New Audi A3 goes forth boldly

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Words: Peter Louisson
22 Jul 2021

In 2021, supposedly the post-pandemic year, the virus is still raging around the globe and yet Audi NZ is having its best sales period ever. This may seem bizarre but it just goes to show that when Kiwis cannot travel internationally they spend up in other ways.

Globally the car market is up by about 20 per cent for the first half of 2021, while Audi is ahead by almost double that (39 per cent) thanks to strong results in China and USA, especially in Q2. And in its quest to be carbon neutral by 2050, Audi plans to launch its last new ICE-powered vehicle in 2025, by which time it will have 20 BEVs on the market. Audis with diesel or petrol engines will no longer be produced after 2033.

Audi is setting sales records in New Zealand as well, on the back of the Q range of SUVs primarily but also with good sales from other models. Almost 70 E-trons have found new homes this year, and that’s before the gorgeous e-tron GT hits the road. RS sales account for almost one in four new Audis sold here this year, also a new high. Seventy per cent of new model sales begin with a Q, while e-trons amount to 10 per cent. Over eighty per cent of NZ-new Audis feature quattro AWD.

There has been a marked increase in private buyer demand, now accounting for 42 per cent of new Audi sales, and presales are strong as well, customers willing to wait up to six months for delivery.

Audi NZ sold almost 1000 vehicles in the first half of 2021, up 26 per cent on the last ‘normal’ year, 2019. And that’s without the contribution of A3 which sold out some time ago, so the arrival of the fourth generation will be welcomed by Audi distributor, EMD.

All the record breaking is hard to get your head around, given the constraints within the industry, including the shortage of silicon chips, critical for all the control systems in modern cars, component shortages because of COVID-19 ravages, shipping issues and the like. It’s not unusual now for customers to order a new vehicle and be told it’s arriving in the new year.

To the new fourth-generation A3 models then, and initially the more up-for-it looking five-door-only hatch which is slightly longer and wider than before will be available in two guises, the 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI. The former runs a 1.5T four-pot with a 48v mild hybrid assist system (the BAS is said to lower fuel use by 0.4L/100km, 5.0L/100km combined), and the latter a 2.0L turbo with quattro AWD hasn’t yet arrived (available in August, $69,900) so we didn’t get to sample that. No matter because the day was a bit of a washout anyway. Actually, a deluge would be closer to reality.

While the exterior is now chiselled and features more aggressive air vents up front and a bigger singleframe grille, it’s the interior that is even more transformed, though luggage capacity is unchanged at 380-1200L.

It’s more driver oriented with virtual cockpit configurable instruments, lots of gloss black finishings, and an updated faster-acting infotainment system, though still with the pernickety touch issues; you need to push and hold for a moment or else it won’t react to inputs. There’s an onboard SIM allowing real time traffic, weather and parking updates. Also new is a stubby wee shift-by-wire lever, and alongside a tiny touchpad to control the infotainment system.

Options include an electric gesture-type tailgate (standard on the 40), head-up display and a range of 17- to 19-inch wheel designs.

The 35 TSFI kicks off at $57,900 and comes with 17-inch alloys, MMI nav, adaptive cruise, lane change and high beam assist and self parking, wireless phone charging and LED lights. It gets along really quite well, forging on in heavy rain, is nicely specified and makes a smart entry point to the A3 line-up. There are 12 colours too.

The other newcomer is the S3 (modest tagline: makes perfection look effortless) dotting down six months ahead of the range-topping RS 3. Meantime, it’s the quickest of the new compact premium range from Audi, packing a 228kW and 400Nm 2.0L turbo powerplant, the output flowing via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to all four wheels, with a clutch pack sending power north or south depending on where it’s best put to use.

This is said to shimmy to open road speeds from a standing start in 4.8sec, and comes standard with adaptive damping and sports suspension. We found the Comfort and Auto modes perfectly adequate for the damp roads plied on the launch drive. It responds well to trail braking to the apex and an early application of throttle for a quick exit. Sport transmission mode helps with passing haste. Pick this $89,500 model by its quartet of tailpipes, alu-finish mirror caps, and nostrils at the leading edge of the bonnet. The S3 badging is a bit of a giveaway too.

Standard fare includes privacy glass, 19-inch alloys, red brake calipers, progressive steering, aluminium roof rails, powered sports front seats trimmed in nappa leather, and front seat heaters. The hatch holds 325-1145L of gear.

In the near future, Audi’s halo e-tron GT will go on sale, followed by e-tron S Sportback and petrol variants of SQ7 and SQ8. RS 3 should dot down early next year. And at some point, Q4 e-tron will arrive, though this is Europe-only at present. Audi expects this to take over eventually from Q5 as the brand’s biggest seller globally.


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