Cape Town – With the absence of the mainline Volkswagen Golf range in South Africa, the Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI has been given more of an edge in the compact hatchback segment. Local market trends dictate that crossovers have become a more popular choice for many motorists which is why heroic badges such as the Golf, Astra and Megane have diminished. The German trio however, remains committed.
Bringing more of a premium reputation to this segment is the fourth-generation Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI which boasts a price-tag of R585 000. This is not far off from the previous-generation model’s R563 910 asking price. Albeit, the new generation is largely unchanged with it sitting on the group’s MQB platform and still putting the EA221 to good use. The turbopetrol 1,4-litre four-cylinder mill retains its 110 kW power output but, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission has been swapped out for an eight-speed torque converter.
From behind the wheel, the age of this engine is becoming quite apparent in comparison to the more modern units fitted to its rivals but, thanks to a rather proficient torque converter, the responsiveness is impressive in both urban and freeway conditions. More noticeable in extra-urban driving conditions is how this drivetrain elevates the Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI into a more refined hatch. The aggressive shifts of the previous dual-clutch are replaced with a more seamless transition of cogs which translates to a less spirited but more sophisticated drive.
With it still riding on the MQB chassis and boasting a set of larger 18-inch alloy wheels with the sports suspension, via the R21 000 Sports Package, the ride of the Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI didn’t quite match the drivetrain. Over common South African urban surfaces, the ride is frustratingly choppy and firm and thus not as satisfying to pilot as its modern competitors. Where it gains points however, is its dynamic prowess through the corners and an engaging steering system, further enhanced by the R2 000 sports contour leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The primary focus of the new-generation Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI is the redesigned interior where many elements from its recently launched SA-bound E-Tron range have been implemented. With special mention to design, the new cockpit certainly gives the feel of a new-generation model primarily thanks to the Audi virtual cockpit and infotainment plus which falls part of the R33 500 Technology Package. Both systems are conclusive, slick and easy to operate, making for a satisfactory digital experience from the driver’s seat. Angular trims across the dashboard and doors transition this once contemporary interior into a futuristic environment, further accentuated by an appealing and highly customisable ambient lighting feature.
The new tray of climate control buttons that replace the collection of knobs and dials further provides the dashboard with a cleaner look but a distinctive character of the design is lost with the omission of the round air vents.
Perceived quality of the cabin feels on par with the previous-generation model but there is a noticeable increase in the use of plastic trims and surfaces scattered about which unfortunately cheapens the feel of what looks like a very upmarket cabin. Thankfully all of the buttons and controls remain robust and tactile in feel. One piece of equipment that does take some time to get used to is the minimalist gear selector but once you become familiar with its positioning, adaption is not too dramatic.
Overall NVH of the cabin is again, on-par with the previous generation model which is by no means a criticism. The Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI does translate a somewhat droning engine note at cruising speeds but overall sound insulation is impressive as wind and tyres noise is maintained at an appropriate level.
The premium compact hatchback segment within is in dire straits given the massive uptake in crossovers and SUVs. It’s for this exact reason that Volkswagen decided opted to offer the Golf in GTI and R-guise exclusively, leaving more lifestyle-minded consumers may consider the T-Roc. The Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI fills this void appropriately, if you can stretch to its R585 000 purchase price before ticking some options.