US Audi A3 Review: Is It The Catalyst For The German Foray Into Pakistani Market

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The recent attention on this publication around the resurgence of the Audi brand in Pakistan is well-deserved. With their A3 sedan being offered with a 1.2L TFSI engine, Audi hopes to turn heads and grab the attention of buyers otherwise dissuaded by Mercedes Benz, BMW, or endless alternatives through the expansive private dealer network. We felt it necessary, therefore, to review the Audi A3 on its merits. We should reiterate on the fact that we tested the US version of the A3, which is not vastly different than the one sold in Pakistan.

It’s worth noting the one (and only) area where this review lacks faithful representation: power. Having not had the chance to drive the A3 with a 1.2L TFSI engine, I can only comment on what I know about the 1.8L , the 2.0L, and the Audi S3 I drove. The 1.8L FWD (Quattro-less) version I drove had some kick to its step, albeit with a bit of hesitation on 3rd or 4th gear highway pulls. 178 horsepower and 0-60 in 7 seconds isn’t slow, but it feels rather ordinary. I assume the 1.2 TFSI with 105 horsepower will be slower, but aptly sufficient for performing its inevitable urban driving duties. I anticipate the same throttle response lag as I felt in the cars I drove here, owing to the drive-by-wire throttle and the turbo lag/foreplay. However, what the engine may lack in power is made up with truly exceptional fuel efficiency, with the combined cycle figure suggesting 20 km/l. In all honesty, that figure blows my mind.

(I won’t drone on about the 2.0 L Quattro and the S3 I also drove since it’s irrelevant altogether, but let me know in the comments below if you want to know how they felt. The S3 with a 40/60 Quattro split is a seriously nutty car and I had a lot of fun blasting around in one.)

The DSG transmissions in recent VW group cars is arguably the best in the business, and the 7 speed S-Tronic box has the ability to impress any driver first introduced to it. It’s a slightly different experience to an old-school torque converter automatic, and bears a bit of explanation as to why. To begin, there is a hastened response in setting-off from a standstill as the clutches engage. This quirk (which is common to all dual-clutch gearboxes from all manufacturers) takes getting used to in slow-moving and stop-and-go traffic. Once moving, all DSG’s are programmed to upshift into the highest gear and save fuel, and the cogs are only kicked-down to the lowest gear possible if the accelerator is mashed, and the kick-down switch is clicked at the end. Drivers also have the option to slide right into “M” and shift the gears themselves (fun), or down into “S” and have the transmission hang through gears longer, an antic familiar to most 15 year old boys.

Ride quality is a significant step-up from the Corollas and the Civics of the world. For one, no Japanese rival available in Pakistan rides with the compliance, handle with sharpness, or cruises as calmly as the Audi A3 on long and short range stints. Bumps and thuds on the road surface feel significantly more pronounced however, owing to what feels like a higher-than-normal compression damping on the suspension. It’s not a particularly sophisticated suspension setup, but with struts up-front and multi-link at the rear (which only comes alive with the Quattro option ticked) result in quick maneuverability. The short wheelbase helps it as well. The A3 feels light because it is light; weight is a little less than 1200 kg, a superleggera figure by modern car production standards.

I liken the Audi A3’s interior to an iPad; a premium feel, with simplicity being the overarching theme. All touch points have a gratuitous leather appointment, though I wish my particular test models didn’t have the all-black interior; I much prefer the chestnut brown. The simplicity is most prevalent in the MMI system. Turn the ignition, and a sharp screen elevates above the circular air vents. Begin playing through the MMI’s functions with the control knob in the center, and one finds the interface surprisingly easy to get used to. I personally take grief with BMW’s iDrive and Mercedes Benz’s COMMAND system, each having become more tedious over time. But much like the iPad once again, it is worth noting the A3’s lack of space (particularly in the back), but this is a small car so it’s forgivable. I forgive it because it has leather, and bad news is always made better with leather.

