Audi fits its A3 with a 999cc engine, lightening its carbon footprint and reducing its price tag
Dial 999 for savings The Audi A3 Sedan's puny power plant churns out enough torque for it to more than keep pace with traffic. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

A 1-litre premium saloon. That alone should make one want to take a closer look at the new Audi A3 Sedan.

In line with the automotive industry's aim to meet increasingly stringent emission standards, Audi has replaced its 1.4-litre four-cylinder A3 with a 999cc three-cylinder variant.

On the surface, it would appear Audi has gone too far with its "right-sizing" strategy. A premium sedan about the size and weight of a Toyota Corolla, but powered by an engine that is nearly 40 per cent smaller than the Corolla's seems untenable.

One would expect such a car to be underpowered, unpolished and undriveable.

But the A3 1.0 is none of the above. All right, it is not the smoothest or the quickest car in its price segment, but it exceeds all other expectations that one might have of a 999cc three-cylinder model.

With turbocharging, the puny power plant churns out a respectable 200Nm of torque from 2,000rpm - more than sufficient for the A3 to keep pace with traffic.

Peak torque starts tapering from 3,500rpm, but by then, the four- door would have attained cruising speed.

And like other modern Audis, the A3 is able to coast for a long time with zero throttle input.

As one slows down for a red light, the engine cuts off just before the car comes to a complete stop - a new stop-start function that saves a couple more drops of fuel.

The car restarts with a bigger tremble than other Audis fitted with the economy device. Re-ignition is also often a tad slower.

This is the part that makes the A3 less refined than its 1.4-litre predecessor. And while its declared 9.9- second century sprint is half-decent, the laggy re-ignition translates to slower take-offs from the lights (or the junction).

On the fly, any difference between the downsized engine and its bigger predecessor is imperceptible. Even so, driving it in Sport mode is preferred, as one gets a livelier response with negligible degradation in smoothness.

Driven thus, the car is not nearly as efficient as Audi makes it out to be. The test car averaged 8 litres/ 100km - far from its stated 4.7 litres. Still, it is not too shoddy for a Continental car.

The A3 is appealing on other fronts.

It is a nice size for an urbanised environment such as Singapore's, it is nimble and manoeuvrable, and its cockpit is simple and uncluttered. Considerable road-tax savings is another boon.

It is also well-equipped for a one-litre car. It has full LED headlamps (the 1.4 had bi-xenons) and a multi-function three-spoke steering wheel modelled after the Audi TT's. Drive-mode selection is now standard fare - previously, it was available only on the "Ambiente Plus" variant.

Last, but not least, it is priced more affordably at around $133,000. After factoring in the difference in COE premiums when the 1.4-litre variant was introduced three years ago, the new car costs approximately $15,000 less.