- FIRST DRIVE – AUDI A3 SPORTBACK
YOU may wonder how the Klitschko brothers and others among the current crop of celebrated fighters would have fared had they plied their trade during the golden age of heavyweight boxing.
Would they have stood an earthly against the likes of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton and Holmes for instance? Most likely not.
Car maker Audi likens the success enjoyed by the latest generation of its A3 compact model to that of a championship boxer – whose triumphs mean so much more when the opposition is of the highest quality.
It’s always good to win, but if you aren’t made to work to the outer limits of capability then the victory can be a hollow one.
In Audi’s case the numbers keep getting bigger. Last year the German company sold just short of 1.5 million cars, its best ever worldwide figure, some 123,000 of them to UK buyers.
And to increase a momentum that has seen the marque increasingly become the premium brand of choice, a whopping 13 billion euros will be invested in new product over the next two years.
Latest offering to emerge from a stable that currently comprises no less than 40 models is the A3 Sportback, the five-door version of the third generation A3 which hit the streets in three-door format last autumn.
When it arrives on March 16, the Sportback will carry a premium of £620 over its stablemate, meaning that prices start from £19,825.
Three engines – 1.4 and 1.8-litre TFSI petrol units and a 2.0 diesel – are on offer from launch in SE, Sport and S line trim grades, with a 1.6 diesel to follow in May and a 1.2-litre petrol plus a higher powered 1.4 version with ‘cylinder on demand’ technology due during the summer.
Start-stop is standard on all models and Audi is promising fuel economy improvements of up to 10 per cent compared to the outgoing version.
What you get with the Sportback is a longer wheelbase than both its predecessor and the three-door A3, so there’s more passenger space all round, in a shape that’s almost like a small estate car.
And with that in mind, the luggage compartment has a capacity of a useful 380 litres which rises to 1,220 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The cargo floor can be placed on two levels and a handy touch is that the sidewall supports on which it rests are lit with small LED lights – useful for adjusting in the dark. You also get bag hooks and lashing eyes.
Styling is much the same as the three-door model with the emphasis on premium equipment and fittings.
But being more family-oriented the Sportback also adds rear electric windows and rear door child locks in all grades, along with alloy wheels, air-con, MMI radio with wafer-thin electrically folding screen, Audi Music Interface iPod connection, Driver Info System, Bluetooth and a multi-function steering wheel.
All three of the launch engines were available for test on the press exercise held over a
series of challenging routes that combined sweeping rural roads with motorway and small town driving.
The one that stood out for me was the 1.4 TFSI petrol in mid-range Sport trim, which comes with six-speed manual transmission and costs £21,050.
Lively, positive and nimble, the car produces 122PS and proved a treat to pilot over a 70-mile jaunt, its average fuel return of 49mpg not far off the claimed 53.3mpg figure.
That said, the 2.0-litre diesel engine packs a punch with 150PS yet is sufficiently frugal for us to match the 67.3mpg Combined figure and the 180PS 1.8-litre petrol model, mated to Audi’s seven-speed S tronic gearbox, includes a freewheeling function that reduces fuel consumption below the 50.4 official mark.
Underlining Audi’s claim that the A3 Sportback is a small segment model with big car technology comes the sort of connectivity that makes it one of the best equipped cars around.
Summertime will see an MMI High option rolled out that will not only deliver familiar services like Google Maps, Google Street View, Audi traffic info online and Audi music stream, but will also now provide Picturebook Navigation, access to Facebook and Twitter plus news, flight and train info and price-graded fuelling locations.
The driver will also be able to dictate text messages by voice and send them without having to pick up a mobile phone, while e-mail can be transmitted via Bluetooth to the MMI screen.
It’s serious kit, which along with the Audi’s comfort, style and efficiency, could deliver a knockout blow for the brand’s rivals.