REVIEW DATE: 20 Jun 2008
Can Audi 'Brand Engineering' Really Make The Compact A3 Palatable To Someone Who Earns Their Living Driving All Over The Country? Gerry Tierney Reports From Behind The Wheel Of Our Long Term 1.9 TDI Long Termer.
Oh, the difference a badge on the bonnet can make. My long term Audi A3 1.9 TDI shares pretty much the same mechanicals as equivalent Volkswagen Golf, Skoda Octavia and SEAT Toledo models but if you'd asked me to run any of these over a punishing daily schedule that takes me all over the country, I'd have thought twice about it.
In contrast, getting the keys to the bright red three-door Audi filled me with a feeling that I couldn't wait to get started. As I said, the difference that brand engineering can make. I'm sure that, say a Volkswagen Golf, would have been just as good at devouring the motorway miles but the thought of covering them would have been immeasurably less appealing. Maybe I'm just a badge snob, I don't know.
If I am, then I'm certainly not alone. Audi sales are continually going through the roof in the UK, fuelled by people just like me who don't care that the same mechanicals featured in their A2s, A3s, A4s, A6s and A8s are also used in more humble Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT models. Audi has that special something and I'm rapidly becoming addicted to it.
I've only had my A3 for a few weeks but already we've criss-crossed the country together. On motorway trips, I've been averaging about 58mpg - mind-blowing for someone who's used to using a petrol-engined Mercedes C-class. The 1.9-litre engine is torquey and has plenty of 'grunt'. The brakes are fantastic and the driving position is largely excellent apart from a slight problem with the positioning of the pedals which I think is down to my height. This and a slight lack of refinement at cruising speed are the only negative comments I would make.
The latest, facelifted 1.9-litre TDI variant I've been using costs £16,995 and fits into the Audi A3 range just below the 138bhp 2.0TDI model. I have the three-door version but if it was my money being spent, I'd be tempted to pay Audi another £500 and go for the more versatile five-door 'Sportback' variant. Given that the 2.0-litre TDI is only 10% more expensive but offers a 35% power hike, I'd also be tempted to trade up to that.
"Audi has that special something and I'm rapidly becoming addicted to it.."
But here I am mentally spending money I don't really need to spend. The 1.9 TDI model does pretty much everything I need a car to do. Standard safety equipment includes window airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, brake assist, a part-electric power steering system and anti-whiplash head restraints. The latest, facelifted model has seen some changes made in that the front wings and the grille are a little shapelier, the headlights are sharper-looking and the side repeaters are now incorporated into the door mirrors.
If you haven't tried the latest generation A3, the most obvious change you need to know about is the increase in wheelbase. The styling is largely evolutionary, remaining obviously an A3, only looking a little stretched. The additional 65mm in wheelbase has rectified one of the old A3's faults (namely that rear seat accommodation was a bit pinched) extending the interior length by 55mm. The result is 42mm more shoulder room at the front, 30mm more at the rear and 29mm more rear knee room. The luggage compartment benefits too, with a capacity of 350 litres with the rear seat backrest in place and up to 1100 litres with the backrest tilted down. All that's been helpful at the weekends when the car has doubled as a cinema/disco/shopping kids taxi. The extra 30mm of width also helps a little with shoulder room.
You can hear this sort of thing, then get inside a car you'd been previously at home with and fail to notice that much difference. This time however, Audi have indeed produced a cabin which, despite the all-pervading blackness of the trim (do the Germans recognise any other interior colour?) feels less of a coal hole than in the past. And this despite the fact that you sit lower in the car (necessary to preserve headroom since the sleeker roofline is also lower). A few simple ergonomic tweaks help in the overall feeling of space and well-being. Compared to the old A3, the steering wheel height adjustment range has been increased by 20% and the reach by 5%. Moreover, the gear lever and accelerator pedal have been repositioned and there's a clever 'Z-shaped' shortened handbrake, which frees up space on the centre console for two additional cupholders which (to the satisfaction of my kids) are also accessible to those at the rear.
I was also pleased to find that the cabin has been restyled in this latest generation car to offer a little more design flair, Audi realising that high quality alone isn't enough to lure buyers into showrooms. There has to be some style on display too. The fascia struts ape the interior design of the TT sportscar, as do the round air vents and chrome-rimmed dials. It's still not what you'd call revolutionary, but it's beautifully executed. Other more technical improvements on the MK2 As have included a clever rear suspension system, a smart electromechanical power steering and (sadly only on the 2.0 TDI) a revolutionary DSG semi-automatic gearbox
Bulletproof build quality, intricate detailing and a prestigious badge once only came with a stratospheric price ticket. These days such highway snobbery is arriving in smaller and smaller packages and the latest Audi A3 line-up makes downsizing look positively attractive. Were I the one buying, my only issue would be choosing between 1.9TDI and 2.0-litre TDI engines. Whichever way you go of course, you're getting a diesel car with all of the build quality, syrupy smooth controls and attention to detail of larger Audi models, condensed into a smaller and now even more appealing package. For all these reasons, I'm looking forward to the next umpteen thousand miles.
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|For A3 1.9 TDI LONG TERM|
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