RAC

Audi A3 range

Introduction

Audi's impeccably built A3 may bring to mind the Commodores classic, but there's nothing retro about this well-built baby. June Neary reports'

Will It Suit Me?

I must admit to a penchant for small Audis. No, scrub that - any Audi. They seem so well screwed together and so nicely understated that they appeal to my more mature side. The A3 is no exception and from behind the wheel you really do feel as if you're in a much bigger and more expensive car. The bright yellow of the A3 2.0-litre TDI 140 diesel that we had delivered took a little getting used to but it's difficult not to be seduced by an interior that feels bulletproof and doors that thunk shut with all the security of a bank vault. The shape's been tweaked recently but not radically. The front wings and the grille are a little shapelier, the headlights are sharper-looking and the side repeaters are now incorporated into the door mirrors. Choose an S line variant and there are LED daytime running lights that ape the R8. The changes to the three-door car add 2.5cm to its length, while the five-door Sportback model's dimensions remain unchanged.

Practicalities

I liked the latest interior changes. To be honest, I had thought that the A3 was just starting to look a little off the pace in this department. Even far more mundane cars like the Vauxhall Astra and the Fiat Bravo were beginning to show Audi the way forward in terms of materials quality. The latest A3 ups the ante with more aluminium design elements, revised switchgear, a better quality instrument cluster and a rethink for the upholstery choices. Quattro four wheel drive is of course offered on certain variants. The luggage compartment of the three-door car I tried features 350/1,080 litres of fresh air with rear seats in place and then folded, just pipped by the 370/1,220 litres of the Sportback.

Behind the Wheel

The A3 certainly offers a few mouthwatering selections. Increasingly popular are the diesel units - and there's a choice between an entry-level 105bhp 1.6-litre TDI powerplant or 140 and 170bhp versions of the more advanced 2.0 TDI engine at prices from around £17,000. Petrol buyers usually opt for one of the turbocharged TFSI engines: either the 125bhp 1.4, the 160bhp 1.8 or the 200bhp 2.0-litre unit. The S3 uses a version of the 2.0-litre Turbo engine which is tuned to achieve 263bhp and heart-stopping performance. The S tronic gearbox in the car I tried is a glimpse of the future. This twin-clutch sequential gearbox can be fitted to the 2.0 TFSI and 2.0 TDI models in six speed form, where the 1.6, 1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI petrol engines get the option of a seven-speed system. This system can mimic a full automatic gearbox or the driver can blitz through gearchanges at lightning speed using shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Standard safety equipment includes window airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, brake assist, a part-electric power steering system and anti-whiplash head restraints. The cabin has been restyled to offer a little more design flair, Audi realising that high quality alone isn't enough to lure buyers into showrooms. There has to be some style on display too. The fascia struts ape the interior design of the TT, as do the round air vents and chrome-rimmed dials. It's still not what you'd call revolutionary, but it's beautifully executed.

Value For Money

If the A3 was a premium lager it would doubtless be referred to as reassuringly expensive. Prices are a good deal more than you can expect to pay for something like a more mainstream Ford or Vauxhall but many will consider it a fair price given the overall aura of quality.

Could I Live With One?

The latest Audi A3 is a car that generates few complaints. It's not too showy - even in yellow - and offers solid engineering and a huge feel good factor. Perhaps the only area where its possible to grouse is over the pricing, especially when you consider that it's based around more humble Golf running gear. If you can swallow the chunky up front asking price, you'll be rewarded with a car that does everything very well in a quiet, unruffled manner. I for one was sorry to see it go.

The A3 three-door has always been a great small car that feels like the concentrated goodness of a great big car. Nothing's changed. You'll still want one as soon as your strides hits the seat. This model sees Audi realise that the competition has been busy copying and, in certain cases, bettering the Germans when it comes to interior quality. Consider the status quo re-established with this car. Highlights of the line up include the S3 Sportback, the seven-speed S tronic gearbox option for fast but fuel efficient models like the 125bhp 1.4 TFSI and the all-round brilliance of the 2.0 TFSI model. With robust residual values, the A3 might look initially expensive but as the miles rack up, the maths then begin to swing in the Audi owner's favour. The latest A3 is a car that you can buy with you heart as well as your head. Just try not to look too smug, OK?

The A3 three-door has always been a great small car that feels like the concentrated goodness of a great big car. Nothing's changed. You'll still want one as soon as your strides hits the seat. This model sees Audi realise that the competition has been busy copying and, in certain cases, bettering the Germans when it comes to interior quality. Consider the status quo re-established with this car. The exterior has been tweaked but not in such a radical way that it put the kibosh on the residual value of the previous model. The front wings and the grille are a little shapelier, the headlights are sharper-looking and the side repeaters are now incorporated into the door mirrors. Choose an S line variant and there are LED daytime running lights that ape the R8. The changes to the three-door car add 2.5cm to its length, while the five-door Sportback model's dimensions remain unchanged. The interior ups the ante with more aluminium design elements, revised switchgear, a better quality instrument cluster and a rethink for the upholstery choices. Quattro four wheel drive is of course offered on certain variants. Highlights of the line up include the S3 Sportback, the seven-speed S tronic gearbox option for fast but fuel efficient models like the 125bhp 1.4 TFSI and the all-round brilliance of the 2.0 TFSI model. With robust residual values, the A3 might look initially expensive but as the miles rack up, the maths then begin to swing in the Audi owner's favour. The latest A3 is a car that you can buy with you heart as well as your head. Just try not to look too smug, OK?

'I deserve this.' It's a justification that can lead to all manner of financial meltdowns but in the case of the Audi A3, it's possible to have your cake and eat it. The most beautifully built hatchback money can buy, the A3 even works out on the balance sheet. The latest revisions tweak the formula to add more presence and improve quality. The latest changes to the A3 haven't revolutionised the way it drives. Instead they have concentrated on improving the quality of the driving experience using some high-tech features that have filtered down from loftier points in the Audi canon. Audi magnetic ride is one of them. Adaptive action shock absorbers filled with a magneto rheological fluid allow the driver to choose between a comfort-oriented normal mode and a tauter sport mode at the touch of a button. An option on 1.8 TFSI, 2.0 TFSI and 2.0 TDI diesel models, it's the way all cars will soon ride. The S tronic gearbox is also a glimpse of the future. This twin-clutch sequential gearbox can be fitted to the 2.0 TFSI and 2.0 TDI models in six speed form, where the 1.6, 1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI petrol engines get the option of a seven-speed system. This system can mimic a full automatic gearbox or the driver can blitz through gearchanges at lightning speed using shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. The 2.0-litre 140bhp diesel offers the sort of performance you'd expect from Audi. It hits 60mph in 9.2 seconds and tops 130mph. The exterior has been tweaked but not in such a radical way that it put the kibosh on the residual value of the previous model. The front wings and the grille are a little shapelier, the headlights are sharper-looking and the side repeaters are now incorporated into the door mirrors. Choose an S line variant and there are LED daytime running lights that ape the R8. The changes to the three-door car add 2.5cm to its length, while the five-door Sportback model's dimensions remain unchanged. The interior has also come in for some treatment. Believe it or not, but the previous A3 was just starting to look a little off the pace in this department. Even far more mundane cars like the Vauxhall Astra and the Fiat Bravo were beginning to show Audi the way forward in terms of materials quality. The latest A3 ups the ante with more aluminium design elements, revised switchgear, a better quality instrument cluster and a rethink for the upholstery choices. Quattro four wheel drive is of course offered on certain variants. The luggage compartment of the three-door car features 350/1,080 litres of fresh air with rear seats in place and then folded, just pipped by the 370/1,220 litres of the Sportback. The A3 range has long been one of dizzying complexity and the latest model (priced in the same £15,000 to £30,000 bracket) changes very little. As well as chooing between four petrol engines and three diesel versions, there's also standard, Sportback and Convertible body styles to choose from. Then you'll need to figure out whether you want to stick with a manual gearbox and clutch pedal or upgrade to the too-cool-for-school S tronic transmission. You're not finished yet. Quattro four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive? Specifying an A3 is almost like ordering a cheese and ham roll in a New York deli.

Scores
Performance 8
Handling 8
Comfort 8
Space 6
Styling 9
Build 10
Value 5
Equipment 5
Economy 6
Depreciation 9
Insurance 6
Total 80

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