First Drives

16 November 2012

First drive: Audi A3 Sportback

Ingolstadt’s newest hatch gets more length, more doors, and more Facebook…

Vijay Pattni
Car image

Dear, why are you showing me a picture of the old Audi A3?

Dear, The Internet, this isn't the old Audi A3. This is the new Audi A3. Specifically, the new Audi A3 Sportback. It's the five-door version of Ingolstadt's new hatchback. And yes, it looks a lot like the old one. Audi prefers conservative evolution for its model range. But look closely at the Sportback - it's like the old five-door after a gym session.

A five-door hatchback? That sounds very sensible.

That's because it is. And you lot love practical, because Audi expects this Sportback to account for two out of every three A3s sold. Clearly, you purchase a car like this wearing your Sergeant Sensible stripes. It's 58mm longer than the old Audi A3 Sportback, and 35mm longer than it's three-door brother. A whole 35mm doesn't sound like much, but in the rear it's the difference between being kneecapped and being able to enjoy long walks with your dog. And you wouldn't want to upset your dog, would you?

What about the boot?

Yes, it has one.

But how big is it?

It's 30 litres bigger than the three-door Audi A3. So if you have 380 litres of stuff to transport rather than 350, you're in for a treat.

Haven't those extra doors and added practicality added weight?

Yes. In the 1.6-litre TDI, weight over the three-door has increased by 55kgs. The 2.0-litre TDI Sport weighs in at 1,385kg, which is 105kg heavier than the three-door equivalent. But, the A3 Sportback is still lighter than rival five-doored hatchbacks from BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and even Lexus.

So what do I tell my helmeted, racing-suited Nürburgring enthusiast friend?

Tell him to buy an Ariel Atom. But if you have other friends less concerned with apexes, tell them this is a fine, superbly built and cosseting Audi. The extra weight and length fail to detract from the A3 Sportback's solid new underpinnings - that'll be the MQB thingamabob. Remember, this MQB - or Modularer Querbaukasten - is essentially a Lego set for transverse, front-engined platforms in the VW Group, from which innumerable Group models will be built each year.

So to drive, it's much like the three-door A3. The steering is accurate and even whispers rude words into your palms - just whispers, mind - while the SE suspension on our 2.0-litre TDI test car rode very well indeed over French tarmac. It gripped nicely, turned in as quick as you'd like, and felt generally comfortable to be in. But, opt for the S-Line suspension and you're in for a slightly rougher ride. You can opt for comfort springs with S-Line styling if you wish, like the car in these pictures. And you should tick this box repeatedly if you live in the UK.

The interior ambience is superlative too. Honestly, intergalactic aliens could be rampaging explosively across the planet, but from inside here, you'll only care about the impeccable cabin, and of course, being able to read your Facebook.

Facebook, really?

It's got a fantastic media interface that allows you to check Facebook, Twitter, online news, weather reports and even fuel prices, as part of ‘Audi Connect'. It's all on that lovely little 5.8in or 7in instrument panel. Audio's ace too.

So I should buy one, right?

You should certainly consider one very, very carefully. It's a competitive class, this premium hatch, and the BMW 1-Series and Mercedes A-Class both offer up sparkling alternatives. We'd err towards the Benz for style and the Bee-Em for its chassis. The Audi though, is a very good all-rounder.

Tags: audi, a3, a3 sportback

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