Audi A3 SportbackIn his presentation of the all new Audi A3 Sportback premium C-segment five door elongated hatchback to the UK media last week,

Jon Zammett Head of PR for Audi UK said, “The new A3 Sportback is designed for technology literate people, the iPad generation, new money professionals where whatever they purchase has to be the real-deal.”

Before technology luddites switch off reading this story thinking the new A3 Sportback isn’t for them, well it is because despite the  ‘marketing-speak’ in real-life it is the real-deal and a very good car.  Around 20,000 A3 Sportbacks will be sold in the UK this year and another 10,000 units of the new three-door A3 hatchback versions launched at the end of last year as well.

The A3 is Audi’s best selling range in the UK and deliveries of the Sportback to customers start from 16 March.  Advance orders for the A3 Sportback have increased the brand’s advance order bank by 19% for the new registration plate month of March.   Already this year Audi UK sales are up  2% over last year’s all time record year when 123,622 new Audi cars were registered, an increase of 8.6% over the previous record year of 2011.

Audi A3 SportbackIt is not just in the UK that Audi sales are increasing despite the global economic climate in 2012 the brand sold a record 1.45 million new cars worldwide, an increase of 11% over 2011. China is the brand’s largest market with close to 406,000 deliveries. Germany is the second largest market, the US third and the UK fourth.  Much of the brand’s growth has come from the addition of new model ranges in expanding market segments. In 2001 the Audi brand had 17 models, now - 12 years later it has 44.

The five door A3 Sportback costs £620 more than the comparable model in the A3 three door hatchback range. At launch Sportback prices start from £19,825 and go up to £27,180 but more versions and engine options will be added including quattro drive. The additional engines will include a 1.2-litre TFSI petrol unit, a 1.4-litre TFSI cylinder on demand petrol engine and a 1.6-litre TDI diesel unit. A four door saloon A3 range will also arrive this year to capture down-sizing drivers potentially saving on tax charges by moving from Audi A4s.

At launch the A3 Sportback is available with a 2.0-litre TDI 150PS turbodiesel engine, a 1.4-litre TFSI 122PS petrol unit and a 1.8-litre TFSI 180PS petrol unit. The 1.8-litre engine has 7-speed S tronic automatic transmission as standard and the other two units have 6-speed manual and S tronic auto transmission options. 

Audi A3 SportbackThere is the choice of SE, Sport and S line levels of trim and equipment depending on which engine is chosen.  S Line is expected to be the most popular taking 40% of sales with SE and Sport talking 30 per cent each.  The 2.0-litre TDI engine is expected to be the best selling unit taking 40% of sales followed by the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol with 20% of sales and the 1.8 TFSI 10%. The forthcoming 1.6 TDI should account for 30% of UK sales.  But these are predicted sales as 65% of Sportback UK registrations will go to fleet and business user-chooser customers and much will depend on what changes the Government makes in the forthcoming Budget to VED road tax and Benefit-in-Kind tax charges.

Despite being better equipped and larger than the outgoing A3 Sportback, the new third generation range is up to 90kg lighter and the revised Volkswagen Group engines are 10.25% more fuel efficient and CO2 emissions have been reduced by an average 11% across the range.  The A3 Sportback uses the new Volkswagen Group MQB platform which is shared with the new VW Golf - the 2013 European Car of the Year, the new SEAT Leon and the new Skoda Octavia.

Priced from £19,825 the new third generation Audi A3 Sportback five door hatchback range is bigger, better equipped and lighter. Not only is there more space for passengers and luggage there are better equipment levels and the latest range of Volkswagen Group engines are over 10% more fuel efficient and with 11% less CO2 emissions. Knowing that it is most probable that the Budget will see increases in road tax and company car tax costs these efficiencies will soften the financial blow a bit for UK drivers.

Audi A3 SportbackUsing the new highly rated VW Group MQB platform the Sportback over the outgoing model has a 58mm longer wheelbase so there is more rear seat leg room, more rear seat width as the suspension is moved rearward and the boot is larger as well at 380-litres, an increase of 10-litres over its predecessor and 15-litres more than the new A3 three door models.  The load space can be expanded to 1,220-litres with the 60-40 split rear seats folded down to reveal a flat load floor. Stored underneath the floor is a space-saver spare wheel.

