First DriveMost frugal model in the Audi A3 range thrills with impressive economy, but it lacks dynamic sparkle
First DriveOur first drive of the new Audi A3 in the UK has revealed it to be a good, capable companion if slightly lacking in ambition
For those of us of a sceptical nature, the word ‘Sportback’ sets every alarm bell ringing on our cynic-o-meters. It smacks of lifestyle pursuits, which means the marketing people have been at work. So come on Audi, is it a five-door hatchback or an estate
Well, to be fair to the Germans it really does sit somewhere between the two, and there’s no better way of illustrating this than to walk around a Sportback. Look from one angle and the long third rear window and added overhang shout ‘estate car’.
Take a step to one side and the still-compact proportions and stretched A3 styling (an extra 83mm in length compared with the three door) identify it as simply the five-door version of the regular A3. Or perhaps it’s an estate.
The other big visual change is the adoption of Audi’s new corporate grille. There was a time when we wondered if supplementing Audi’s traditional recipe of crisp, architectural styling with a giant, mesh-filled black hole might cause controversy in corporate car parks.
But in a world where BMW is producing cars such as the less-than-traditional 1-series, the Sportback’s new snout is low-key. The eye soon accepts it, it’s unmistakably Audi and instantly recognisable on the road; mission accomplished.
Following our first drive of the new T FSi variant, it’s the £20,030 2.0-litre diesel model we’ve driven here. With 138bhp and 236lb ft it has enough performance to feel relaxed one moment and pleasingly swift the next.
You’ll need to use the mid-range torque, however, because as we’ve said before, this four-valve TDi is particularly gruff at high revs. This is not an engine to enjoy driving hard, rather one to deal effectively with today’s roads and offer excellent economy: 50.4mpg on the combined cycle.
Sadly, on the road, the ‘Sport’ part of the car’s title doesn’t hold true. Our Tdi was finished in SE spec rather than Sport trim – and rode better than the jarring Sport car we tested in July – but there’s very little feel from the overly light servotronic steering.
The slow turn in – exaggerated by the added weight of the TDi motor compared to the petrol Fsi units – and poor body control over the crests and dips of our Scottish highland test route mean the Sportback is little fun.
Snatchy, over-servoed brakes and a loose gearchange that can also be annoyingly notchy mean this is another Audi that manages to miss the mark dynamically.
But Audi has a solid understanding of what its customers want. As we’ve come to expect, the interior of this A3 is fastidiously built – devoid of even a hint of a squeak or rattle – and in all but a few less obvious places the quality of materials used is very high.
The Sportback presses all the right driveway feel-good buttons. The practical benefit of an increased rear overhang of 68mm is an added 20 litres of boot capacity – although there’s no meaningful improvement in passenger space. Nevertheless, this still equates to a much more practical car than its premium sector rival, the BMW 1-series.
So now the A3 range is complete with a five-door model: it looks smart, it’s nicely made but not quite as nice to drive. And it has a sporty-sounding name – any confusion over its meaning will be masked by the car’s inevitable sales success.