REVIEW DATE: 20 Jun 2008
Audi's A3 Isn't An Obvious Choice As A Family Vehicle But Gerry Tierney And Clan Have Been Finding Out If It Can Fulfil That Role Over The Course Of A Long Term Test.
Space, practicality, affordability, value, these are the mainstays of a good family car. If we look at leading family hatchbacks like Ford's Focus, they've clearly been designed to deliver on all these criteria but step up to the premium hatch market and the products appeal on a slightly different level. Audi's A3 is a premium hatch and it's not a vehicle that you would necessarily class as a family car. It trades on its unimpeachable build quality, its classy styling, its advanced technology and that quartet of interlocking rings on its grille. Rear legroom and cubby holes weigh less on an Audi designer's mind than they would with his colleagues at Ford but does this mean that an A3 couldn't cut it as family transportation? We set out to find out.
The Tierney family where given the task of putting the A3 through its paces over the course of a long term test and 21,000 miles later, we can safely say that's exactly what they did. Gerry, his wife Candice, 14-year-old Max and 6-year old Harry have been using the car as any normal family would. Thankfully, the Tierneys took the sensible precaution of leaving Shanti, their pet Bengal Asian leopard cat, out of the testing equation. Shredded leather upholstery with assorted fur ball accessories isn't a good look for a £17,000 Audi A3.
If we're to recommend the Audi A3 as a family car then it should have the capacity to carry the Tierney family and a fair amount of luggage in relative comfort. It doesn't do too badly. The model we're testing is the 3-door so accessing the rear seats is a matter of pulling a catch on the front seat shoulder and tilting the seat back forward as the base slides forward on its rails. It's a relatively painless operation and the resulting entry space is wide enough for the kids to effect an entrance without muddy shoes contacting leather upholstery.
Once in the rear and on the move the experience isn't as comfortable a one as you'd have in a 3-door Focus for example. The A3 employs a high window line which rises at the rear to accentuate the sporty feel of the exterior styling. This creates a small rear glass area and limits the light in the back seats, making passengers feel a little confined. The black leather upholstery on our model doesn't help in maximising light levels either but the actual space on offer is quite adequate. There's ample room for two 6-foot adults to be comfortably accommodated in the rear and with Max and Harry sitting back there, you can even squeeze in a friend. Three 3-point seatbelts are provided across the rear bench and all the passengers also get head rests.
"It's premium hatch that brings an extra dimension in quality while sacrificing a little in terms of practicality."
That high window line at the back of the A3 makes for a shallow rear window that impinges on visibility but a usefully deep boot. Candice Tierney works as a dance instructor and the various paraphernalia she takes to classes includes a bulky stereo system. Everything she needs fits comfortably into the A3's boot without the need for overspill onto the rear seats or the folding down of the split seat backs. One handy feature on shopping trips is a double carrier bag hook which folds down from the underside of the parcel shelf to keep your shopping in check on the way home.
At a time where innovative design features from the MPV sector are increasingly been integrated into family hatchbacks to boost practicality, the A3 offers little in terms of clever storage solutions or versatility features. The door pockets in the front can handle a road atlas but little more and you'd be lucky to get an A to Z in the side pockets at the rear. The kids in the back also get netting pockets in the seat backs to store their odds and ends but small items will obviously fall through. In the front, there's a usefully large storage space in front of the gear lever and a cubby hole concealed within the centre armrest as well as a couple of smaller pots around the handbrake. Basically, you'll find room to store the necessities but not a great deal more.
If the Audi A3 can't quite match its family hatch rivals in the practicality stakes, it goes well beyond their best efforts in terms of the all-round quality of its interior. This isn't to be underestimated as a factor that will appeal to family buyers either. What price a car that will still feel fresh after years of family usage and will resist the best efforts of your offspring to pull it to pieces? The plastics used, the way the upholstery fits over the seats, the sturdiness of the controls, this is where the benefits of buying an A3 make themselves felt. Both Gerry and Candice were very impressed with the build of the car and neither Max not Harry managed to break anything, which tells its own story.
The Tierney's were full of praise for the way the A3 performed on the road. Both ride, comfort on long motorway journeys and handling composure down the back roads proved to be well up to scratch. Gerry has reported a 44mpg average fuel consumption from the 1.9TDI engine during normal driving, so filling station stops were a pleasantly rare event. The 1.9-litre TDI engine is only now starting to show its age after years of sterling service in numerous VW Group products. It sounds a little agricultural on start-up compared to more modern rivals but the punchy power delivery and excellent fuel economy more than make up for that.
The Audi A3 isn't designed as a family car to the extent that a mainstream family hatchback would be. It's a premium hatch that brings an extra dimension in quality while sacrificing a little in terms of practicality. The Tierney family have found, however, that the A3 3-door can perform family car duties with some aplomb. Passenger and luggage space proved better than expected, the build quality was predictably good and the boys drew plenty of peer-group approval from being ferried around in an Audi. Candice and Gerry also think a lot of OY04 BKD and would consider an A3 when the time comes to replace their own car.
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