VERDICT

Does having 4 rings on the hood and trunk, by proxy, make a car into a desirable object? Do we as car-people choose to suspend belief to stroll past the bounds of logic and sound decision-making, and therefore past the Civics and Corollas of the world? Or is it different this time? Is there merit to the new Audi A3 stealing our attention (on the internet and in real life), affording it the limelight, the benefit of the doubt, and therefore bestow upon it the honor of many sales orders?

I kept thinking about these questions while driving the A3 (the S3 didn’t allow me time to think, just react). Though the 1.8L I drove had 178 horsepower, the 1.2 TFSI puts out only 105, and that makes it slower than a Honda Civic. That feels unjustifiable for the price point. “But it’s an Audi”, I thought. And that statement drove me to a decisive conclusion.

To understand the appeal of this car, one must understand its intended demographic. They are young, prefer simple technology, and are picky as car-shoppers. Also, most of them are just stepping into the premium car market. The intended demographic isn’t too far off this mark even in Pakistan, by the way. The consensus reached by observing the buyers of the A3 on Pakwheels forums led me to believe that they are all a relatively younger demographic, well-informed business owners/proprietors, most of whose first foray into the premium car market is their Audi A3. There are good reasons and justifications as to why they didn’t choose a Mercedes-Benz or BMW, and that particular detail is exclusive to all Audi buyers worldwide; their confidence in being the outliers in the German premium car sphere. I’m willing to bet that most of them had the same “it’s an Audi” thought I did, and that statement carries weight as justification. I don’t know why, but it does. Four rings instead of a three pointed star or a propeller is a differentiator here. We’re beginning to see the brand becoming a stronger differentiator for a purchase decision.

I’ve also noticed an interesting phenomenon since the Audi A3 went on sale in Pakistan. I’ve noticed the Pakwheels readership using the term ‘good value’ to describe the A3’s 3.8 million PKR price point. This is curious because 3.8 million PKR is a fiercely large sum of money by everyones standards. But I think the readership is on to something. The value does exist. It exists because no other manufacturer till today has offered this much standard up-sell at this price-point, and the A3 has the potential to become a sales leader for Audi owing to this fact. The cars intended demographic, its price-point, and its hailed status as being the newest newcomer afford Audi the opportunity to leverage their brand to gain a lot of equity in this market. If it is marketed properly to potential buyers, as well as the vast enthusiast community in Pakistan, who are tired with having only 3 brand choices, the VW/Audi group could think of disrupting this market in a serious way.

And this puts Audi in a very secure position. Offering an A3 to a market desperate for change could afford it the opportunity to build brand equity amongst a populous which is deeply brand-conscious, and deeply brand loyal. It gives them the visibility to secure their own position as the sales leading German car company, and I sincerely hope this forces the competition to re-think their strategy in Pakistan. If sales of the A3 remain strong, Audi may be able to prove an untapped reserve of buyers willing to pay the kind of money being charged for the quality being given by a German car.

But I will give a forewarning. Pakistan isn’t as devoid of choice as one may assume, and the 3.8 million PKR price point has put Audi into comparison with cars available from the private import dealer network, all of whom can offer a buyer significantly more choice than Audi may be able to. Buyers of privately imported cars do not mind buying a used car, because it is new and premium to the owner. I realize my view is subjective and greatly varies based on choice and whether a buyer wants 0 km on the odometer or 5-10,000 km, but consider this: most car life cycles are 5 years, and Pakistani import restrictions do not allow cars older than 3 years, hence importers bring in current models and sell them for less than the manufacturer. The odometer reading isn’t of much concern if a high-grade vehicle is imported.

But I digress.

I welcome Audi’s A3 into the Pakistani market. I look forward to seeing how it fares, and I hope it entices the likes of Volkswagen or Skoda to consider the Pakistani market feasible for entry. If it sells well, the A3 may just be the catalyst to a wave of German cars into Pakistan, finally offering respite from the Corollas, Civics, and Suzuki’s we’ve become numb to.

I just hope someone in management is thinking the same way I am?

