Audi A3 Sportback: Crossing the red line

By Liz Dobson

Audi's A3 Sportback runs hot, looks hotter ... and it's not just the colour

Audi's A3 Sportback is lighter, looks longer and comes with high-specced toys inside.  Photo / Ted Baghurst
Audi's A3 Sportback is lighter, looks longer and comes with high-specced toys inside. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Jimmy the maintenance man stopped and stared as I pulled into the Herald carpark, shaking his head as I stepped out of my latest test car - a red Audi A3 Sportback.

"Red car drivers are the worst, they're always speeding," he said before wandering off into the depths of the building.

The poor A3 - judged by Jimmy before he got to really know the all-new model that's just been launched in New Zealand.

The third-generation A3 is longer and 90kg lighter than the previous model, thanks in part to the use of aluminium to create an ultra-lightweight structure. While that frame may be toned, the body gains an aggressive, masculine appearance and like its German competitor, the newly launched Mercedes-Benz A-Class its look will add more male buyers to the mix.

The longer wheelbase gives it a lower road appearance, while the roof railing elongates the car visually yet it still sits in the compact segment.

It is a segment being squashed by car buyers liking similarly priced Japanese and Korean crossovers, so the prestige European marques are fighting back with premium hatchbacks that provide luxury and badge appeal.

The A3 has been launched with three engines a 1.4-litre TFIS S Tronic (from $48,400 with the Sport version $3500 extra); a 2-litre turbo diesel and my test model, the 1.8-litre TFIS S Tronic (both from $55,400).

The A3 sits in the same price range as its German competitors of BMW's 1 Series and the A-Class the closer of the two Bavarians to the Audi in style.

Audi NZ general manager Dean Sheed says he hopes to show buyers the A3 is a great choice for New Zealanders.

''We've been looking forward to releasing the A3 Sportback to the New Zealand market.

''Its progressive and efficient features will resonate well with the New Zealand lifestyle.

''The development of the Sportback is exciting, with a look that is both athletic and agile.''

He is also hoping the A3 will help overall sales for 2013, especially as BMW is sitting ahead of his brand for new-car sales in New Zealand.

''Expectations are for the A3 Sportback to set the quality standard in the segment and to retail 300 units in the first 12 months,'' says Sheed.

While the previous generation A3 came as a three-door, Sheed has instead left that option to the baby of the family, the A1.

But what the new A3 gains from the high-specced A1 is the retractable infotainment screen that folds into the dash with the push of a button.

I loved the fact that when my Bluetooth-connected phone rang, the screen popped up to reveal the caller (unfortunately just the kids adding more `must haves' before my supermarket run), then folded back down when the call was over (which was quick-smart to save my budget).

My test model was also adorned with the Sport package that added 17in alloys and Xenon plus lights, giving it a more aggressive stance and road appearance.

While the styling is quite masculine, my A3's 1.8-litre engine won me over.

With 132kW and 250Nm of torque paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the car demands to be driven, and driven fast, hitting zero to 100kn/h in 7.3 seconds.

Hmm, maybe Jimmy is right about red cars and their drivers?

The torque from start-up pushes the car easily through the gears, hitting its peak with ease, with the dual-clutch snapping through the transmission through to top gear.

The low stance and long wheelbase give the A3 road-gripping strength, with sharp overtaking ability.

Of course I could always just blame that sharp overtaking to the fact that the car was red, not because I just wanted more taste of the superb engine.

`Money can't buy' prize

To launch the A3 Sportback, Audi NZ is offering the chance to win a `money can't buy'
experience with well-known New Zealanders through a month-long promotion launched this week.

The competition, run through Audi NZ's Facebook page, gives fans the chance to spend `quality time' with 42Below creator Geoff Ross, Olympic rower Mahe Drysdale and ex-Black Cap cricketer Dion Nash along with Audi ambassadors Sara Tetro, Steve Dunstan and Simon Gault.

Facebook users can choose from a range of options to create a wish-list of their top three `money can't buy' experiences. Once they've selected their preferences, they go in the draw to win the lot.

- NZ Herald

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