The A3 is the baby of the Audi range, and it’s closer in both concept and execution to a conventional family hatchback than its BMW 1-Series rival here. Even so, with the manufacturer’s trademark grille, it still has plenty of understated style.
The overall sense of solidity is just as apparent on this eco model as it is on more expensive variants. Visually,the A3 is starting to look a little dated, but once inside, the model’s quality shines through and there is little to fault.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A3
The finish and detailing are first rate and the layout is as user-friendly as the BMW’s. But our test car’s driver information screen, armrest, climate control and multifunction wheel are all optional. The TDIe lacks luxuries, then, but there’s still a premium feel to the cabin. And with a decent range of seat and wheel adjustment, the driving position is good, too.
There’s more elbow room than in the BMW and a greater impression of all-round space. This is most obvious in the back, thanks to Audi’s smaller and flatter transmission tunnel. With a boot that’s 20 litres larger, the A3 is the more practical choice. But faced with a challenger such as the 1-Series, the biggest question is whether the TDIe offers enough driver appeal.
Choosing the green model in the range doesn’t leave you short-changed compared to other A3s. It shares their safe handling and composed ride, and is both easy to drive and well mannered. But while it won’t disappoint in most day-to-day situations, the A3 feels a little inert and ordinary after driving the BMW.
The steering is slower and there’s more body roll, and with relatively small and skinny 16-inch wheels, grip is surrendered far sooner than in the rear-driven 1-Series.
As a result, the Audi will scrub its front tyres at cornering speeds that the sharper and tauter BMW manages without any fuss. However, the biggest disappointment lies under the bonnet, because the 1.9-litre TDI is an old engine – and it shows.
There’s noticeable clatter at start-up and idle, plus it isn’t as refined as the BMW low in the rev range. Once up to speed things improve, but with 12bhp and 10Nm less than the 116d, the Audi can’t match the all-round performance of its rival.
What’s more, the TDI isn’t as smooth under load or as keen to rev. It has only a five-speed gearbox, too, which means it lacks flexibility in the higher gears.
Despite missing out on the stop/start technology of the BMW, the TDIe emits only 119g/km and has combined fuel economy of 62.8mpg, which are impressive figures. But it’s the car which provides green motoring with the fewest sacrifices that will come out on top in this test.
So the key question is, does the A3 TDIe offer enough in the way of all-round appeal to take victory here?
Chart position: 2
WHY: As Audi’s greenest model, TDIe provides low emissions from its 1.9-litre diesel engine.
* Price: £17,070
* Engine: 1.9-litre 4cyl, 104bhp
* 0-60mph: 10.4 seconds
* AE economy: 42.4mpg
* Claimed CO2: 119g/km
* Euro NCAP rating: Four stars