Audi A3 2.0 TDI S-Line

15 May, 2012 8:17pm Steve Fowler

All-new A3 takes hi-tech approach to battling the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class


The new A3 ups the quality stakes even further, but adds a degree of comfort not usually associated with the name. It may not be as sharp to drive as a BMW 1 Series, but it appeals massively for its more relaxed driving manners, its refinement and its hi-tech gadgets. Even the pricing looks keen.
The Audi A3 was the original premium downsizer back in 1996, bringing a degree of poshness never before seen in a Golf-sized car. Two generations on, this new model may not look a whole lot different, but it promises to move the A3 even further upmarket with an added dose of efficiency and dynamic appeal.

It’ll have to be good with the new BMW 1 Series already impressing and the exciting new Mercedes A-Class just around the corner. Plus you’ve got a new Golf due at the end of the year, while Ford and other mainstream makers are pushing their small hatchbacks further upmarket.

Video: Watch our video review of the new A3

So Audi has taken an intelligent approach to the new A3 – this is its most advanced Audi yet, not only in terms of clever on-board gadgets, but also the way it’s built.

The new car is about the same length as the old one, but with a longer wheelbase for more interior space and better dynamics. It’s a shade wider, too.

Most importantly, it’s the first VW Group car to sit on the much talked about MBQ platform – a lightweight chassis system that shares many parts, but allows individual tailoring for different sizes and classes of car. It not only saves weight (around 80kg in the case of the A3) and saves money, it should improve everything from comfort and refinement to safety and economy.

So plenty has changed… apart from the looks. Audi itself describes the new A3 as evolutionary, but man has evolved faster than the look of Audi’s line-up. The goatee grill remains with slightly slimmer headlights, a sharper crease along the sides and larger rear lights. Against the old car, the differences are clear, but we came across an Audi A1 on our test drive and had to look hard to check whether it was another A3 or not…

Inside, the changes are more obvious with the gains in width and wheelbase making the car feel much more spacious, especially in the front. A five-door Sportback model will arrive next year, but until then you’ll have to slide the front seat forward to clamber into the back. It’s pretty simple to do, but rear knee space is still a bit tight for tall adults, although headroom is fine. Boot space is up 15 litres to 365 litres making for a decent sized, nicely shaped load space.

However, it’s interior style and quality that Audi has become famous for and both have been stepped up another notch. The dash sits lower than before, while there’s less clutter. A slim 5.8-inch screen rises out of the dash, there are simpler air-con controls and Audi’s excellent MMI controller looks after many of the other functions.

It’s all smart and simple to use, while Audi has even thrown in handwriting recognition on top of the MMI controller. It sits between the front seats, so when right-hand-drive cars come to the UK the two-thirds of the population who are right handed will have to learn to be a bit more dextrous with their left digits.

If you love your gadgets, though, you’ll love the A3. There’s the expected smartphone connection via Bluetooth, but you can also boast about navigation with Google Street View, your own on-board wireless hotspot, a box that’ll boost your mobile phone signal and internet radio.

Our biggest crititicism of A3s of old is that they haven’t been that good to drive, while the ride has bordered on the uncomfy. Not any more – the standard cars still aren’t the sharpest to drive, electromechanical steering doesn’t give the greatest amount of feedback, while mid-corner bumps can cause the car to lurch a bit if you’re going really fast.

But you can still have fun in a car that corners confidently, while the ride on standard suspension is good – comfy with only a slight hint of firmness and a real step forward compared to A3s of old.

All our test cars were on standard suspension, which is now a no cost option on top-spec S-Line or mid-spec Sport models that are normally lowered (by 25mm and 15mm respectively). Even entry-level SE models are reasonably specced with alloys, air-con, iPod and Bluetooth connection, plus MMI and fancy display screen.

Mid-spec Sport model adds 17-inch alloys, Audi Drive Select (so you can choose between sportier or more relaxed steering and throttle settings), sports seats, climate control and some aluminium trim. At the top of the tree is S-Line, which is likely to be the best selling trim level thanks to smart 18-inch alloys, smart Xenons with the latest interpretation of Audi’s famous daytime running lights, and a mild body kit.

Initially, engine choice is limited to 1.4 and 1.8 TFSI petrol engines (the latter coming with an S Tronic double clutch gearbox) and a 2.0 TDI diesel. Prices aren’t that far away from an equivalent VW Golf and are pretty much on a par with a 1 Series.

The range runs from £19,205 for a 120bhp 1.4 TFSI SE to £26,560 for the 178bhp 1.8 TFSI S-Line. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel starts at £21,505 in SE trim – going to Sport adds £1,225, while going for S-Line means spending a further £2,150.

It’s that top-spec 2.0-litre we drove first, with the slick-shifting S Tronic ‘box. Performance is strong and economy impressive at 68.9mpg. It’ll be a popular company car, too, with CO2 emissions of just 106g/km. There’s plenty of mid-range punch, but the engine was a little grumbly around town, while the stop-start system was also a bit loud.

A much better bet is the 1.6 TDI we’ll get towards the end of the year. With figures of 74mpg and 99g/km it’ll grab some headlines, but it’s the way it performs that’s most impressive. It’s a sweet engine, revving keenly with easily enough oomph and excellent refinement. We reckon it’ll be worth the expected saving of around £1,200 over the 2.0-litre diesel, even if the economy and emission gains are small.

A 138bhp 1.4-litre petrol with Audi’s clever cylinder deactivation tech will arrive early next year. It’ll shut down cylinders when the car’s cruising to boost economy figures to close to that of the 2.0-litre diesel, but still with decent performance on offer.

