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Almost guaranteed irish the audi a3

Thursday, 20th December, 2012 9:21am

There is a checklist of qualities that you can bring to a road test of pretty much any new Audi, and almost every model in the range will quickly have a full complement of tick marks. Handsome good looks? Check. Beautiful, and beautifully made interior? Check and check. Frugal engine? Check. And a chassis that falls on just the wrong side of the line marked 'entertaining?' Um, yeah, check.

So, does the new A3 hatchback fill in the check list blanks? Yup, every single one. Dubliner David Caffrey, who holds a starring role in Audi's design studio, is the man behind those George-Clooney-good-looks, and while the A3 doesn't do much to separate itself from its predecessor (or indeed from most of the rest of the Audi range) it's undeniably good looking and desirable.

That's a story that gets even better on the inside. Audi has long been considered the one and true master of car cabin design and execution and with the new A3 the Ingolstadt meister is truly playing at the top of its game. Considering that the A3 is a (relatively) affordable model within the Audi range, the interior style is even more impressive. From the way the ultra-thin sat-nav and infotainment screen rises from the dash top, to the lovely twist and click motion of the air vents to the wonderfully comfortable seats, this is a class act that makes most rivals look clueless. Quite apart from the clear instruments and the lustrous levels of quality, there are the little touches. Check out the circular air vents. Pull out the little knob in the centre of the vent, and the air flow switches to a radial pattern that distributes air evenly around the cabin. Push it in again and the flow switches to a more direct pattern for when you just want to get cold or hot air to your face. Brilliant.

The cabin isn't flawless though. The biggest problem is simply a lack of space in the rear seats. I know that the A3 is only a three-door, and that a more spacious five-door Sportback version has just arrived on these shores but still - the A3 is a car pitched at upwardly mobile families as much as it is at trendy singletons, so the fact that having my 2-year old in his car seat behind me made me crank my seat uncomfortably far forward is a pretty poor performance.

Under the bonnet, the performance is rather more rounded. Yes, most customers will go for the more frugal and affordable 105bhp 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine, but our test car came with the gruntier 150bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel - an engine somewhat more befitting of the company that brought us the original Quattro and the bewitching R8 supercar. You may be aware that for the past decade Audi has been crushing every rival at the legendary Le Mans 24hrs race with an unbeatable squadron of diesel-powered racing cars that are not only more frugal than the opposition but more powerful too. That's the kind of patth the A3's 2.0-litre engine treads. Not only does it provide invigorating motive thump (100kmh comes up in a GTI-esque 8.6secs) but it can return a genuine 55mpg and its 109g/km Co2 emissions puts it in the new Band A3 for road tax, with an annual bill of €190. That's little short of amazing performance and the fact that it does it in such a quiet, refined fashion is just the cherry on top.

Which makes it all the sadder that the A3 just can't quite provide a truly engaging dynamic performance. It's a long-standing Audi issue, but it remains true that the cross-town rivals from Bavaria, BMW, invariably give more to the driver. The perspective only of the committed enthusiast? True, but then if you're not bothered about how it drives then why are you shelling out all the extra on a premium brand? There's nothing wrong with the way the A3 drives - its steering is nicely weighted, its ride just the right amount of firm, its grip levels unimpeachable - but the final spark of enjoyment is missing. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it is.

That fact makes the A3's price list an uncomfortable read. Our test car, in Sport trim, carries a price tag of €31,500 which the options on our car (including leather and Alcantara seats, sat-nav, 18” alloys, climate control and parking sensors among others) pushed to north of €40,000. That's a hefty price for a compact car and one made an even tougher sell by the fact that Volkswagen's hugely impressive new Golf is now on sale, offering an even better driving experience and similar levels of quality for a lot less cash.

That said, the A3 is impressive and I have no doubt that it will find many firm fans amongst those willing to spend extra on a shinier badge. And hey, how many expensive German cars can truly claim Irish heritage?


Audi A3 2.0 TDI 150 Sport

Price as tested: €40,733

Price range: €25,100 to €39,820

Capacity: 1,968cc

Power: 150bhp

Torque: 320Nm

Top speed: 216kmh

0-100kmh: 8.6sec

Economy: 4.1l-100km (68mpg)

CO2 emissions: 109g/km

Road Tax Band: A3. €190

Euro NCAP rating: 5-star; 95% adult, 87% child, 74% pedestrian, 86% safety assist.

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