Confident Audi adds to A3 line

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The Audi A3 sedan. Photos supplied

A growing international desire for premium four-door compact cars and a Kiwi fervour for petite performance rockets leaves Audi confident about the local prospects for the latest additions to the A3 line.

The arrival of a sedan and an S-level performance opportunity, embracing the new shape as well as the familiar Sportback, has made for an exciting start to the year for the European Motor Distributors holding.

A sedan edition of this core car isn't quite a case of the four circles going full circle, as the A3 has only ever been in hatchback form.

However, the just-landed booted model can nonetheless be viewed as a trip down memory lane, in that it is almost the same size as the first-generation A4 of 1995. It is also slightly longer and wider than the Sportback five-door that has been here for more than a year, and luggage capacity at 425 litres is 45 litres more.

Though primarily conceived for sedan-centric China, America and Russia, Audi NZ expects the sedan to be a key to kicking mainstream A3 sales above 400 units this year, almost 100 ahead of the 2013 count.

It also sees growth potential within this new branch of the family. The two front-drive editions here now, a 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel, both at $62,000, will be joined in May by an $86,000 S3.

There's also potential for us to see the entry $48,400/$51,900 (Sport) 1.4 petrol hatch replicated in booted form. More intriguing news is the possibility that the mainstream editions of both shapes will come with Quattro four-wheel drive, which is presently restricted to the performance models.

Audi New Zealand boss Dean Sheed says both are merely a phone call away. ''We can get them if we want them, no problem. It's easy to turn on the tap.''

The 1.4 Sportback has already proven itself, achieving 80 sales last year, and Sheed agrees a similar sedan, if placed at around $55,000, could pull new customers, but adds that further understanding of customer thinking is required; while there's clear global movement away from large body shapes towards more compact offerings, this downsizing is often more about vehicle dimension than cubic capacity. So far, market research indicates the 1.8- and 2.0-litre offer the best initial potential.

The regular sedans carry a $6000 premium over the equivalent hatch model, in part because they take a technology pack optional to the Sportback, delivering sat nav, a rear-view camera and parking sensors. A $5000 S-Line visual enhancement adds extra glam and 18-inch wheels. Also available are full leather, a 14-speaker sound system and technology aids such as adaptive cruise control, a self-parking system and lane assist.

The 1.8 TFSI S tronic's turbocharged four-cylinder makes 0kmh-100kmh in 7.3sec and a claimed 5.6 litres per 100km. The 2.0 diesel is 1.1sec slower to the highway limit but returns a combined consumption of just 4.5 litres/100km (0.2 litres/100km better than the 1.4). The petrol sits behind a seven-speed direct-shift automated manual transmission, while the diesel has a six-speed automatic.

The new A3 sedan still stands comfortable scrutiny against the current A4, to the degree where there's thought it will dilute attention from the entry A4 models with the same engines that respectively cost $8000 and $13,000 more. Before getting too excited, check out the rear legroom; that's where the 35cm-longer A4 comfortably still wins.

Cabin design for the A3 sedan forward of the driver is largely A3 hatch identical, meaning the same perception of high quality and a distinctly premium feel. Audi's MMI (multimedia interface) infotainment system is intuitive, but the sat nav favours major roads.

The S3 sedan was still to hit New Zealand showrooms when we drove the range, but Audi did provide a preview of the Sportback version that's expected to account for two-thirds of type volume this year.

This edition itself will surely ignite performance passion, despite a quite subtle visual dress-up over the standard A3.

Enhanced torque that peaks at just 1800rpm really enhances the punch, as reflected by the 0kmh-100kmh time of 4.9sec. The first-time addition of a launch-mode function to facilitate snappy getaways also shows that the S is more seriously sporty now.

This becomes obvious on any challenging road, when an emergent throatiness to the soundtrack is accompanied by significant scenery-blurring surge and breathtakingly smart corner-exiting.

The S3's dynamic qualities are enhanced by using the Drive Select system to activate dynamic mode. This setting does make the car uncomfortably jiggly on poor surfaces, but is also zestier, since this utmost setting sharpens the throttle response, steering and gearbox, and even making for crisper shifts in full manual mode. It sounds throatier, too.

Most S3 hatches sold this year will have the ''technology'' and ''sports'' optional packages, each priced at $3500. The technology pack delivers sat nav, front parking sensors and a reversing camera. The sports pack adds LED headlights, competition-look seats and magnetic ride damper control.

The S3 line expands next year to include a ''plus'' edition with more pep - reportedly a massive 249kW and 499Nm, which is at fighting weight with the previous RS3, whose now-retired five-pot 2.5 made 250kW/450Nm.

The next RS3 will land in 2015.

The trigger for these power games has been the 265kW/450Nm Mercedes Benz A45 AMG hatch and CLA 45 AMG sedan. Audi has just hired the engineer who designed the Benz engine.

Confident Audi adds to A3 line
At a Glance
Audi A3 sedan and S3 sedan/hatch

Price: Sedan $62,000; S3 $79,990 (hatch), $86,000 (sedan).

Engines: 1968cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel, maximum power 110kW@3500-4000rpm, maximum torque 320Nm@1750-3000rpm; 1798cc four-cylinder direct injection turbo petrol, maximum power 132kW@5100-6200rpm, maximum torque 250Nm@1250-5000rpm; S3 1984cc four-cylinder direct injection turbo petrol, maximum power 221kW@5500-6200rpm, maximum torque 380Nm@1800-5500rpm.

Transmissions: A3 diesel, six-speed automatic; A3 petrol, seven-speed direct shift; S3, six-speed direct shift.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc/drum sedan, disc/disc S3 brakes, ABS, EBD, ASR, EDL.

Wheels, tyres: A3, 225/45 R17; S3, 225/40 R18.

Fuel and economy: A3 diesel 4.5/A3 petrol 5.6/S3 6.9 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 50 litres.

Dimensions (sedan/hatch): Length 4456/4324mm, width 1796/1785mm, height 1416/1511mm.