches on the steering wheel for example. I like the design of the A3, the combination of family-friendly car with room inside and a big boot, but with the sporty feel too. The whole electric/hybrid concept is brilliant – it’s silent and streamlined. The electric mode is quiet and good for the environment but once it goes into petrol mode it becomes sportier and grittier.
It looks fabulous, there’s lovely detailing on the stitching and the chrome trim. You hardly feel like you’re driving the car – it’s doing everything for you. All round a good looking and clever car.