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Audi A3 1.4 TFSI Sport

New small-capacity turbo engine gives the hatchback a real boost.

  • Well proportioned, understated styling, excellent cabin quality, larger, more usable boot than BMW, composed handling.
  • Back access is tight and A-Class has larger rear compartment, lacks dynamic appeal of the rear-drive BMW.

It’s the baby of the Audi range, but the A3 runs the A4 close as the firm’s best-selling model. It comes as a three-door – as tried here – and a five-door Sportback, and visually is the closest of our trio to a conventional family hatchback in concept and execution.

The A3 is wider and shorter than the 1-Series, and its rounded lines make it look a little plump in comparison. Revisions in 2003 brought it more closely in line with the rest of the range, thanks to the large radiator grille. Yet the Audi is still a handsome and well conceived car. The overall sense of solidity is a trait of the brand, and the entry-level model is no exception.

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A3

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Once inside, the quality ambience continues, and there’s little to fault in the cabin. The finish and detailing are as good as in any other Audi, and despite the simplicity of the dash design, there’s a real premium feel to the car.

Little touches such as the fabric door inserts – which are flecked with colour to match the red exterior paint – plus the tactile rotary air vents and metal handles all add an extra edge.

The driving position is spot-on, too, with a wide range of adjustment on both the seat and steering wheel. There’s more elbow room than in the BMW, and the Audi is generally quite spacious. True, it’s no match for the MPV-like A-Class cabin, but even this three-door A3 provides generous passenger accommodation.

There’s more rear legroom than in the 1-Series, and thanks to the smaller, flatter transmission tunnel, the Audi is the more practical choice. Its boot is 20 litres bigger than the BMW’s, too, offering a total of 350 litres with the rear seats in place. Fold them, however, and its 1,080-litre space trails the Mercedes’ by a huge 915 litres. However, the Audi has the longest load length, even if the backrests don’t sit completely flat.

The big question is, does the new 1.4-litre TFSI engine give the entry-level car unique appeal? Well it’s cleaner, faster and more frugal than the normally aspirated 1.6 FSI it replaces, and the little turbo unit is very impressive on the road.

Power is delivered smoothly from low revs – peak torque arrives at only 1,500rpm – and it’s punchy and responsive in-gear. The A3 is far quicker than both of its rivals, and thanks to its flexibility, the TFSI simply doesn’t seem like a small-capacity engine.

The fact that it’s also refined and quiet further reinforces the grown-up feel of the 1.4-litre powerplant. The six-speed manual gearbox has a positive yet light shift action, and the ratios seem to be perfectly spread to suit the eager nature of the engine.

But while the 1.4 TFSI is keen to perform, it doesn’t prevent the A3 from being a relaxed cruiser. In fact, the Audi has the best ride of these three and is the most comfortable on long journeys. The damping is well controlled and there’s plenty of suspension travel, so it isn’t as firm as the 1-Series, which means only really nasty surfaces send shocks up into the cabin.

Body control and front-end grip are considerably better than in the Mercedes, too, although get behind the wheel of the A3 straight after the rear-wheel-drive BMW and it feels a little inert, with slower steering and more body movement. However, the Audi is easy to drive, composed and well mannered, so the dynamics will certainly not disappoint in most day-to-day situations. Similarly priced and equipped to the BMW, the 1.4 TFSI is an impressive addition to the A3 range.

Details

Price: £17,600
Model tested: Audi A3 1.4 TFSI Sport
Chart position: 2
WHY: The A3 is the smallest car in Audi’s range, and the new 1.4-litre turbo keeps running costs low.

Economy

We averaged 28.6mpg during our time with the A3 – so it isn’t even as frugal as a non-Efficient Dynamics 116i. It fared better than the Mercedes, but as all three cars had claimed figures over 40mpg, we had hoped for better.

Residuals

Predicted second-hand values for the 1.4 TFSI have yet to be calculated. But the 1.6 FSI it replaces retained 48.1 per cent of its cost – the best figure in this test. With a more modern engine, the new car is likely to come close to topping 50 per cent.

Servicing

All three of our test cars have variable servicing intervals. Prices have yet to be set for the A3 TFSI, but dealers tell us they will be similar to those for the old 1.6 FSI. So expect three check-ups to be rather expensive, at more than £900.

Tax

Even though the A3’s 1.4-litre engine is new, it isn’t as clean as the 1.6-litre unit in the BMW. And that means business drivers pay more in tax. The Audi emits 154g/km, so a lower-band owner pays £658 a year – £82 more than for the 116i.

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