Even with a smaller engine, the new Audi A3 does not compromise on performance.

During my test drive of the new Audi A3, I picked up a friend and gave him a lift. When he was done admiring the car, I asked him to guess the engine size. While he was no car expert, he knew a car of this size and stature normally demands a big engine. And the smooth, effortless speed we were racking up also helped lull him into the answers he gave. Two-litre? Three-litre? When I finally told him it housed a mere one-litre engine, his uttered a reaction that is unprintable.

But it mirrored my own sentiments when I first took delivery of the car. On paper, I really was not expecting much in terms of speed, punch and performance from such a meagre engine. That’s because I had already convinced myself that down-sizing the A3 from 1.4 litres (its predecessor) to its current one-litre power plant was going to have a material impact on the drive. That was a big mistake.

Looking at the stats, the 12-valve, turbocharged engine produces 116bhp of power which will break no speed records, alongside a modest 200Nm of torque. But that is on paper. In real life, it was a different story.

From start to finish, the car felt lively and nimble, even with me driving predominantly in the fast lanes of the PIE and AYE. I have driven many Audis in my time and none of them ever felt underpowered. So, it probably was no surprise that the new A3 delivered enough power to get the job done, despite my initial concerns. The engine is only part of the equation, as the way the power is delivered also makes a big impact. In Audi’s case, this is via a seven-speed, S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox. Slick and smooth as always, it helps the compact sedan zip in and out of traffic with confidence. Cruising on open roads at high speeds was a walk in the park. They say age is just a number; well, so is engine size.

It is a win-win situation for the A3, as the smaller engine also means better fuel consumption, which should be a concern for any driver these days worried about his or her pocket and the environment. The one-litre power plant registers 4.7 litres per 100km, which is very economical in anyone’s book. I spent most of the test drive in Sport mode to push the A3 as hard as possible, which proved a stretch for me, not the car. There was no obvious sign of the smaller engine and it drove just as smoothly as the 1.4-litre version.

Engine sizes are getting smaller across the board for entry-level cars, particularly from the premium brands. This makes them cheaper to run and buy, based on COE calculations. The trick is to fiddle under the bonnet enough to make sure there is no compromise in power. While the brake horsepower and torque figures will invariably be lower, the ride itself is not always affected. Thankfully, that is the case with the new A3. It is a clever move, as this entry-level model comes with a price tag of $135,400, which is more than reasonable for a Germany luxury marque.

Performance has not been affected and neither has the overall package. The A3 still oozes quality and sophistication in design, styling and overall aesthetics. One of the new upgrades are full LED headlights, which replace the old bi-xenon ones. These help enhance the front bumper and grill, which have undergone a few other tweaks. The result is a sportier look and the impression that the car is lower to the ground.

Inside the cabin, the car comes equipped with Audi’s Drive Select mode as well as an electric driver’s seat. The interior is uncluttered and ergonomically friendly while accommodating plush materials. The chunky multifunctional three-spoke steering wheel is borrowed from the Audi TT, adding to the sporty feel. Buttons and switches feel premium-quality, while the four-ringed badge of Audi has been added to the dashboard. In this price bracket, you will struggle to find a car as well-equipped as this one.

Putting myself in the shoes of a younger driver attracted to a luxury German brand such as Audi, I would consider this value for money. Even when you add in emotional cues such as looking good and status, this compact sedan still ticks the boxes.

The thinking is that such entry-level drivers will scale up to a bigger and more expensive model as their careers progress. But this is a car you can grow accustomed too without feeling the need to trade it in in a few years’ time. It also nicely accommodates a family, with spacious backseats and dedicated air conditioning — small touches that go a long way.

AUDI A3 SEDAN
$135,400 including
COE Engine: 999cc, 3-cylinder in-line, 12-valve, turbocharged
Power/torque: 116bhp/200Nm
Fuel consumption: 4.7li/100km
0-100kph: 9.9 seconds
Top speed: 211kph

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

 This article appeared in Issue 782 (June 5) of The Edge Singapore.