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Bilaltq

Bilal Qureshi is a contributor at PakWheels Blog. He enjoys hastily unplanned road trips, lively go-kart sessions, driving his childhood dream cars, and watching Ayrton Senna Youtube videos.

  • Baber

    Even the CLA isn’t it competition I reckon. Check the price: https://www.pakwheels.com/used-cars/mercedes-benz-other-2014-for-sale-in-lahore-843081
    You can get two A3 in that price and some extras well.

  • Bilal Qureshi

    Building a premium car on an economy car platform seems to be working pretty well for Audi in Pakistan. They’ve found a way to keep their sales price low, though I wonder how close they’re selling the A3 to cost?

    And I think we may have to suspend the Merc CLA as a competitor to the A3 in Pakistan. It’s just priced out and has no way of being a better value. In fact, I think we may need to assume for the time being that the A3 has no real competition right now. The Corolla/Civic have their own little space in the market cornered off, and they’re just not premium enough (maybe even by Pakistani standards) to punch above their class.
    Looking above the Corolla/Civic segment, there isn’t really anyone who can slot perfectly into that 10/15 lakh rupee segment gap between them and the Audi.

    And just like you’re saying, that’s a perfect place for the Audi to be, and it is a uniquely unique scenario. It may actually sell pretty well.

  • Waliullah Solangi

    1.2 TFSI slower than a Civic? Sure, it puts out less horses than the Civic but it has more torque (175 Nm) combined with the Dual Clutch 7 speed tranny & less weight overall. I bet it can smoke both the Grande & Civic (watch 0-100 or even 0-200 kmh videos on youtube for A3 1.2) while giving better economy than both. Not to mention tons of more features & off course the german build! Different & more superior category & class. Best value for money available in Pakistan.

  • Car dude

    If Audi can lower this price somehow bit either assembling A3’s here in Pakistan i am positive they will create a tsunami in Pakistani car scene.

  • Bilal Qureshi

    I realize “torque” has become the trump card we all rely on to win technical comparisons, but I’ve driven plenty of cars where the torque figure is higher than the hp figure. I’d rather have the horsepower because a) I don’t live in an area where I’m climbing hills, b) I’m not towing anything, c) I need my car to be fast when I’m overtaking a large group of cars (which is a regular scenario for most of us) and my tach needle is somewhere above 4000. Torque doesn’t really matter as much as we’ve made it.
    Torque will pull me away from where I am pretty quickly, but it won’t keep pushing up top if my engine can’t make horsepower.
    Also, 0-60 in 10 seconds is still 10 seconds. But yes, I agree that overall, the Audi’s engine is still better to drive on a daily basis.

  • Audi Pakistan

    Thank you for reviewing the Audi A3 Sedan in the US. It is nice to see a proper evaluation has been written. We would like to add something which we had recently posted on the A3 Sedan 1.2TFSI.

    Efficient Downsizing 1.2TFSI: Smaller Is Better – And Consumers Shouldn’t Notice Any Difference

    Producing an engine that meets Audi’s dual criteria of performance and efficiency is not an easy task. Would a 1.2l 105bhp turbo charged engine, placed in a small body, built on ultra lightweight construction technology, with a 175Nm of torgue, and the whole thing is neatly harnessed by Audi’s dual clutch transmission be underpowered? The answer is NO!

    While the A3 1.2 TFSI isn’t going to get the crew from Top Gear Magazine struggling for new superlatives on the way to North Wales, it’s got enough zip about it to make it quick and entertaining enough for most. It’s an entry-level car so it’s only to be expected that it’s not the most concussive accelerative force you’ve ever experienced, although a sprint to 100km/h in 10.0 seconds flat is impressive!

    Downsizing is a cornerstone of Audi’s efficiency strategy — and Audi is relentlessly committed. The A3 Sedan model line has introduced yet another turbocharged gasoline engine featuring lower displacement. It unites maximum performance with minimum consumption.

