Audi A3: Second report

20 Feb, 2013 10:15am Luke Madden

Dull styling means that our long-term Audi A3 lacks sparkle, but it remains an excellent car to drive

Call me a philistine, but in the past I’ve been known to overlook a black and white movie – even if it’s been raved about in all the reviews – in favour of one filmed in full colour. I’m sure this means I’ll miss out on some of the classics during my lifetime, but if it’s not got the full spectrum of colours I simply can’t get excited about it.

And I’m worried that our Audi A3 suffers from a similar problem. Don’t get me wrong, I like the car – in fact it’s perfect for 99 per cent of my journeys. But I never approach it with any sense of excitement or anticipation – and neither, it seems, does anyone else in the Auto Express office. If I’m driving another car, I’ll always offer the Audi’s keys to my colleagues, but more often than not, they’ll shun it in favour of something else.

I think it might be an image problem, with the understated styling masking what a good car this is in a number of different ways. Sadly it looks too much like the old A3, while our model’s silver paint finish doesn’t help matters. As a result, the Audi blends into the background.

And that’s a shame, because if you look past the rather forgettable styling you’ll find a family hatchback that has one of the most luxurious and refined cabins in this market. It’s also great to drive, rivalling cars from the class above for refinement and comfort.

Most of my miles are covered around town, and the 1.4-litre TFSI engine is perfect for the job. Despite its small capacity, the 120bhp turbo is a gutsy and responsive performer. I’m still occasionally surprised by the firm ride, but that’s only after I’ve climbed out of a car with particularly soft suspension.

In reality, this latest A3 strikes a pretty good compromise, and manages to feel agile and comfortable at the same time.

Plus, I’m happy with the respectable 37.7mpg fuel economy, even if it is a little way off the 39.1mpg return displayed by the car’s trip computer. This tiny thirst for fuel is thanks in no small part to the excellent stop-start system – impressively, this kept on working even when there was snow on the roads and temperatures were hovering around zero degrees Celsius.

On a long motorway journey, the fuel economy will creep up to around 45mpg and the A3 comes into its own once again.

The near-silence at 70mph is always very welcome – what little road and wind noise you can hear is easily drowned out simply by turning up the volume on the stereo. And even though our car has the basic sound system – rather than the upgraded £255 Audi set-up, or the £750 Bang & Olufsen package – I think it sounds pretty good.

But that brings me to one of my niggles with the A3: I don’t seem able to connect my phone to the multimedia system properly. If I hook it up via Bluetooth, it’ll play music and relay phone calls through the stereo, but when I connect my mobile using the cable the set-up will only charge it; frustratingly, the screen permanently reads ‘loading media’. Plus, on two occasions, the screen has just frozen, and you either have to pull over and turn the car off or just wait for the system to reboot itself as you drive along.

Minor gripes like this haven’t dimmed my overall view of the Audi, though. I still reckon it’s an excellent car, and by the time you read its next report, I’m hoping to have brought a few more people in the office around to my way of thinking.

Our view

“If the Audi’s understated looks put you off, then try the new SEAT Leon. It’s mechanically identical, but has a much more eye-catching exterior design.”
James Disdale, Road test editor

Your view

“The A3 is simply too expensive for such an ordinary-looking car, and far too many things need to be specified as extras as well.”
Tigger, via

Key specs

  • On fleet since: October 2012
  • Price new: £19,205
  • Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl, 120bhp
  • CO2/Tax: 120g/km/£30
  • Options: 17-inch alloys (£495), light and rain sensors (£150), interior lighting package (£225), rear parking sensors (£345), dual-zone climate control (£390)
  • Trade-in now: N/A
  • Insurance group/quote: 16E/£353
  • Mileage/mpg: 3,567/37.7mpg
  • Costs/Problems: None so far