VOLUMES! A word key to every industry. All companies thrive to sell more than one another. Yes, profitability is another core focus, but being #1 in churning out the maximum is one never ending race. And this is also the case in the luxury car market in India. Dominated by the German giants such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz & BMW, the luxury car spare is gaining popularity in India with sales reports showing a positive report year-on-year. With competition getting stiffer, and lower end manufacturers offering creature comforts which can put luxury saloons to shame & the German giants are are now on the product offensive to reach out to a wider audience. How? By offering cars which are smaller in size but big on snob value. This is where the compact luxury car space comes into play. A couple of years back, Mercedes-Benz and BMW created this segment by launching the A-Class, B-Class & the 1-Series. While this made owning the luxury brands more accessible or cheaper, the Indian buyer couldn’t relate well with a Rs. 30 lakh small car. Audi meanwhile was fence-sitting and watching this story unfold. Then, BANG! Audi struck gold when they announced they will introduce the A3 in India, but a sedan version. This created quite a ripple in the industry with other D2 segment Japanese rivals seeing the end of their story. Priced lower than the A-Class & 1-Series, the Audi A3 sedan went on to become the most popular Audi product in India propelling the sales numbers to the #1 spot in 2014. There might be other cars in the market which are cheaper and offer more space and bang for the buck, but the option of owning a luxury brand simply blew away competition from other bread & butter brands.
First launched in a regular sedan avatar, Audi now offers the A3 in a 2-door drop-top convertible variant as well. The A3 is a fairly new brand in India, but it came to life way back in 1996. The A3 we currently have on sale is the third generation model based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform. This allows a lot of part sharing between Audi, Skoda & Volkswagen resulting in extremely competitive pricing. Slotting in as the cheapest Audi in India, the car does look a little plain Jane, but the clean and timeless design will surely hold its ground against new competition. While it enjoyed the first mover advantage, the rival product Mercedes-Benz CLA has also made it to the Indian streets. While the CLA might look stunning, it also demands a noticeable amount of premium for that, which gives Audi the competitive price advantage. The A3 is locally assembled at the Aurangabad facility in Maharashtra and is the 6th Audi product to be locally assembled in India. So does this cheapest luxury sedan in India deliver more than just snob value? Can it fend off competition from rival brands and other D2 segment Japanese sedans? We took a brand new A3 out on the streets in Mumbai to find out…
One look at the Audi A3 and it is clearly evident that this is a small sedan. From all sides, there is no mistaking the car for anything else except for an Audi. It shares the typical Audi styling of clean understated lines. Everything about the exterior profile is typical European. The A3 measures 4,456mm in length, 1,796mm in width, 1,416mm in height and has a wheelbase of 2,637mm. Flat, wide & compact sum up the A3’s exterior profile well. Solid build quality, top notch body paint, consistent shut-lines make sure that the car looks premium at first glance.
At the front, the Audi A4 sports a multi slat grille with a chrome surround. We like that Audi has made less use of chrome and offered it only as a surround and not on every horizontal slat. The dipped nose is typical of Audi and adds to the sporty character. Headlamps get LED DRLs and bi-xenon projectors on higher models while the lower variant gets a twin-pot conventional headlamp without DRLs. The trapezoidal front fog lamps are neatly integrated next to a honeycomb design plastic panel. Below the front grille, you get another slit in the bumper. Front bumpers also get body coloured parking sensors & headlamp washers. The bonnet gets a couple of crease lines just to break the monotony.
On the side, the most noticeable feature is the chunky chrome strip around the window sills. This adds a lot to the premium appeal. B-pillar has been blacked out. The A3 gets pronounced wheel arches which add muscle to the side profile. These wheel arches are connected via a crease line flowing at the bottom of the doors. The waistline on the A3 runs all the way from the headlamp to the tail lamp and looks neat. Silver coloured 5-spoke, 17″ rims look sporty and fill the wheel well reasonable, although 18″ would would fill them up better. ORVMs are mounted on the door independently, a little behind the A-pillar and get LED turn indicators. Door handles are of the pull-type but Audi doesn’t offer true keyless entry via a request sensor on a car costing more than 3 million rupees, shocking. The A3 also gets a neat side skirt which makes the car appear much closer to the ground without hampering the ground clearance.