On the road, all A3s have a new found sense of refinement. There’s very little road noise, only a small amount of wind noise and the engine is nice and quiet, too.

That’s very much in keeping with the new, relaxed nature of the A3. It may not be as sharp to drive as a 1 Series, but it seems to be taking a slightly different approach. Which makes the route the new Mercedes A-Class takes, all the more eagerly anticipated.

Disqus - noscript

The original premium hatch returns.

Really liking the sounds of this. The design and engineering sounds really smart, as well as the level of technology.

And as quoted "it’s interior style and quality that Audi has become famous for and both have been stepped up another notch".

The evolutional design instead of revolutional one, is obviously audi Cottoning on to the fact they were the best selling car manufacturer of 2011.

If it aint broke don't fix it and i think it works really well.

the 1 series is better in every single department good try though
need to try harder audi Sorry

With the 1-series, new A-class and now the A3, not to mention the next Golf coming at the end of the year, it going to be interesting to see results of a group test of them all. Guess it may depend on the testers to see what's wins out? It's a good time to be in the market for a small executive car.
Can't understand "slayer's" comment above - need to have a full test before any conclusion could be made. ;-()

If its still boring fix it.

Man has evolved faster than the A3. Ha! Excellent quote.

Thinking of the greatness of the A3's design 15 years ago makes me sad to look at this car today.

Should have gone to specsavers

Don't understand this para - surely a contradiction in terms?

Our biggest criticism of A3s of old is that they haven’t been that good to drive, while the ride has bordered on the uncomfy. Not any more – the standard cars still aren’t the sharpest to drive, electromechanical steering doesn’t give the greatest amount of feedback, while mid-corner bumps can cause the car to lurch a bit if you’re going really fast.

Otherwise - sounds like the best bet is wait for the next Golf on the MBQ platform and save yourseld a shed load of cash for pretty much the same car...

before it even hits the road. I guess that those hundreds of designers working at Audi wish they would have had a little bit more leeway to differentiate.

Anyway, it is good news to other brands. The BMW 1 Series is way too ugly to score huge appeal, the Merc A Series looks weird, and I am not too sure about the new sub-premium Volvo V40.

I really do not understand all the media attention for this car, it is a very boring car to look at. The technical inovation is limited, it will sell however like every Audi. Instead, I go for the v40, the surprise of the last Geneva motorshow, far better to look at, more safety features and superb quality.

It's an Audi style body on a VW platform. If that's what you want buy the new Golf. If you want something truly premium buy the BMW.

Strikingly different to the A1/A4/A5/A6/A7/A8? I wish.

It's like the design engineers at Audi have all been sacked and replaced by a photocopier which automatically reduces or enlarges. It might save tham a few €m in development costs but it will lose them a lot of customers (the ones that haven't already left due to the still-far-too-hard S-Line suspension).

That said, at least it's nowhere near as ugly as the 1 series, or Audi wouldn't be able to sell any cars at all.

Beam me up Scotty!

Ha ha. You say "facts are also true". Ha ha. facts are a facts which are always true dear Julie. Wow, 3 Audi's. Audi tech? Or car washer? You and your cousin still crowded around the computer again? Always assumptions about me when you know nothing but can't help telling me about your sad life. Ok. Audi's are great. Love them. Even though they are Skoda's.

take a good look now, because probably in about 3 months time they will have changed the lights, grille etc with a facelift, & all the robbed, duped, wannabe, clueless, brainless, gobsh-tes wil be queueing up again to get the 'latest ' model. Keep playing into Audis hands boys, they're making a fortune out of your stupidity. Like i've said countless times, just how ' quality ' can plastic & fake ' leather ' be? Badge snobbery nonsense at its worst.

well i like it

...but please, please, please don't attack each other. We love a good debate but please don't let it get personal.

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Was expecting "fluidic" design but once again shrinked photo copy of a4 on front. Why can Audi designer start taking inspiration for there neighbor BMW and give us something better then that.

Already Audi has given shrinked and stretched photo copies of same design in A3 A4 A5 A6... it has become all too predictable now. May be Audi need to hire sweedish or korean designers..

The comments made here that 'the A3 is an expensive Golf' is ridiculous.

I drive an A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI on a company car scheme, and in deciding which car to get I compared the two below - which are basically the comparable models from each manufacturer:

VW GOLF 'GT' 2.0 TDI 140: £22,715
Audi A3 SPORTBACK 2.0 TDI 140 'SPORT': £21,465 (Add full leather? List price = £22,485 - still cheaper than the Golf!)

In addition to the clear fact that the VW Golf list price is more expensive, the Audi A3 has start/stop technology so the emissions and car tax are considerably lower, which makes a huge difference.

In addition I chose the A3 because as a motorway driver it had far better sound insulation inside the cabin, the interior was better put together, and the boot & back seats of the Sportback have got more space - it is considerably more car for the money vs. the Golf, and, cheaper.

Maybe I am missing something?

As the happy owner of a 58 reg A3, I was quite attracted to this new model. But the delays in releasing the Sportback version have driven me elsewhere, coupled with the fact that Audi are still taking the p*ss on equipment levels and options. For example, although virtually every other new car on sale in UK comes with a DAB radio as standard, Audi want nearly £400 for this as an option, even on their highest spec models. They are having a laugh.

Key specs

* Audi A3 2.0 TDI S-Line
* Price: £24,880
* Engine: 2.0 4cyl, 148bhp
* Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* 0-62/top speed: 8.6 seconds/134mph
* Economy/CO2: 68.9mpg/106g/km
* Equipment: 18-inch alloys, body kit, Bluetooth and iPod connections, Climate control, MMI controller, 5.8-inch screen
* On sale: September

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