From £16,755
Blends traditional Audi build quality with effortless performance and refinement. Just don't expect a driver's car

Our Verdict

Audi A3

Third generation Audi A3 has been given a mild facelift, more equipment, some new engines, a new hot model, but is the three-door version the cream of the premium hatch crop?

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2 September 2003

I've just been driving the most powerful, quickest Audi A3 ever. So effective is the 247bhp 3.2-litre V6 that the engineers were forced to restrict the top speed.

In this go-faster form, the second-generation prestige hatch matches the 6.4sec to 62mph of the fastest version of Audi's TT and, with the new Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), has what is probably the best, most flexible, transmission in the world. Standard 225/45 R17 rubber and alloy wheels add to coupe-like looks that are subtle, discreet, and very Audi.

Surely, with all these positive sporting ingredients, this Audi is worthy of wearing an S3 badge? After all, when it arrives in late October at £24,360, the quattro-only 3.2 virtually matches the price of the outgoing, and marginally slower, 225bhp S3. Has Audi made a mistake by not calling up the S nomenclature?

Sadly no, for despite the brilliance of the V6 engine and DSG system (a £1400 option), the sophistication of the all-new chassis, much-improved body control and what, initially, feels to be agile steering and fluent handling, this is no S3. Present the hottest A3 with your favourite slice of challenging twisties and you soon learn this Audi falls into the old Ingolstadt trap of excessive, unrelenting understeer. A quick and (mostly) refined autobahn cruiser, rather than the back-road blaster implied by the specifications.

Seems Audi, too, understands the difference between 'A' and 'S' and although it claims this "is the sportiest A3 there has ever been", it sensibly prefers not to oversell the concept. So potent is the 3.2 that there may never be a new S3.

Initial impressions of the first V6 A3 are largely favourable. With beautifully smooth transmission in both fully automatic and manual modes, the twin-clutch DSG system truly is the gearbox of the present, perfectly able to complement the driver's mood.

The V6 pulls from low revs and sings smoothly to the 6500rpm red line, its 236lb ft of torque crushing the hefty 1525kg weight. Servotronic steering, guided by another lovely Audi three-spoke wheel, is direct and light at parking speeds, encouraging a perception of agility, though the driver always remains aloof from the action. The ride on the standard sport suspension (unchanged from four-cylinder Sport models) is firm, even lumpy over manhole covers, but keeps tyre noise to a minimum. Only over-servoed brakes seriously blot the experience.

With all-wheel drive eliminating any suggestion of torquesteer, time for our preferred bit of demanding road north of Munich airport. Up the tempo, however, and nothing can hide the understeer or the early onset of tyre squeal from the Michelin Pilot Primacy rubber. Disposing of the standard ESP only exaggerates both conditions, leaving the keen driver frustrated by the inability to exploit the power and struggling to restrain the A3's desire to push its nose wide.

The message is clear, for all its many virtues, don't buy this A3 if youre expecting an entertaining drive.

Peter Robinson

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