Audi's impeccably built A3 is now a common executive choice. But how will this improved third generation version appeal to families? 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. Plus 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. In improved third generation form, the styling's been tweaked but not radically. A little shapelier perhaps, but still very Audi. The major changes, I was promised, lay under the skin. A few days at the wheel with family in tow would put them to the test.
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. This improved MK4 A3 ups the ante with cutting edge features like the optional 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument display we first saw in the TT sportscar. This displays the most important driving-relevant information in high resolution on a 12.3-inch diagonal TFT screen. The driver can switch between two views by pressing the "View" button on the multifunction steering wheel. As before, 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. The luggage compartment of the three-door car I tried features 365/1,110 litres of fresh air with rear seats in place and then folded, just pipped by the 380/1,220 litres of the five-door Sportback. All of which makes the car just big enough for family duties. Getting childseats in and out should be easy enough and the fabrics on the test car seemed to be wipe-clean-friendly.
Behind the Wheel
The A3 certainly offers a few mouth-watering selections. Increasingly popular are the diesel units - and there's a choice between an entry-level 110PS 1.6-litre TDI powerplant or 150 and 184PS versions of the more advanced 2.0 TDI engine. Petrol buyers usually opt for one of the turbocharged TFSI engines: 1.0, 1.4 or 2.0-litre petrol or the uprated 310PS 2.0-litre turbo unit used in the quattro S3 hot hatch. The S tronic gearbox in the car I tried was especially impressive. 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.
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. You're not going to find too many A3s leaving dealerships at less than £20,000 as that sum will buy you little more than a 1.0-litre TFSI petrol variant with a few modest options on board. The bulk of the range campaigns up to £25,000 or more and these days is almost directly comparable to Audi's two closest rivals in this segment, the BMW 1 Series and the much improved Mercedes A Class. Though choice between this trio will come down to personal preference, the fact that you can have, say, an A3 2.0TDI on the same fuel and tax terms you'd have to choose a feeble 1 Series or A-Class diesel to get will be a powerful incentive for Audi ownership.
Could I Live With One?
The improved fourth generation Audi A3 is a car that generates few complaints and will be happily received by the families of the executives who'll doubtless gravitate towards it. It's not too showy and offers solid engineering and a huge feel good factor. Perhaps the only area where it's 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.