    Designed from scratch, the new 1.2 TFSI generates 105 bhp from a displacement of 1,197 cc. And as is typical of Audi, turbocharging and direct gasoline injection once again perfectly comprise a technological one-two punch. Thanks to an aluminum crankcase, this four-cylinder engine weighs just 89.5 kilograms; this remarkably low weight also boosts its efficiency.

    The 1.2 TFSI has been optimized to minimize friction. Eight valves are actuated by a single camshaft. A common-rail system injects the fuel. An electric control valve operates the turbocharger’s wastegate valve; boost pressure builds up spontaneously and scavenging losses drop. The 175Nm of torque, are available already on low engine speed to make it readily accessible. The engine feels stronger than the engine capacity would suggest. Gets out of the blocks neatly, pulls hard and spins to redline willingly. Minimal noise and no vibration to speak of.

    As far as pricing is concerned, on needs to note the obvious. We import vehicles into Pakistan, which means we don’t get any duty exemption or rebate. While the local manufacturer’s because of their obvious investment enjoy a duty rebate, we have decided as a company to compensate the difference by reducing our margins to a min to introduce this model into the market.

    Audi is pursuing an engine downsizing strategy for the Pakistani market, as duty structures are lower. Audi didn’t follow its competition when updating its model range for the Pakistani market. It cornered the competition and then redefined the segment with this strategy. So besides from the elite section of the society, Audi Pakistan has able to target the majority middle-class people who are willing to stretch their price bracket by “twenty to thirty per cent” in order to get a taste of luxury. This is why entry-level Audis (turbocharged 1,200cc to 1,400cc), the A3, Audi Q3 have been two of the highest selling luxury cars in Pakistan over the past year. Achieving better performance while increasing efficiency is remarkable and Audi believes that its future offerings will continue down this path.

    “We have several examples of Audi A3 and Audi Q3 customers who have jumped price bands to buy our luxury cars”; customers get attracted to the advanced features of the cars we offer. The technological features of the cars capture the young market. Pakistani customers are new to the high-grade technological specifications and Audi provides them at a relatively affordable price.

    Luxury car customers primarily focus on: price, brand value, features, design, mileage and maintenance cost. As a luxury car brand, Audi has a good track record in all these segments. Something we are very proud of In Pakistan, maintaining an Audi A3 Sedan is cheaper than a locally manufacturer vehicle, again keeping our margins low and the maintenance intervals are longer. Besides that, Audi is cheaper in maintenance than a BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.

    “We believe for Audi, Pakistan is a long journey and it’s not just about a month or a year. The strategy that we have implemented in this journey has helped us to not only achieve leadership but also to maintain it”
    Pakistan is a place with “huge potential for growth”. “There is a high demand for luxury cars in Pakistan for they are synonymous with supremacy and wealth, and Audi provides them at low rates and with enticing offers.”

  • Hajrah

    What is your favorite vroom vroom to drive the fastes?

  • Waliullah Solangi

    I too agree. But unfortunately you don’t get a BMW in this price tag here in Pakistan and that’s the only reason that Audi especially Audi Pakistan is better in price to performance ratio. Simply, more value for money. You can just get the 1.8 variant for 4.5 millions if you need power, it has hell lot of power compared to any PKDM and gives good competition to it’s other German siblings like BMW & Merc which are much more heavier for your pockets compared to Audi in Pakistan.

  • Waliullah Solangi

    This is what we all need to know.

  • Bilal Qureshi

    Exactly. That sort of deal for an Audi in a place like Pakistan isn’t bad at all.
    And it’s BMW’s loss if they can’t sell in Pakistan. Be it the importers or the parent company itself. Clearly Audi can do it.

  • seetama tulshi

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  • I would disagree on the torque point. The 1.2 variant is specifically targeted to the young executives who live in big cities where you get stop-n-go traffic and not much road to rev your car up to 4,000 RPM. I would prefer a car with more torque in those conditions. But again, that’s just one guy’s opinion.

  • Bilal Qureshi

    I wholeheartedly reject your opinion. That’s the worst kind of rejection, too.
    So.

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