The latest in a slew of what’s been an onslaught of new cars from the Bavarian premium car maker Audi is the A3. The A3 is more than just a new model. It takes on greater significance because it’s important not just for Audi’s traditionally strong markets like Germany, but also for China and the other emerging markets. The third-generation car is all set to expand the scope of this model by addressing the growing need for compact yet premium vehicles. The A3 already accounts for 20% of global Audi sales, and the new car will only increase that share, in my opinion.
I was on the Spanish island of Mallorca a few days ago to drive the latest A3. The car’s looks scream Audi with the trademark grille and headlights—complete with daytime running lights finished in signature LED style. The car has debuted in Europe as a three-door hatchback, but will also spawn other body styles. There will be a five-door hatch for starters, followed by a convertible and a four-door sedan. It’s that last one which naturally interests me from an Indian perspective.
Déjà vu: The third-generation car, A3, has the trademark Audi grille and headlights
In fact, Audi first indicated that a new generation of the A3 was coming at the Geneva Motor show in March 2011. At the time, the A3 concept shown was indeed a four-door sedan. The car’s proportions liken it to a VW Jetta- or Toyota Corolla-sized vehicle. It did, however, carry much more high-end equipment, more fitting for the premium space. So it’s essentially going to be the most affordable and compact sedan from Audi when it hits our shores. The Audi A3 will be positioned below the Q3, which will soon be the entry Audi model in India (Q3 debuts next month). This means Audi will eye a sub-Rs 20 lakh price tag with the A3 sedan.
The other reason I was very keen to get a closer look at the A3 is because it’s the first car from the Volkswagen group using Modularer Querbaukasten or MQB, which loosely translates to Modular Transverse Matrix. This is essentially a range of transverse-front-engined, front-wheel-drive cars built using a similar set of components. Of course, all-wheel drive or Quattro, as Audi calls it, is also possible. This means that unlike before, when a platform could spawn many cars—but of similar size or segment— MQB allows the same platform to now house small, medium and big cars, and also crossovers or SUVs. That means more efficiency in manufacturing and cost-competitiveness in the long term.
There are several engine options available on the A3 in Europe, and this includes diesels and petrols. Audi will launch the 1.6 TDI diesel a few months later and that’s an all-new engine. There is also the familiar 2-litre TDI. The petrol options include the 1.8 TFSI—which is the car I drove—and the 1.4 TFSI. This smaller petrol engine will also feature cylinder deactivation. This means one of the engine’s cylinders will shut off when the car doesn’t need extra power—thereby lowering the engine’s displacement and increasing fuel efficiency. Audi also promises a plug-in hybrid variant of the A3 by 2014.
The inside look: The car has sporty seats, brushed metal and wood and taupe leather
In my opinion, the 1.6 TDI and the 1.4 TFSI would be best suited to India. Having driven the 1.8 TFSI extensively around the Mallorcan countryside, I have to say that it too would be a sporty and fun addition to the line-up. But to really get the attention and volumes Audi would want, it would have to stay humble on the engine side—to keep costs in check. The car handles well at high speeds, my test car also had paddle gear shift, which added to the fun quotient. The six-speed S-Tronic automatic gearbox in fact was also as expected, with quick and smooth changes. Some of the A3 variants also sport the seven-speed S-Tronic transmission, while others offer a six-speed manual too.
Inside the cabin, it is typical Audi territory. Black sporty seats and brushed metal, or wood and taupe leather. The car I drove was finished in the S-Line trim—which means a slightly sportier profile, but that’s not standard. In fact Audi is offering three trims. “Attraction” has a manual AC and is basic—so I don’t expect that in India. “Ambition” has Audi drive select (adjustable throttle response, suspension and damper settings) and sports seats as standard. The top end is “Ambiente”, which has things like parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, etc., as standard.
In fact, lots of gadgets have made their way down from the bigger Audis to the A3 for the first time—so you have cameras and radars to help you with lane changes, blind spot warnings, collision warning systems, and that very competent adaptive cruise control.
So let me end by expressing the hope that Audi launches this car in India with very aggressive pricing. Not simply because it will bring the company those higher sales that I mentioned, but also so that many more aspiring premium car owners find one to suit their budget. Of course if it were left to just me, we’d also get the three- and five-door hatchbacks! But that is unlikely. The official Audi line is that the sedan will only launch in 2014. But given the pressure from India and other emerging markets, I get the feeling that there are some within the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany, who are pushing for a 2013 debut. I hope they prevail!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor, Auto, NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org