Longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, here is a car that has punted the A3 back into pole position as the item of choice for the discerning young professional. The most obvious change over the previous generation car 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. The extra 30mm of width also helps a little with shoulder room.
Three-door versions arrived first with five-door Sportback models arriving later. That mirrors the evolution of the old A3 range and, like the old A3, this version rides on Golf underpinnings. Not just any old Golf though. The A3 was the first car to use the 2004 model Golf chassis, a vehicle platform that allows for far more customisation than before. In a way, it's the Volkswagen Group's tacit admission that certain Audi/SEAT/Skoda/VW models of the past were a little too similar to justify their vastly divergent prices. The Mk V Golf platform allows more far more components to be chopped and changed, making for more variation and more choice for customers.
Standard safety equipment includes window airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, brake assist, a part-electric power steering system and anti-whiplash head restraints. The cabin has been restyled 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, as do the round air vents and chrome-rimmed dials. It's still not what you'd call revolutionary, but it's beautifully executed.
It's a testament to the quality of modern Audis that most used guides have nothing to report. 'Too new to report any problems' or 'nothing significant' are the usual commentaries on the A3, and it's the same across the Audi range. Reliability of the A3 has been excellent so far, so just look for main dealers service stamps, a sheaf of receipts and check for the usual accident or misuse damage.
On the models fitted with low profile tyres, check the expensive alloy wheels for kerbing damage, and insist on locking wheel nuts. Other than that, buy with confidence.
(approx based on an A3 1.6) Potential buyers will be cheered to know that premium pricing does not stretch to Audi's parts prices. A replacement headlamp unit is £165 and a starter motor a comparatively inexpensive £150. An alternator costs in the region of £145, and front brake pads should cost £50. A clutch assembly is around £155. Not too painful is it?
The A3 certainly offers a few mouthwatering selections. The two most popular engines are the 150bhp 2.0-litre FSI petrol engine that was so successful in the A4 range and a 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel that had never been seen anywhere before. The 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI 170 unit that was introduced later is a great compromise between pace and economy. You can also order a more affordable 105bhp 1.9-litre TDI, a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol and a less affordable 250bhp 3.2-litre V6. A 1.6-litre petrol engine is also offered as an entry-level model. The V6 is fitted with quattro all-wheel drive transmission as standard and it's optional on the 2.0-litre diesels as well as the 2.0-litre FSI Turbo.
The popular TDI 140 diesel offers the sort of performance you'd expect from Audi. It hits 60mph in 9.2 seconds and tops 130mph, which makes it only marginally slower than the 2.0-litre FSI. With 60% more torque, however, there's no doubt which of the two cars will feel the stronger when accelerating down a motorway on-ramp. It's pull matches the 3.2-litre V6 model, a car which makes 60mph in 6.7 seconds and tops out at 153mph. Driving manners across the range were improved over the previous generation car with even the humblest versions riding on multi-link rear suspension.
Where Audi really pulls clear of the opposition is in the availability of its revolutionary S Tronic Dynamic Shift Gearbox (DSG on the early cars but known as S Tronic on later models) on the most powerful petrol and diesel models. First seen in the TT 3.2 V6 coupe, this system is based around a sequential manual gearbox but utilizes an ingenious twin clutch system to ensure creamy smoothness. Engage first gear and the gearbox will pre-engage second gear in advance, the second clutch engaging as soon as you flick up to slot instantly into second gear. This means a seamless flow of power. The electronics predict what gear you're about to engage, depending on whether you're accelerating or braking and the result is astonishing, making every other gearbox look distinctly clunky. The other option is to slip it into 'D' and drive it like a normal automatic. Even in this mode it's butter smooth and makes other attempts at sequential manual systems appear distinctly clunky and yester-tech.
Although BMW's 1 Series and Mercedes' C-Class Sport Coupe arrived to challenge Audi's A3 as the premium compact executive hatch, neither can match the A3 in terms of packaging and practicality. Plus Audi's range of engines and fitment of quattro all-wheel drive to their upspec models offers them a competitive edge. Factor in the engineering genius - for there is no other word to describe it - of the DSG gearbox and you have a car that justifies its own existence without recourse to badge equity. You'll find plenty of well looked after used examples. Just don't expect any screaming bargains right now.
3rd September 2010