Sometimes, it’s all in the detail. Take our Audi A3. I’ve only been living with it for just over a month, and while the understated looks meant it didn’t capture my heart like our Range Rover Evoque, I’ve quickly come to appreciate its finer points.
It all started with the air vents. It sounds like a strange thing to notice, but they’re so perfectly designed for their function that you can’t help but admire them. They swivel in every direction, with a wonderfully smooth, damped action, while the chrome ring around the outside twists with a luxurious-sounding ‘click’ if you want to shut off the air flow. The thing that really caught my attention, though, is the fact that you can push or pull the centre of the vent depending on whether you want a powerful jet of air or a softer breath.
That’s just the first part of an interior that I’m struggling to find any fault with. Even at night, you get a subtle glow from strips of ambient lighting that really boosts the upmarket feel. Put a bottle of water in the cup-holders in the centre console and the ring of light embedded within them illuminates the whole bottle – it’s a neat trick if you’re willing to pay £225 for it.
A lot of thought has clearly been put into the layout and, while it can take weeks to learn where all the buttons are in some cars, you’ll know your way around the A3’s simple cabin in a matter of hours.
Special mention should also go to the soft leather that trims the steering wheel and gearstick. In fact, every part of the interior that you frequently touch feels expensive. As soon as you get behind the wheel you could be fooled into thinking you’re in an Audi A6.
And the premium feel extends to the way the A3 drives. To give you an idea of how quiet it is, I have accidentally tried to start the engine while it was already running. Even at motorway speeds you can have the radio on quietly and hear every word, and there’s no need to shout over tyre roar and wind whistle when you’re talking to your passengers.
The 120bhp engine is fantastic, too, with the kind of flexibility that makes journeys around town incredibly easy. And in everyday driving, there’s all the performance you’re likely to need, with 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds.
Any criticisms I have are mostly a result of being spoiled by the fully loaded A3 Sportback I tried a few weeks ago. With its optional Google Maps sat-nav, WiFi hotspot and slick xenon headlights, the five-door made my three-door feel spartan when I got back behind the wheel.
I’ve got a ‘nav’ button but no sat-nav; I’ve got the MMI touch controller that allows you to write in letters for sat-nav destinations but no way to use it, and the car looks as if it’s missing something without the stylish blade-shaped LED headlights. Still, a quick glance at the options list brings you crashing down to earth as you realise you’d have to shell out £2,745 to have all that kit fitted.
I think I’ll settle instead for the £495 basic Euro sat-nav, which just requires an SD card from Audi. That seems like a more reasonable amount of money to pay, considering our A3 costs £19,205 – and this is the cheapest engine and spec combination you can buy.
The more I think about it, though, I can’t name another £20,000 car with this kind of attention to detail – and for that reason, I think the A3 is worth every penny.
“The punchy 1.4-litre engine is a real highlight. Despite not having Audi’s cylinder deactivation kit, it’ll still return 40mpg-plus economy on a run.”
James Disdale, Road test editor
“It’s definitely an evolutionary design, but then Audi sells a lot of cars. The saying ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ definitely applies to this latest A3.”
mael24, via www.autoexpress.co.uk