REVIEW DATE: 09 May 2008
Audi is in the process of gradually sharpening up the A3 and the latest round of revisions only makes it more desirable. Andy Enright reports
"I deserve this." It's a justification that can lead to all manner of financial meltdowns but in the case of the Audi A3, it's possible to have your cake and eat it. The most beautifully built hatchback money can buy, the A3 even works out on the balance sheet. The latest revisions tweak the formula to add more presence and improve quality.
Ingrained opinions are odd things. Take the Audi A3 as a case study. Received wisdom has it that the A3 is the best built small hatch that money can buy. Or at least it seems that way, the interior quality and badge equity pushing us in a certain respect to believe that cars of this type come no better than this. Yet if we were to examine warranty claims, would you expect the A3 to beat a Toyota Corolla? Therein lies the difference between perceived and actual quality. Perceived quality is where Audi has made some serious coin. Let that mask slip and the whole house of cards falls down. Quality is easy to express in a car costing £70,000. In a volume model costing less than £20,000, the manufacturers need to be very clever and the latest Audi A3 is prima facie evidence of the Ingolstadt company's corporate nous.
The latest changes to the A3 haven't revolutionised the way it drives. Instead they have concentrated on improving the quality of the driving experience using some high-tech features that have filtered down from loftier points in the Audi canon. Audi magnetic ride is one of them. Adaptive action shock absorbers filled with a magneto rheological fluid allow the driver to choose between a comfort-oriented normal mode and a tauter sport mode at the touch of a button. An option on 1.8 TFSI, 2.0 TFSI and 2.0 TDI diesel models, it's the way all cars will soon ride.
The S tronic gearbox is also a glimpse of the future. This twin-clutch sequential gearbox can be fitted to the 2.0 TFSI and 2.0 TDI models in six speed form, where the 1.6, 1.4 TFSI and 1.8 TFSI petrol engines get the option of a seven-speed system. This system can mimic a full automatic gearbox or the driver can blitz through gearchanges at lightning speed using shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. The 2.0-litre 140bhp diesel offers the sort of performance you'd expect from Audi. It hits 60mph in 9.2 seconds and tops 130mph.
"The A3 has always been a great small car that feels like the concentrated goodness of a great big car. Nothing's changed"
The exterior has been tweaked but not in such a radical way that it put the kibosh on the residual value of the previous model. 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. Choose an S line variant and there are LED daytime running lights that ape the R8. The changes to the three-door car add 2.5cm to its length, while the five-door Sportback model's dimensions remain unchanged.
The interior has also come in for some treatment. Believe it or not, but the previous A3 was just starting to look a little off the pace in this department. Even far more mundane cars like the Vauxhall Astra and the Fiat Bravo were beginning to show Audi the way forward in terms of materials quality. The latest A3 ups the ante with more aluminium design elements, revised switchgear, a better quality instrument cluster and a rethink for the upholstery choices. Quattro four wheel drive is of course offered on certain variants. The luggage compartment of the three-door car features 350/1,080 litres of fresh air with rear seats in place and then folded, just pipped by the 370/1,220 litres of the Sportback.
The A3 range has long been one of dizzying complexity and the latest model (priced in the same £15,000 to £30,000 bracket) changes very little. As well as chooing between four petrol engines and three diesel versions, there's also standard, Sportback and Convertible body styles to choose from. Then you'll need to figure out whether you want to stick with a manual gearbox and clutch pedal or upgrade to the too-cool-for-school S tronic transmission. You're not finished yet. Quattro four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive? Specifying an A3 is almost like ordering a cheese and ham roll in a New York deli.
At a nominal extra cost, model-for-model, it's probably worth seriously considering the Sportback option, even if you don't really need the extra doors. Many A3 buyers upgrade their cars to Sport and S line specifications, trim levels tweaked by the UK importers to include an upgraded sports suspension kit with modified spring and damper settings designed to improve ride comfort without compromising on agility. For around £1,500 over the cost of a Sport-trimmed model, the S line variants include full leather trim, 18-inch alloy wheels, S line badging, a more aggressive front and rear bumper design and a roof spoiler. The range-topping 265bhp S3 model is now available as a Sportback model as well as a three-door.
Smart customers have long known the secret to running an Audi A3. Whereas some are deterred by the asking price, the more salient number is the three-year cost per mile figure. This is where Audi exacts revenge on its lower-priced rivals. In boasting healthy residuals, the A3 drives down the total cost to the owner quite significantly. This does need to be balanced against the fact that you will be able to buy a bigger-engined rival for about the same running cost as a better quality A3. Swings and roundabouts.
That said, the A3 range features a number of extremely fuel efficient engines. The 1.6-litre TDI will average over 68mpg and even the sporty 197bhp 2.0 TFSI powerplant will eke around 35 miles from a gallon. The S3 will also manage over 27mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are also kept well in check right across the range with the 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels being especially sought after in this regard by company user-choosers.
The A3 three-door has always been a great small car that feels like the concentrated goodness of a great big car. Nothing's changed. You'll still want one as soon as your strides hits the seat. This model sees Audi realise that the competition has been busy copying and, in certain cases, bettering the Germans when it comes to interior quality. Consider the status quo re-established with this car.
Highlights of the line up include the S3 Sportback, the seven-speed S tronic gearbox option for fast but fuel efficient models like the 125bhp 1.4 TFSI and the all-round brilliance of the 2.0 TFSI model. With robust residual values, the A3 might look initially expensive but as the miles rack up, the maths then begin to swing in the Audi owner's favour. The latest A3 is a car that you can buy with you heart as well as your head. Just try not to look too smug, OK?
The results below show the top A3 deals on buyacar
|Audi A3 1.4 TFSI SE 5dr sportback|
|Price £18,653||Save £1,172|
|Audi A3 1.6 TDI SE 5dr diesel sportback|
|Price £19,536||Save £1,239|
|Audi A3 1.6 TDi 2dr diesel cabriolet|
|Price £19,610||Save £3,275|
|Audi A3 1.6 TDI Sport 5dr diesel sportback|
|Price £20,674||Save £1,326|
|Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport 5dr diesel sportback|
|Price £21,928||Save £1,422|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT A3 DEALS|
|For A3 3-DOOR RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
Let our car quote assistant help you configure your ideal new A3 - it's 100% free and easy to use...
Click below for more information: