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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Sportback 1.9 TDIe 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Brilliant fuel consumption, no trade-off in practicality, torquey engine
Room for improvement
Engine is fairly noisy, cruise control costs $750, some trim looks cheap

2 Jun 2008

THE dramatic rise of prices is ramming home just how important it is to use less of the stuff.

While diesel is considerably more expensive than petrol, and the gap appears to be growing, something that uses as little diesel as the A3 TDIe is a very economical car to run.

Audi devised a 370km test drive for the national launch of the car that would show how little fuel it could use in everyday driving.

The journalists were told their economy figures would be compared and a winner would be announced - which ensured drivers would try their best.

The route ran from Adelaide airport out to Kangaroo Island and was not ideal for minimising fuel use. Firstly there was the suburban city crawl and then a lot of hills along the way.

It was even more impressive then that our car used an average of just 3.9L/100km for the journey. The winner of our group used an amazing 3.74L/100km.

But there was some confusion as to the actual amount of fuel used on the route. Audi measured the fuel that went into the cars at the end of the run and this is the calculation that gave us the 3.91L/100km figure.

One journalist, who had not faired so well using this measure, complained and Audi decided to use the trip computers of the cars to determine a winner.

This changed the results. A different winner was announced with a figure of 3.6L/100km and our result improved by 0.1L - to 3.8L/100km.

This incident raised three points: journalists are rather competitive, that there was a disparity between the fuel being put in the vehicle and what Audi's trip computer said went in and that, whichever way you look at it, the A3 TDIe doesn't use much fuel, which is of course the point.

What really matters is that this is a very, very economical vehicle in real-world conditions.

Of course, we ran at around 80km/h for most of the way, lifted off down hills and ran no air-conditioning - I told you journalists are competitive - but it is still impressive.

A hybrid probably would have done better at the start of the run, in the city, but it is hard to imagine it would have come close to the Audi diesel on the higher-speed country legs.

What's even better is that the Audi comes with none of the compromises of a hybrid.

There is no big battery that cuts into boot space and there is no extra weight (although a diesel does weigh a bit more than a regular petrol engine).

The A3 TDIe is a good solution if you want to do your bit for the environment and drive a prestige car at the same time.

Nut there are of course cheaper ways to get into a VW Group vehicle that uses the same engine.

A Skoda Octavia sedan is a different kind of car - it's a size larger, but it uses the same engine and costs $9000 less as a sedan and $7000 less as a wagon.

It's not quite as economical as the A3 TDIe, but it still only uses an average of 4.9L/100km, which is still a very impressive figure.

A Golf running the same engine uses 5.5L/100km and is good value at $27,990.

Theses are both nice cars, but some people will prefer the Audi and the extra street-cred it brings.

As is the case with the other cars, the 1.9 TDI is not the quietest diesel around.

It is actually pretty noisy. You notice it more at lower speeds and especially if you lower the window or get out of the car as it is idling.

Still, while the diesel clatter doesn't seem to befit a premium brand such as Audi, customers are likely to cheerfully put up with it given the amount of fuel they are saving.

The manual gearbox is nice enough and the ratios don't seem to affect the performance of the engine too much.

The 1.9 TDI seems to have adequate torque too keep up with traffic, although performance was not adequately tested on the launch drive given we were trying to use as little fuel as possible.

For years now, drivers have benefited from real-time fuel consumption figures and the A3 TDIe's computer is even more helpful with its gear-changing advice.

It is useful in most situations and sometimes tells you to change up before you had thought of doing so.

Of course it is not a predictive system, so it might tell you to change up a gear just before you start climbing a big hill, but it is useful most of the time.

While we didn't use the cruise control on our drive as we were trying to save fuel, it is such a staple feature these days that it is remarkable Audi charges you an extra $750 for the privilege. Metallic paint is also a bit steep at $1300.

These push the price up to $40,950, which is a lot of money for what you get.

The interior, as you would expect from Audi, is generally well finished, and the dashboard and plastics are top notch.

The bland grey trim on the centre console lid, seat edges and doors stood out though and could have come straight from a base Executive Holden Commodore.

Cabin noise was not so bad, with very little wind noise. Louder than normal tyre noise stood out, although it wasn't terrible. It was not clear whether this was a result of the different tyres or simply a result of coarse-chip country roads.

The ride was a little on the firm side although it was still reasonably comfortable. Handling was also impressive and the A3 displayed impressive road-holding grip on many of the downhill sections.

It might be pricy, but all up the A3 TDIe is a miserly machine that retains all the practicality of a roomy five-door hatch, but adds the fuel economy of a hybrid.

For those who must drive a premium brand, but also want to use minimal fuel for environmental rather than just financial reasons, the A3 TDIe is not a bad option.

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