PLUSH premium cars have never been more affordable. Audi has just released its A3 Sportback with a price starting from $35,600 - matching the recently launched Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
The move has already paid sales dividends for Mercedes. Younger buyers were enticed to the three-pointed star showroom, and in the first three months Mercedes-Benz sales were up 45% compared to the same time last year.
Audi has high hopes the A3 will achieve similar feats.
The four rings has launched a $5 million A3 marketing campaign, including a cheeky "ahead of its class" theme which is a dig at its primary competitor.
Audi is currently offering the A3 in Sportback guise, with a choice of two turbo petrol and two turbo diesel engines, in two specifications. The all-wheel drive S3 will come later this year, then a sedan version, cabriolet and plug-in hybrid.
The Attraction spec includes 16-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, leather trim, dual zone climate controlled air con with rear seat vents, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, 14.7cm colour display, auto lights and wipers along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters.
Step up to Ambition trim and it gains larger 17-inch alloys, sports front seats, aluminium look interior features and sill trims, fog lights, Audi Drive Select (which sharpens or dulls acceleration and steering response), colour driver information system and a three-spoke sports steering wheel.
It also has five-star safety with the traditional suite of technology like stability control and anti-lock brakes.
There are some optional packs available, along with a host of extras, but probably the best is the Technik pack ($2990) which includes sat nav, rear view camera and park assist.
Inside the glovebox is an attachment port for smartphones and MP3 players, but special Audi cords (which cost about $100) are needed depending on the device.
We sampled three models at the national launch in Cairns this week, and found the A3 well balanced and confident. On the highway, through twisty terrain and in traffic, the hatch is difficult to fault. Coarse chip bitumen saw some road rumble enter the cabin yet the A3 maintains its premium composure in just about all conditions.
Model: Audi A3 Sportback.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive compact luxury hatch.
Engines: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 90kW @ 5000-6000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 1400-4000rpm; 1.6-litre common rail turbo diesel 77kW @ 3000-4000rpm/250Nm @ 1500-2750rpm; 1.8 turbocharged petrol 132kW @ 5100-6200rpm/250Nm 1250-5000rpm; 2.0 common rail turbo diesel 110kW @ 3500-4000rpm/320Nm 1750-3000rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Consumption: 5.0-litres/100km (combined average); 3.9L/100km; 5.6L/100km; 4.5L/100km.
Bottom line: Attraction 1.4 TFSI $35,600, Attraction 1.6 TDI $36,500, Ambition 1.8 TFSI $42,500, Ambition 2.0 TDI $42,500.