Audi A3

The previous-generation Audi A3 had it pretty easy. It kick-started the premium hatchback sector at its launch in 1996, and there were few rivals for it to compete with.

More practical than the three-door, the Sportback is a reasonable effort. There's adequate rear space, the seats are easy to fold and the extra doors aid access. But it still suffers from the smaller A3's harsh ride and numb steering. Even with the competitive pricing, these annoying faults take the polish off an otherwise fine package.

The previous-generation Audi A3 had it pretty easy. It kick-started the premium hatchback sector at its launch in 1996, and there were few rivals for it to compete with. But now it's up against the new BMW 1-Series and MkII Mercedes A-Class - so Audi has to up its game if the car is to maintain its sales lead.

The new five-door Sportback version features heavily in the plan. We've already driven the 2.0-litre turbo FSI, in Issue 817 - and now Auto Express has got behind the wheel of the 2.0 TDI diesel for the first time in the UK.

While it has its own specific name this time around, the Sportback doesn't offer much more than the three-door. The boot is 20 litres larger and the rear seats go nearly flat (boosting the capacity to a maximum of 1,120 litres), but other than that there is little innovation. Getting in and out of the rear is, as you would expect, far easier. And build quality and interior design remain faultless.

Neater The exterior features Audi's controversial new grille, yet overall the Sportback is better executed than the previous-generation five-door. It looks far neater around the rear, although Audi isn't calling the model an estate as the short overhang simply doesn't justify the company's established Avant tag.

The grille isn't the only bold style statement, however - the brake lights at the back are borrowed from the Le Mans concept and will feature on future models from the company. Turn the key and the powerplant lacks some of the refinement of the newest oil-burners from PSA Peugeot Citroen. As with BMW's new 120d, it rattles a bit at idle, and even at speed there is still a hint of vibration coming through to the cabin.

This is the only criticism, though, because the car has a superbly smooth power delivery - and is quick as well. The TDI is one of the faster models in the range, but the 0-60mph time of 9.5 seconds doesn't demonstrate exactly how much torque is on offer.

From anywhere above 1,750rpm, the Audi is extremely responsive and powers along at a decent pace - so much so that the front wheels have difficulty containing all the grunt, and it proves really easy to spin them, especially in the wet. The quattro system which is available as an option reduces this, but the additional bulk of the four-wheel drive means that the boot volume is reduced.

Not that it's especially easy to tell when the tyres aren't gripping, as the steering lacks feel. It's precise but, unlike in the BMW 120d, fails to transmit the signals back to the driver - so the A3 doesn't inspire as much confidence as the 1-Series.

This also applies to the chassis. The car we drove was equipped with sports suspension, which made the ride too harsh. We would recommend sticking to the standard tyres and spring settings to make it more comfortable.

The Sportback hardly brings anything radical to the party, but it does have a great image and will doubtless continue to sell as well as the three-door A3.

Most Popular

Exclusive: banned 71-reg number plates released
Number plates
News

Exclusive: banned 71-reg number plates released

Latest DVLA list of banned UK registrations reveals which 71-plates are too rude for the road
21 Sep 2021
Volvo to ditch leather in all cars by 2030
Volvo interior
Volvo

Volvo to ditch leather in all cars by 2030

New C40 Recharge will be first Volvo to be offered without the option of leather upholstery
23 Sep 2021
New MG HS plug-in hybrid 2021 review
MG HS PHEV - front
MG HS SUV

New MG HS plug-in hybrid 2021 review

We find out where the new MG HS PHEV fits in the highly competitive plug-in hybrid SUV sector
21 Sep 2021