We were the first to the drive the new petrol-powered Audi A3 1.8 TFSI and were mighty impressed by not just the strong performance on tap, but the overall package on offer. Now, we have come to Rajasthan to sample the important 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel version that’s likely to make up the lion’s share of the model's sales.
Looking at the A3 sedan again has refreshed my memory about how good this sedan looks in the flesh. The crisp lines of this baby sedan look magnificent against the backdrop of the palace-like Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur; it’s definitely one of the athletic-looking Audis, especially in this S-line trim with the 17-inch rims.
Getting behind the wheel, the interiors are the same as on the petrol version and feel like a proper Audi. The powered front seats are quite accommodating and you don’t feel tired even after spending almost a full day in them. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great to hold and doesn’t block your view of the technical-looking instrument cluster. The MMI screen pops up and the air-con vents are turbine-like; all these elements help create a contemporary cabin. However, the buttons are a bit too small and bunched together which makes the rest of the dash appear a bit too sparse.
But most importantly, the cabin sees use of quality materials and is well screwed together; it doesn’t make you feel short-changed. The interface’s integration with my android phone is great and it seamlessly handles music and calls. However, headroom at the rear is a bit too tight and taller passengers will have to crouch a bit to avoid contact with the roof. While average frames won't have a problem with space or thigh support, the front seats will need to be deftly adjusted to liberate enough knee room for taller folk. On the upside, it’s quite airy and you won’t feel claustrophobic here.
Engine and Gearbox
However, what I am most interested in is the 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel motor in this test car. If you look at the badge, it says 35TDI instead of the expected 2.0 TDI. This is the carmaker's new ‘dynamic factor’ nomenclature which is a system they use to calculate the performance of a given model and variant. Simply put, the bigger the number, the quicker it is to 100kph. The diesel engine is mated to a six-speed S-tronic automatic gearbox but, like the petrol version, doesn’t feature paddle shifts. Compared to its rivals, the diesel sedan produces almost as much power as the 143bhp BMW 1-series diesel and a lot more than the 108bhp diesel Mercedes A-class. So, what is it like from behind the wheel?
I’m glad to say that just like its petrol sibling, this diesel delivers a fair share of thrills from behind the wheel. However, its power delivery differs significantly from the petrol A3. While the petrol motor loves to spin fast and eggs you around the red-line, the diesel sedan works best if you exploit its mid-range. Useable power starts from as low as 1,600rpm and peaks between 2,000 and 3,500rpm, where it pulls with a fair bit of zest. Sure, there’s a bit of turbo-lag but it isn’t bothersome as even off-boost, the engine doesn’t feel bogged down. On the open roads between Udaipur and Mount Abu, the diesel A3 could effortlessly cruise at around 130kph, and the tall sixth gear meant the engine was ticking over at a relaxed 2,500rpm at these speeds. More impressive though is how easy it is to overtake even on single-carriageways; the punchy mid-range catapulting you ahead of slow-moving trucks. However, the diesel sedan lacks the ‘shove-in-the-seat’ surge of torque found on some rivals like the Volvo V40.
And within city limits, engaging sport mode kept the engine in the meat of the power band, making darting into gaps is much easier. As for noise, the engine gets a bit gruff when you rev it and there is a bit of clatter at idle too, but while cruising at about 80kph, the motor isn’t too intrusive and road noise is well-contained.
Ride and Handling
Complementing this engine is a great ride and handling balance. The ride on this diesel sedan felt a bit firmer but that has more to do with the optional 17-inch lower profile (225/45 R17) wheels since both petrol and diesel versions have the same suspension setup. Just like its petrol sibling, the diesel A3 rides reasonably flat on long stretches of undulations, and the carmaker felt unflappable over broken sections of road. Even moderately deep potholes are dispatched without much of a fuss, and despite the lower profile rubber, really jarring thuds don't filter through into the cabin.
The long, fast corners before the Ukhalivat tunnel gave me a chance to see how well this diesel A3 carried itself through corners. Simply put, it feels rock solid through the bends and holds the tarmac with a vice-like grip. Despite being front-wheel-driven and slightly nose-heavy, the A3 diesel can carry some serious speeds entering a corner, and most drivers in our conditions may never come even close to its limits; the steering is very accurate and never feels overly light.
The diesel sedan offers a fantastic blend of luxury, fun and practicality. Sure, it isn’t as refined and doesn’t quite match up to the thrills of the 177bhp petrol A3 but on a day to day basis, the diesel’s performance is more than adequate. Plus, it will be significantly cheaper at the pump too. What you get is a reasonably spacious compact luxury car with interiors that feel genuinely premium, and a good deal of equipment as well. But most importantly, the sedan body style gives it a lot more street-cred than its hatchback rivals, amongst Indian customers. With an expected price of Rs. 27 lakh, this small sedan isn’t exactly cheap but then, it doesn’t skimp out on the luxury experience either. Between the German three, the carmaker is a late entrant but has hit the sweet spot in the compact luxury space with the A3, and it’s definitely the best rounded compact luxury car. We expect the it to go on sale by August 2014.