Audi A3 review
The new Audi A3 beats the 1 Series on style and quality, and can almost match the Golf on price, too
This is the third-generation Audi A3 and it provides strong competition for the BMW 1 Series and Mk7 VW Golf. We love the style and quality of the interior - which you would probably expect from an Audi - but we also like the more relaxed drive and improved ride quality, even though it does lack a bit of the sharpness of its rivals. There’s a wide range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from, but our pick of the range is the 1.6 TDI diesel and the clever 1.4 TFSI petrol with cylinder-deactivation technology, as they provide the best mix of fuel economy and performance. The all-new five-door A3 Sportback joined the line-up at the end of 2012, while the hot S3 model will go on sale in July 2013, powered by a 296bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine for a 0-62mph time of just 4.8 seconds. But that’s not all, as the new A3 family is set to expand even further. The A3 Saloon will make its official debut at the Shanghai Motor Show this spring before going on sale in the UK this summer, while a new A3 Cabriolet is expected to be revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. An extreme RS3 model and a plug-in hybrid e-tron version will complete the line-up when they go on sale in 2014.
Our choice: A3 1.6 TDI S-Line
It’s fair to say that Audi design doesn’t move on very quickly. While you’ll struggle to tell an A3 from an A1, A4 or A6 in your rear-view mirror, conservative styling hasn’t stood in the way of Audi’s success. Viewed on its own, the third-generation A3 is a smart, head-turning car with some neat detailing. But it’s the interior style and quality that’s most impressive – the cabin is beautifully designed with high-quality materials and a decent amount of kit. Specifications are made up of three trim levels - SE, Sport and S line – but even entry-level models gets stop-start, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-con, Bluetooth and a slim 5.8-inch screen that slides out of the top of the dash and is controlled by Audi’s MMI controller. Range-topping S line models add 18-inch alloys, a sporty body kit and xenon lights.
If you stick with standard suspension, you’ll notice that Audi has traded some handling ability in favour of comfort – which is no bad thing. The A3 still handles well - even though it’s a bit uninvolving - but it now rides over bumps better, with just a hint of firmness. You can have standard suspension on Sport and S-Line models, or for no extra cost get sportier settings. Our pick of the engines are the sweet 1.6-litre TDI and the clever 1.4 petrol – neither are especially quick, but both drive well. The 1.8-litre petrol is faster but also more expensive to run, while the 2.0 TDI is impressively efficient but a bit gruff.
The third-generation Audi A3 received a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, with 95 per cent in the adult occupant protection category. As well as the expected full complement of airbags, stability systems and anti-lock brakes, the A3 can be bought with a whole host of electronic driver assistance systems. They include radar-controlled cruise control to maintain your distance to the car in front, lane keeping assistant to stop you wandering on the motorway, traffic sign detection and a pre-sense system to prepare the car in the event of an accident. You can even have your A3 park itself. The previous-generation A3 finished 72nd in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, having dropped 34 positions in just 12 months. Plus, Audi as a brand finished a distinctly average 15th out of 30. But as the main problems owners of the old A3 had were with its stiff suspension, high running costs and poor standard equipment, the new car should fare better.
The A3’s dimensions have been carried over almost unchanged, but that doesn’t mean you won’t notice the extra space on offer. The new car isn’t any longer than the car it replaces, but its wheelbase has been stretched to create more room for passengers. It’s wider, too, so the driver and front passenger sit further apart for more elbow room. Getting into the back of the three-door model isn’t too tricky, but legroom is still a little bit tight for taller adults. There’s an extra 15 litres of boot space, which means it now offers 365 litres with the rear seats in place or a maximum 1,100 litres with them folded. These figures are a little disappointing when compared to rivals such as the BMW 1 Series (which offers 360 and 1,200 litres) and the Mk7 Golf, which manages 380 and 1,270 litres. However, if you do need extra space and you don’t mind paying an extra £620, the five-door A3 Sportback has a 380-litre boot, and you can fold the rear seats down to create a 1,220-litre load area.
The two diesel models should prove cheap to run. The 2.0 TDI has an official fuel consumption figure of 68.9mpg and CO2 emissions of only 106g/km, while the 1.6 TDI drops into the tax-free sub-100g/km bracket and should deliver average mpg of 74.3mpg. As for the petrol models, the 1.8 TFSI does a good job of minimising costs, with claimed economy of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 130g/km. The new 1.4-litre petrol with cylinder deactivation should be the star of the show, though, with diesel-style economy figures from a small petrol engine – Audi claims it will return 54.3mpg and emit only 120g/km of CO2, making it exempt from road tax for the first year. However, this engine falls into insurance group 16, which will make it more expensive to insure than an equivalent 1 Series or Golf. The price of buying an A3 is also higher than buying an equivalent Ford Focus or Golf, although the difference isn’t as big as it used to be. Residual values should be good, too. The service schedule ranges from 9,000 miles for minor checks to 19,000 miles for a full service. Audi offers a range of fixed-price deals, though, so owning an A3 shouldn’t prove too costly.