Smooth and smart with Audi's premium finish

Wed, Sep 26, 2012, 01:00

ROAD TEST AUDI A3 2.0 TDI 150 SPORT:ITS NOT EVERY DAY that you get to drive a car created by a fellow Irishman. At least not one that isn’t made of chipboard on a set of pram wheels. Yet owners of the new A3 can proudly boast of the car’s Irish roots. Designed by the Dubliner David Caffrey, the new A3 might not be much of a revolution in terms of styling, tempered by the conservatism of the company’s customers and restricted by safety regulations.

Yet it’s great to be able to boast that someone from our little island has had such a big impact on roads from Chile to China.

The new car’s styling was also influenced by the overriding desire of Audi’s engineering team that this latest iteration of the A3 reflect the weight-loss trend that’s sweeping the industry. In that regard Audi has managed to shed an impressive 80kg on average of the car compared with its predecessor. Part of that is down to lighter body panels. The car is now about as heavy as the first A3, from 1996, despite being loaded down with far more safety and infotainment equipment than anyone imagined in a hatchback back then.

A big feature of the new A3 is the chassis. It’s Volkswagen Group’s new mid-size frame, and it underpins the new Golf as well. It’s sharp and focused, if not quite the nimble and agile ride that we might have hoped for.

Inside, Audi once more stakes its claim as creator of the best interiors. The cabin and controls have a quality feel and finish that would not be out of place in a larger, and more expensive, premium car. In this area alone, it leaves the other premium-hatchback rivals in the shade. You never feel you’re paying a price for choosing one of the smaller Audis.

Smart new features include a standard 5in colour screen that is iPad thin and pops out of the top of the dashboard. The various features, from the car’s set-up to infotainment system and satnav, are controlled using an intuitive control dial and toggle switches just behind the gearstick. It’s smooth, smart and feels premium.

Buyers get the chance to activate the satnav system with an SD card of maps for €250, or opt for an upgrade to the larger 7in screen and added features in the Audi i-Touch range. These include the chance to have internet connection in the car, satnav with impressive Google Maps views and an upcoming Facebook interface. The i-Touch adds €1,500 to the price, which seems steep at first; once you use it, however, it becomes a tempting proposition.

The technology theme continues when it comes to safety. Mid-level SE versions will get cruise control and rear parking assist; additional options include a self-parking assist system that steers the car into and out of parking spots only 80cm longer than the vehicle. An adaptive cruise-control system can also be added that will bring the car to a stop at speeds below 30km/h if it detects a potential collision. Although 30km/h isn’t very fast, the system will prevent low-speed shunts in traffic if the driver is distracted.

The new A3 line-up features five engines. Our test car was powered by the 2-litre diesel. It’s powerful enough, but the mechanical clink and clunk of the diesel when cold still sidles into the cabin in the morning. Aurally it’s the noise of a mainstream Golf, not of an Audi. The biggest seller is likely to be the 1.6-litre diesel, which is smoother and, surprisingly, a little more refined, albeit underpowered.

The calculators were clearly smoking in Ingoldstadt as the bean counters worked out just how much gadgetry they could fit into the car while keeping it priced competitively against the BMW 1-Series. At €31,500 for the sports-version test car it’s not cheap, but it is better priced than most rivals, and when you look at the trinkets it seems like the best buy.

That said, we’d give the sports version a miss and opt for the SE instead. Front sports seats devour the rear-seat legroom, and the ride on the sports suspension is arguably too hard for general commuting. The normal trade-off for the harsher ride of a sports setting is that it hunkers down when you apply the power, but you’re not going to set too many lap records in a 2-litre diesel A3, so I’d reflect on what sort of driving you’ll really be doing before opting for the sports version. We drove the regular versions at the original launch, and they seemed like smoother rides.

The new A3 is an evolution of the model range. It doesn’t cause much of a stir in traffic, but that’s probably no bad thing in these times.

Factfile

Engine1968cc four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine putting out 150bhp at 3,500rpm and 320Nm or torque from 1,750rpm with a six-speed manual transmission

0-100km/h(top speed) 8.6 secs (216km/h)

L/100km(mpg) 4.1 (68.9)

Emissions(motor tax) 108g/km (€160)

Featuresinclude 5.8in slim colour display screen; MMI radio; auxiliary music connection; Bluetooth; 16in 10-spoke alloys; aircon. SE version adds 16in, 15-spoke alloys; cloth/leather upholstery; front foglights; cruise control; rear park assist; heated wing mirrors. Sport adds 17in alloys; front sports seats; sports suspension

Price€31,500 for Sport (2-litre TDI versions start at €29,000 and 1.4-litre turbo petrol versions at €26,600)

RivalsAlfa Giulietta 2.0 JTDM-2 170 Veloce – €31,295; BMW 118d 5dr Sport €32,440; Lexus CT200h Dynamic – €31,450; Mini Cooper SD Countryman – €31,800; VW Golf GTD – €34,320; Volvo V40 2.0 D3 150bhp SE/Lux – €33,495

OUR RATING: 6/10

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