At the back, things are again typical Audi. The LED tail lamps look fantastic when illuminated at night. The A3 badge is slapped on the left while the engine badge ’35 TDI’ is slapped on the RHS of the boot lid. The boot also gets an integrated lip like raised spoiler effect on the edge. Rear bumper gets a black honeycomb plastic cladding on the lower end adding a lot to the sporty characteristics. The car sports dual exhaust tips on one side and also gets reflectors on the rear bumper. The parking sensors are body coloured and the reversing camera is mounted under the Audi badge. A body coloured sharkfin antenna sits on the roof above the rear windscreen. The A3 also gets a panaromic sunroof with the roof partially blacked out from the front. The A3 also gets a complete underbody protection.
If you park the A3, A4, A6 & A8 side by side, the cars look very similar to each other, except for the size. Exclusivity factor is also going to be limited with the A3 since the car is the most affordable German luxury car in India.
The Audi A3 is a slow slung sedan and one needs to duck to get in. Once inside the A3, the dashboard looks, well, empty. Design language on the A3 is very minimalistic and to some, it may even shout out as cost-cutting. The model we drove had beige & black interiors while all-black interiors are available as well. We prefer the beige interior colour scheme since it makes the cabin look bright and airy. With the A3’s compact dimensions, the all-black interiors might make things a little claustrophobic.
Wrapped in leather, the 4-spoke steering wheel is good to hold and gets integrated controls for Audio and MID. Instrument cluster is backlit in white and looks very ordinary. It sports two dials, one each for the tachometer and speedometer with the MID screen placed in between. This MID screen also shows navigation directions. The most fancy thing on the A3 is the pop-up, touchscreen infotainment screen. There are no buttons for the stereo system on the dashboard. You get the stereo control buttons behind the gear stick and a circular knob for volume & track toggle. No wonder the dashboard looks empty with the stereo buttons absent over there. The 180W, 10-speaker sound system with a subwoofer in the spare wheel well will satisfy most of the customers. Below the pop-up screen you get two circular AC vents which look and feel good. Directing air on your face is easy too and the vents also get a chrome surround. The A3 gets dual zone climate control. On a cold Sunday morning, we couldn’t test the AC performance but we assume by the compact room inside that the AC would be adequate during summer. Between the AC vents and the AC controls you get tap-type buttons for parking assist, hazard lights, traction control & the screen pop-up button. The short and round gear stick on the A3 feels very premium. It falls in your hands just right and playing with it in tiptronic mode is fun.
Both the front seats get electric adjustment and the seats are supportive. The seat compound is slightly firm but not too many would complaint about this. The seat height is however on the higher side. With the seat placed all the way down, you still feel sitting on the higher side. Taller drivers would notice this even more. Ergonomics are spot-on and everything falls right in place. The control buttons on the driver door pad feel very premium to touch.
Jump to the rear seats and you know why you’re paying so less for an Audi. While legroom for the rear passengers is adequate, the headroom is in short supply. A 6 feet tall driver can sit behind his own driving position with about an inch of legroom left, but the headroom available is very little. Under-thigh support is also very poor. To make things more difficult, the transmission hump at the back makes it impossible for the 3rd occupant to be welcomed. Ingress & egress is difficult too with the B-pillar placed way behind the ideal position. One really needs to work his legs while getting in and out of the A3’s rear. Rear seats surely have limitations and if you’re looking to be chauffeur driven in an A3, do get a couple of test drives more. Rear windows do not roll down completely and the sloping roofline limits the amount of light coming in too. Audi offers rear AC vents in the A3 which help keeping the ambient temperature at the back on the cooler side.
Although compact in dimensions, the A3 has a generous 425 litres of boot space. The boot can also be accessed from behind the rear centre armrest. For times when you need to carry more luggage, the rear seats can fold down to offer you a massive 880 litres of boot space. A steel spare wheel is placed under the boot floor.
Engine, performance & handling:
The Audi A3 is available in both, petrol & diesel engine options. Audi offers the 1.8 TFSI & the 2.0 TDI motors in India which are powering multiple other cars from the Volkswagen Group in India. These engines have been tried and tested over years, and should do a decent job on the A3 as well.
The 1.8 TFSI which is now badged as the 40 TFSI on the Audi A3 produces 180 BHP of power @ 5,100-6,200 RPM and 250 Nm of torque @ 1,250-5,000 RPM. Engine is mated to a 7-speed S-Tronic gearbox and the car performs a 0-100 kmph sting in 7.3 seconds. The turbocharged petrol motor on the A3 delivers a respectable 16.60 kmpl.
The car we drove was powered by the favourite pick, the 2.0L TDI motor. Badged as the 35 TDI, this engine produces 143 BHP of power @ 3,500-4,000 RPM and 320 Nm of torque @ 1,750-3,000 RPM. Engine is mated to a 6-speed S-Tronic gearbox and the car performs a 0-100 kmph stint in 8.6 seconds. ARAI approved fuel efficiency is 20.38 kmpl, which will surely keep owners happy.
The Audi A3 is a light sedan based on the Volkswagen MQB platform and this results in a brilliant power to weight ratio making the car very fun to drive. The A3 is a front-wheel driven sedan and has very nimble handling characteristics. Sadly, Audi does not offer a manual gearbox or Quattro AWD system on the A3 in India. Audi does not offer a start / stop button on the A3, you have to slot and twist the key. The EA288 diesel motor is very refined. Even on idling, the engine is barely audible inside the cabin and there is absolutely no diesel clatter heard. NVH levels are very well controlled. Wind noise and road noise are also well controlled, even on high speeds.
Within the city, the Audi A3 diesel is completely at home. The engine does not show any evident turbo lag making it a breeze to work around city traffic. Torque availability lower down the revv range allows the A3 to tackle speed breakers without the need to shift down to first. Throttle response is crisp and a light tap is all you need within the city. DSG gearshifts are butter smooth and work their way up without unsettling the occupants.
The engine is revv happy and one can push the car all the way close to the redline at 5,000 RPM without the engine showing any signs of stress. On the highway, the engine makes use of the 143 BHP well, and delivered in a linear fashion. Mid-range performance is very good and overtaking other cars is an easy task. The car accelerates to 100 kmph quickly and the gearbox keeps the engine running at a lazy ~2,000 RPM. For more fun, one can switch to the tiptronic mode and make use of the gearstick to manually shift gears. Paddle shifts are missing on the Audi A3 and stick out like a sore thumb.
Suspension setup on the Audi A3 is slightly on the stiffer side. Although the ride quality is complaint, it isn’t plush. Moving over speed bumps makes this obvious. Potholes and uneven patches will be transmitted inside the cabin. The stiffer suspension setup however results in better high speed stability. Also, since the car repels excessive vertical movement, it doesn’t scrape over bad roads as well. While on your favourite corners, the driving dynamics of the A3 are of superior order and the car sticks to the road well. Steering wheel is light within the city and as is the case with all EPS units, it does not provide enough feedback. It does feel a bit vague on high speeds. Braking performance is nice and sharp. The A3 holds the line well even under panic situations. The pedal feels great and not spongy at all.
5-Star safety rating from the Euro NCAP tests assures the passengers that they are safe inside the A3. The car comes equipped with front, side, rear and knee airbags. Other safety features include ABS, EBD, BA, ESC, limited slip differential, etc. as standard.
So if you’re in the market for a compact luxury sedan, the A3 is the best pick if you’re looking at self drive options. The car is dynamically rich resulting in a very engaging drive. But if you’re looking to be driven around, you will have to compromise on rear space. The cheaper Octavia and Jetta offer a lot more space, using similar equipment. Also, rival Mercedes-Benz CLA is stunning to look at and gets more kit inside-out. It all then comes down to what you prefer, form or function…