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Published on Saturday 18 May 2013 18:27
Ten Second Review
You might find it a bit hard to get excited about Audi's A3 2.0-litre TDI, but after you've had a good look at one, done the sums and hemmed and hawed for a bit you'll probably end up signing on the dotted line. It's that sort of car - deeply considered.
The Audi A3 is a vehicle that has always sold on discretion. Yes, you can buy tarmac-scorching S3 and RS3 sports models with look-at-me colour schemes and big alloy wheels, but the standard A3 model is the very acme of understatement. You only have to open the door of the latest model and get inside to realise this. Your first thought is "Where are all the controls?" Then you realise that Audi has been confident enough not to feel the need to festoon the dash with buttons in order to make the car look well equipped.
At this point, the penny starts to drop. Here's a car that isn't trying too hard. Which seems as good a definition of automotive coolness as you'll find. The A3 is a model that's sold well in diesel form in the UK, especially in the 2.0-litre TDI form we're going to look at here, a variant that's sure to be a big favourite.
Go for this 2.0-litre TDI diesel and you have 150PS under your right boot which is more than enough to let the A3 lift her skirt a little when you plant the throttle pedal. In fact it's tempting to think that this kind of power output represents a sweet spot in terms of balancing performance against fuel efficiency. Front wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox is a fairly straightforward recipe and thanks to excellent traction control, this A3 will step off the line to 60mph in just 8.3 seconds before eventually running onto a top speed of 134mph.
Although the basic shape looks similar to its predecessor, get underneath and you'll realise there is no carryover from before. This is the latest MQB modular chassis from Audi and ride quality is good while refinement is even better. There's an electromechanically assisted steering system and a next-gen stability control package which includes an electronic limited slip differential for composed deployment of power. The optional Audi drive select system lets the driver vary the throttle response, steering weighting and, where the S tronic transmission is present, the gearbox shift points. What's more, it can also be upgraded to manage the optional Audi magnetic ride set-up, with its clever magneto-rheological fluid-filled dampers. If you're downsizing from a bigger Audi model, you're not going to feel hard done by in this one.
Design and Build
An MQB chassis? What's that? If I tell you that this acronym stands for 'Modularer Querbaukasten', or Modular Transverse Matrix, then that might not throw too much light on things either. In short, the Volkswagen Group realised that it had too many different chassis systems amongst its various cars and has instead introduced this chassis for transverse-engined cars, one that features an interchangeable kit of parts that cuts build time by 30 per cent. That means savings for the consumer and a better quality build process. There are also savings in weight, thanks to a hybrid combination of steel and aluminium panels that pares 40kg from the weight of the outgoing car.
Park the latest A3 next to its predecessor and it's like looking at a film starlet when she was ten years younger. It's just tauter and prettier. The finely detailed front lights give a quality look to the front end and there's more shape in the flanks. It is in fact 12mm wider than its predecessor (at 1777mm), has the same 1421mm height and is a mere 1mm shorter than the Mk2 A3. Despite all that, there's still significantly more space inside as the wheelbase has been stretched by 23mm and the boot now houses 365-litres of luggage, a figure which better its predecessor by 15-litres.
The interior is familiar fare to anybody who speaks fluent Audi design language, with a typically spare look for the interior. Here, you'll find four circular air vents punctuating the facia and a 7in sat-nav screen that emerges from the dash top. This monitor is controlled by the latest generation of Audi's MMI infotainment system, a set-up which now has a very clever additional feature. The touchpad that first appeared on the A8 is now integrated into the top of the rotary controller.
Market and Model
You're looking at needing a budget of between £22,000 and £25,000 for your A3 2.0 TDI, once you've decided between SE, Sport and S line trim levels and allowed for a few well chosen extras. That represents a premium of around £1,350 for this 150PS model over the entry-level 105PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel variant, a figure many potential A3 owners will want to find. There's the option of both three and five-door hatches and even a saloon.
Numerous options are available to smarter up the passenger compartment, including the LED interior lighting package, a panoramic glass sunroof, sports seats, heated seats, 'advanced key' keyless access, deluxe electronic climate control with an economy mode and an 'adaptive light' system for the xenon plus headlights, which can be supplemented with what Audi calls 'variable headlight range control'.
Where this brand has made the biggest strides in recent years is in connectivity of electronic systems and the A3 fully embraces these advances. The 'Audi connect system' bundles all infotainment technologies that let the driver network with the Internet, infrastructure and other vehicles. The central component is the Mobile phone preparation. It produces the connection to the Internet and passengers can conveniently surf and email with up to eight mobile devices via an integrated WLAN hotspot. Watch your roaming charges though.
Cost of Ownership
You probably don't need us to tell you that the third generation A3 is quicker, more economical and emits less carbon dioxide than its predecessor. Engine technology moves on apace, as do aerodynamics and the fact that it's lighter than before all adds up to a more efficient vehicle. How much more efficient? In the combined cycle test, it managed 68.9mpg - equivalent to CO2 emissions of just 106g/km. The old car was no slouch at 64.2mpg and 115g/km so we're talking incremental rather than radical improvements.
It's also worth contextualising that figure a little by mentioning that this MK3 model is a good deal bigger than its predecessor. In other words, a number of steps have been taken in the right direction. The problem though for Audi is that with the latest 1 Series and A-Class models, BMW and Mercedes have done the same thing. Even Volvo is getting in on the act with their surprising V40. Plenty then, for prospective A3 2.0 TDI purchasers to think about.
I must confess that I wasn't immediately enthused by this Audi A3. I felt it was almost too polished, too low-key for its own good. But if you can get past its rather cool barrier of wilful understatement, you'll find a truly excellent car. It's undoubtedly a grower, a design that impresses you with small considered details as well the headline figures. The 2.0-litre TDI engine feels as if it's perfectly pitched to balance power and parsimony, making it the choice in the A3 range for higher mileage drivers. Don't overlook the smart 1.4TFSI petrol engine with cylinder on demand technology though.
Ultimately, the more I drove the A3 the more I admired it. I never felt that impulsive spark that would send me careening to an Audi dealer looking for a dotted line but then it's not really that kind of car. Hedonists will probably look elsewhere. Those looking for discreet refinement will find a lot to like here. Don't expect fireworks, it's a slow burner.