The A3 hasn’t had any real changes in quite a while, but Audi has quietly slipped in its new, 170bhp engine with very little fanfare or drama! Given the excellent results that rival VW has achieved with the 170PS Golf engine, Vic Harman was very expectant…
We’ve not really taken much of a look at Audi’s A3 Sportback since its launch back in 2004, and the fairly recent arrival of added power for both three-door and five-door A3s in the form of the tempting new 170PS (168bhp) 2.0 TDI engine was as good a reason as any to revisit the model. The five-door variant has already proved a popular addition to the A3 range – with its appeal mainly aimed at owners needing the added practicality of five doors.
The 170PS engine gets its performance boost over the original 140PS 2.0 TDI motor by courtesy of piezo injection technology and thus the unit delivers figures that rival bigger six-cylinder engines, such as the 180PS 2.7 V6 TDI common rail engine that’s offered in Audi’s A4 and A6. But it offers significantly better economy and at 47.8mpg combined, compares favourably with the 49.7mpg of the 140PS engine and the 41.5mpg of the 2.7 V6 TDI powered A4, which is actually little heavier than the A3 Sportback.
So, on paper the figures all look very promising, and so I was eager to sample the added punch of this new model variant, especially as in six-speed manual transmission form, I had been reliably assured that the 170PS engine was also somewhat more refined than the 140PS – again by courtesy of the improved fuel injection techniques involved that employ five separate injection pulses as against three in the lower powered engine. Starting up certainly seems to produce a somewhat more subdued rumble and this added refinement is apparent throughout the driving experience, with engine noise isolation always well controlled.
Maybe that’s why road noise in particular seemed rather evident? Maybe it was the 225/45/17 Michelin tyres of the Sport model variant that I sampled? This gains lowered sports suspension and a number of other sporting attributes over the standard and SE variants – leaving few, I imagine, choosing the standard model, with the absence of air conditioning or climate control being a notable handicap to its appeal. But the sports suspension was generally a pleasant surprise, as I’d been expecting a rather uncompromising level of ride comfort. Firm it certainly is, but luckily it hasn’t been tightened to the point of being bothered too often by Britain’s pock-marked and potholed road surfaces.
Of cars that I have driven in recent timeswith 45 profile tyres, itwas probably one of the most comfortable, suggesting a sensible amount of compliance is built into the suspension bushings and sub-frames and that the springs are not excessively firm. But it’s really the engine here that should be the focus of our attention as it certainly adds a completely new dimension to 2-litre diesel engine performance. For much of the time in gentler A-to-B motoring its superiority over the 140PS engine is rarely evident other than in its improved refinement. However, the performance bonusmakes itself most solidly felt at higher engine speeds, with little difference evident below around 2,500rpm. But push hard with the accelerator and start to hold the gears for longer and the game changes rather remarkably.
Bar the inevitable presence of some four-cylinder roughness – which is most actually too harsh a word for it – one could actually be sitting behind that 180PS 2.7litre V6. The urge really is most impressive and it is very easy to haul one’s way past most other traffic with seemingly little effort. And, in any of the easilyselected gears, the flexibility and response is immediate and most pleasing. Driving in such style however has its costs and the fuel economy undoubtedly suffers and you can begin to see the cumulative mpg figures on the Driver Information System falling quickly away. But a rapid out-and return journey of around 130 miles cruising on motorway and dual-carriageway sections at mildly illegal speeds gave just over 50mpg in both directions. That really is quite impressive for such performance; 0-60mph in 8.3 seconds and a top speed of 137mph.
Who would have thought some years back that two litres of diesel engine would ever deliver such figures? As a car, the Sportback lacks true space and versatility, with the folding split rear seats producing a distinctly unlevel base that restricts full use of the load area. There’s also rather a lack of thoughtful storage areas and practical touches – typified by the glove box that holds the handbook pack somewhat uncomfortably, leaving little room for much else, and only one front drink holder placed unhelpfully behind the handbrake. Overall though the car gets a four star rating on account of the refined performance offered, the taken-for-granted traditional Audi standards of construction, and excellent residual values. But I have to say that I would personally lean more towards the SE trim level on the presumption that its more modest tyres would reduce that annoying road noise, whilst road holding and handling are only marginally inferior by comparison.
On sale: Now // Price from: £18,930 (3-dr 170PS) // Main rivals: VW Golf 170 TDI GT, BMW
- Price: £21,430
- Engine: 1,968cc
- Max Power: 168bhp/170PS at 4,200rpm
- Max Torque: 258lb ft/350Nm at 1,750-2,500rpm
- Combined Consumption:47.8mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 158gm/km,Group D
- 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
- Max speed: 137mph
Driver, front passenger and front side airbags
Sideguard head airbag protection system
Isofix and airbag deactivation for child passengers
Height and depth adjustable steering column
Four electric windows
Thatcham Category1 alarm/immobiliser
Space-saver spare wheel
Split-folding rear seat
Sport model adds:
Electronic Climate control
7.5Jx17inch alloys with 225/45R17 tyres
Three-spoke leather steering wheel
Front Sports seats
Driver Information System
Sports Suspension pack
Front fog lamps
Superb Audi build quality, with a whole new level of diesel performance. Fine economy, engine refinement, and transmission. Holds value well
Road noise (in Sport trim due to wheels/tyres), limited practicality, relatively expensive to buy. Not that spacious, for people or loads