The interior is of impeccable quality and much the same as the new three door A3s.  The design of the fascia and centre console is also the same, highly rated by some motoring pundits but also considered a bit clinical and lacking character by others. I’m in the latter group, even more so having seen just how good the front interior design of the new VW Golf is with its cockpit style layout of controls.

At the UK press launch of the new A3 Sportback I deliberately chose the SE specification level for my two test cars.  I wanted to see just how comfortable and compliant the quality of ride is from Audi’s use of the new MQB platform. Higher levels of spec have in most cases firmer sports settings although drivers can choose the standard suspension at no cost.  With the standard settings the ride comfort is brilliant and the suspension really very compliant and that is becoming more of a requirement as our road surfaces continue to deteriorate.  The longer wheelbase also improves the balance and handling eliminating body roll or fore to aft pitching during braking and acceleration. The front end grip is fantastic and well weighted steering responsive and precise.

Audi A3 SportbackI chose to drive first the four cylinder 1.4-litre TFSI turbocharged direct injection petrol engine with 122PS (120bhp) of power and 147 lb ft of torque from just 1,400rpm.  With the SE level of specification, which includes most essential items such as electrically operated windows and mirrors, air conditioning and on board computer, to me in these frugal days of motoring the price tag of £19,825 makes most sense for retail buyers and to some extent now even company car users. With CO2 emissions of only 123g/km road tax (currently) is free for the First Year rate and then £100 for the second year onwards.  For company car drivers the BIK tax is rated at 15%, the same as the 2.0-litre diesel, so the 40% business car user will pay £98 a month for the petrol unit  but the 2.0-litre diesel SE model incurs a BIK 40% tax charge of £110 a month.  With the higher cost of a diesel model, £22,125 for the 2.0-litre TDI SE version and higher diesel fuel prices, diesel power is no longer the obvious choice for business, fleet of retail buyers unless they cover really high mileages.  The 1.4 petrol model is also significantly better for insurance costs, group 16 rather than 21 for the 2.0 diesel.

The 1.4-litre petrol engine will officially return 53.3mpg and on test around the country roads of Warwickshire my car’s test drive consumption was an impressive 44.5mpg.  On the same route the 2.0-litre TDI engine returned 51.1mpg against the official 67.3mpg figure.

There is no performance penalty either with the brilliant 1.4-litre petrol engine. Top speed 126mph and zero to 62mph takes 9.5 seconds.  The turbo boost makes this unit very responsive at low speeds and in particular accelerating in the mid range without having to change down through the gears. The 2.0-litre, 150PS (148bhp) TDI unit diesel engine with 236lb ft of torque from 1,750 didn’t feel significantly more responsive than the petrol unit. Top speed is 134mph and zero to 62mph takes 8.7 seconds. 

My choice in these frugal times would be to opt for the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol SE A3 Sportback variant, it’s cheaper to buy and if it’s a company car its cheaper on personal tax as well.  Food for thought though, I could also opt to buy a new VW Golf  5-Door with the same 1.4-litre petrol engine and SE specification which is similar and around £1,000 cheaper, but then it doesn’t have the Audi premium brand badge.

MILESTONES. Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TFSI SE manual. Price: £19,825.  Engine/transmission: 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder, DOHC, direct injection petrol with turbocharger and intercooler, 120bhp, 147lb ft of torque from 1,400rpm, 6-speed manual. Performance: 126mph, 0-62mph 9.5 seconds, 53.3mpg, (44.5mpg on test), CO2 123g/km, VED road tax  (currently) £0 First Year rate and £100 per annum for the second year onwards, BIK company car tax 15%. Insurance group: 16.  Dimensions/capacities: L 4,310mm, W 1,785mm, H 1,425mm, boot/load space 380 to 1,220-litres. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. For: Versatile, classy, premium desirable brand, beautifully built, gem of a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, comfortable ride and impeccable handling. Against: Characterless fascia design, choose the specification level and engine needed very carefully - remember it costs to be seen as posh.   Miles Better News Agency  

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