Calling the new Audi A3 Sportback a rich man’s Golf would be doing the Ingolstadt newcomer a big injustice… With a striking profile, superb finishes and potent powerplants, the A3 Sportback throws down the gauntlet to BMW’s 1 Series.

By Mike Fourie, News Ed.
Calling the new Audi A3 Sportback a rich man’s Golf would be doing the Ingolstadt newcomer a big injustice… With a striking profile, superb finishes and potent powerplants, the A3 Sportback throws down the gauntlet to BMW’s 1 Series in the domestic premium hatchback market.
Audi South Africa has sold more than 10 000 A3s since the latest sub-compact was launched in South Africa late in 2003, but relatively conservative styling matched with an exclusively three-door configuration limited the model’s appeal.
The A3 Sportback is not just a five-door option in the A3 model range, but constitutes a kind of “designer wagon”. Although it has the same wheelbase and similar width and height as its three-door sibling, it is 83 millimetres longer. And the longer overhangs, sweeping roofline and Audi’s new corporate single-frame grille have given the new arrival a youthful, sporty image – hence it being labelled Sportback rather than the more mature Avant title.
Moreover, the Sportback has an impressive amount of rear legroom, and its luggage compartment has a capacity of 370 dm3 (1 120 dm3 with the asymmetrically-split rear seatback folded down). In addition to redesigned rear light clusters, the three-quarter window is a characteristic feature of the car’s side view, where the lower and upper horizontal lines flow closer together.
The range comprises the 2,0 FSI four-cylinder (110 kW and 200 N.m), 2,0 TDI four-cylinder turbodiesel (103 kW and 320 N.m), 2,0T FSI four-cylinder (147 kW and 280 N.m), and range-topping 3,2 V6 developing 184 kW and 320 N.m – all mated with 6-speed manual gearboxes. A six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission can be selected for the 2,0 FSI, and DSG is optional on the 2,0 TDI, 2,0T FSI and 3,2 V6 quattro models.
On the road, I found the sporty-yet-compliant character of the Sportback’s suspension (McPherson strut/wishbones up front, and a four-link rear axle), came to the fore. The new A3’s ride is on the suppler side of sporty, and the handling – aided by the standard 17-inch rims and tyres, no doubt – is predictable and direct. The electro-mechanical steering (with speed-dependent power assistance) is sharp, but the feedback through the wheel is, as is the case with most modern cars, moderate.
But make no mistake, the A3 Sportback is a smile-a-mile chuckable little car, especially the 2,0T FSI, which shares its powerplant with the recently launched Volkswagen Golf GTI. Mated with an electro-hydraulic twin-clutch (DSG) transmission, the 2,0T, which offers peak torque from 1 800 to 5 000 r/min, provided a raspy and eager engine note, and swift, yet smooth, gear changes via the steering-mounted paddle shift selectors.
Flinging a manual version of the 184 kW 3,2 V6 quattro up the Franschhoek Pass was an absolute pleasure. Audi claims a zero to 100 km/h time of 6,3 seconds and a limited top speed 250 km/h for this model, but the car feels more distinguished and cultured than its boy-racer performance figures might suggest.
The quattro all-wheel drive system offers arguably class-leading levels of traction. Arrive into a bend too quickly (in other words, if you leave the braking just a touch late), and the 3,2 stays on course, sticking to the asphalt like a leech. When you get back on the power, the 3,2 will bolt out of the corner with a beefy burble.
All Sportback models are finished in Ambition trim. The interior design is neat and tidy, and rather typical of modern Audi models – the instrument binnacle and hemispherical air vents protrude above the otherwise architectural cabin layout, which includes aluminium door handles and angled arm rests.
Standard specification includes sports seats at the front, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, electrically operated front and rear windows, remote central locking, ASR traction control, a three-spoke leather-covered steering wheel, foglights, trip computer, and a sun blind on the cargo cover.
The 2,0 FSI and 2,0 TDI offer cloth as standard, with full leather or leather/alcantara available as options. These models are also equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, with a selection of 17-inch wheels and sports suspension as options.
In addition to the features of the FSI and TDI models, the 2,0T FSI and 3,2 V6 quattro get ESP traction and stability control, leather upholstery, sports suspension, 17-inch wheels, front seats with active head restraints, optical and acoustic belt fastening reminders, front and side airbags for the front occupants, and the Sideguard head-level airbags system.
Oddments stowage includes storage nets on the front seat backrests, a storage compartment beneath the driver's seat, a map compartment in the glove box, storage nets at the front of the centre console, bag hooks beneath the luggage compartment, a net that is fastened to the boot floor or the rear-seat backrest, and a small-items net to one side of the boot. An auxiliary power socket is located in the luggage area.
Highlights of the options list include the sports suspension (which lowers the entire body by 15 millimetres and makes the suspension and damping more dynamic), an “open sky” large-area glass roof that is glazed all the way from the windscreen to the rear window (both front and rear occupants have a roller blind for protection against direct sunlight), xenon headlights with a cleaning system and automatic dynamic headlight range control, interior mirror with automatic anti-dazzle function, auto-on sensors for the headlights and wipers, coming/leaving-home headlights, cruise control, acoustic parking system, navigation system (from October, includes DVD drive and 6½-inch colour monitor), Bose sound system, mobile cellphone preparation with Bluetooth compatibility, and seat heating.
The vehicle is available in 15 colours, from Arctic White to Brilliant Black and from Toucan Yellow to Deep Green metallic, with three versions available at no extra charge. Dakar Beige metallic, a new addition to the A3 model range, is reserved exclusively for the Sportback.
Prices:

2,0 FSI ambition 6-speed manual R219 500

2,0 FSI ambition 6-speed tiptronic R232 500

2,0 T FSI ambition 6-speed manual R255 000

2,0 T FSI ambition 6-speed DSG® R271 000

3,2 V6 quattro 6-speed manual R324 500

3,2 V6 quattro 6-speed DSG R340 500

2,0 TDI ambition 6-speed manual R242 000

2,0 TDI ambition 6-speed DSG R258 000