SINGAPORE - Audi has brought a car that fits these expensive times perfectly in the form of the Audi A3 1.0 Sportback. It’s a car that not only has a Category A Certificate of Entitlement (COE), but is also extremely efficient, and has convincing luxury clout.
We also reveal a mildly shocking fact at the end of this story that could make you consider the A3 over an EV – yes we aren’t kidding.
The key draw of the A3 1.0 is that it’s S$20k cheaper than the extant A3 1.5, and has a Cat A COE. The third-gen Audi A3 debuted in Singapore in 2021, with both sedan and hatchback (i.e. Sportback) models available, but at launch the small luxury car was limited to a 150hp 1.5-litre mild hybrid drivetrain. Our launch story has all the details, and we’ve also reviewed both the 1.5 Sedan and 1.5 Sportback in Singapore.
Audi’s Cat A Return: Cat out of the bag
Small luxury cars with Cat A COEs have always done well here, since it means you pay the least possible cash for something with a luxe badge. Audi has done it before, too: In 2014 it introduced a 122hp Cat A friendly version of the second-gen A3 to much success, so it’s no surprise the company is looking to replicate that here in 2022, the year of painful highs for both COE and fuel prices.
Between the 1.0 here and the more expensive 1.5, there aren’t many differences. As mentioned in our news story on the A3 1.0’s debut in Singapore, the 1.0 has a less powerful, more efficient mild hybrid drivetrain, and a less sophisticated rear suspension setup.
Visually, there is no difference between the two on the outside, meaning it looks like every other A3 Sportback (other than the wild RS 3), displaying Audi’s typical clean, angular design language. There’s no S-Line or sport kit here, and both have the same 17-inch wheel design, which may be a plus for those who are conscious of appearing to have chosen the ‘lesser’ variant.
Inside, you’d have to cast an extra careful eye to tell the difference as well. There’s the same 12.3-inch digital driver’s display (Audi Virtual Cockpit) and 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
The latter packs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which makes up for the lack of onboard navigation ($7,135 option). The more advanced connectivity option – $8,075 – adds this and Audi Connect services.
It’s a cabin with a clean, almost spartan layout in design terms, but also built with premium-feeling materials. Some small luxury cars cut obvious costs, but the Audi presents a convincing luxury facade.
That’s especially if you like less complexity in design, since it’s the polar opposite of the obvious glitz of the Mercedes.
Along that line, the A3 1.5 has the Ambient Light package plus – the least expensive way you can option this on the 1.0 is a package with S Line seats and other goodies for $4,071.
The A3 is decently spacious for a small hatch. Three is a squeeze, but two adults will fit comfortably in the rear, and the front seatbacks have additional cut outs for additional knee room.
The boot space is a class-equalling 380-litres, though you’ll need to fold a seat down to accommodate a golf bag, but there’s also underfloor stowage, a total 1,200-litres with the seats folded down, and an automatic tailgate.
Big efficiency with small electrification
If you read our review of the Sportback 1.5, you’re thinking ‘so far, so Sportback’, but it’s out on the road – and consequently in fuel receipts – that the A3 really impresses. It’s 40hp down on the 1.5, but in Singapore, honestly any car between 110hp to 150hp is effectively equal given average road conditions here.
Straight line performance is brisk but not spectacular, as expected, but the 1.0-litre triple-cylinder engine is quite refined and vibe free, and even has a pleasant, cultured burr.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox works seamlessly with the engine, with no unpleasantness – and you can’t say that about every small European car, luxury or not. As far as small hatchbacks go, it’s also relatively quiet at highway speeds.
Another bonus is the handling: The A3 is quite lively to drive, perhaps due to the lighter, smaller engine, and its front end grips the road with a mix of tenacity and predictability. Despite the torsion beam rear suspension, which is on paper inferior to the 1.5’s multi-link setup, the ride quality only degrades on truly crappy tarmac.
But where the A3 really scores points is in fuel efficiency, and it’s notably more efficient than even the 1.5 on Singapore’s roads.
The 1.0 is simply a very efficient engine, and coupled with the mild hybrid system it delivers great numbers. At a stop, the mild hybrid system kicks in to turn on/shut off the engine smoothly, while the electric motor is able to let the car ‘sail’ on electric power for short periods.
Our test drive of the A3 1.5 Sedan saw it deliver 6.4L/100km, but the A3 1.0 was consistently able to deliver less than 6.0L/100km, and close to 5.5L/100km. On the car’s 45-litre tank, that spells more than 800km of range. Give it a highway and be gentle, and you can hit mid 4.0L/100km easy as pie.
The A3 1.0 does have some shortcomings: In terms of active safety, there’s only lane keeping assist, but no autonomous emergency braking (AEB, nor is it optional), nor useful stuff like blind spot monitors. There is a reverse camera, and self-parking though.
Competition is stiff in the small lux segment: BMW’s 116i hatch is closely priced, (read our review here) has almost the same power, similar features and interior room, and exactly the same amount of boot space. It’s not quite as frugal as the A3, although it has more in-car tech, active safety tech, and ambient lighting. It’s a similar story with the ‘sedan version’, the 216i Gran Coupe.
Mercedes-Benz has the A-Class to throw into the mix, we’ve tested the Cat A friendly A 180 Sedan, and the Cat B A 200 hatch. It has the expected sparkle and flash on the interior, but isn’t quite as nice to drive as the A3 is.
In fact, we calculated that the car costs the same to run in fuel and road tax per year as a similarly priced EV, the BYD Atto 3*. Yes, EVs get hit by road tax badly, and this isn’t even counting the extra flat road tax fee an EV owner has to pay down the road.
*See our full calculations at the end of this story
Electric cars will become all the rage, but in the interim, it’s cars like the A3 1.0 that will help owners spend less on fuel without wrangling the electric logistics. In short, if you want to transition to spending less on petrol but can’t manage electrons yet, the A3 is a great way to start.
Audi A3 1.0 Sportback
Drivetrain type Petrol-electric mild hybrid
Engine 999cc, inline 3, turbocharged
Power 110hp at 5500rpm
Torque 200Nm at 2000-3000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Electric Motor 12hp/50Nm
Battery Lithium Ion, unknown kWh
System Power Not stated
System Torque Not stated
0-100km/h 10.6 seconds
Top Speed 204km/h
Fuel Efficiency 4.4L/100km
VES Band B / Neutral
Agent Premium Motors
Price $191,369 with COE and VES
Verdict Less expensive, cheaper to run, still feels luxurious. A poster boy for mild hybrid efficiency too