UK Car Road Test

Audi A3 Turbo Sport 2000

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This is a bit of an in-vogue car at the moment. It's a baby Audi fitting below the A4, as the 3-badge suggests, in Audi's slowly expanding range of cars.
 
I see lots of these knocking about so obviously they are appealing to the average compact car buyer. A few years back Audi were pretty much only found in the medium to large sectors with some rather unique motors. But now they are exporting their brand of subtle one-up-manship to the smaller but pricey end of the market.


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Model tested registered 2000.
Covered 90,000 miles.

 

Well, for a change it's actually quite nice. Different in its own curvy little way but distinctive from the crowd without going down the stupidly ugly route which seems so in vogue with so many makers. It also shies away from any reflections on the past and Audi have avoided scaling down one of their other cars which I doubt would have worked too well. 

The result is a two-box shape that really does NOT look like two boxes glued together. It also does not look the slightest bit hot. The 1.8T is as un-ostentatious as it's possible to get; the lack of any red "i" or "TURBO" reinforcing the subtlety of the design and marketing. Even the attractive big silver alloys look demure set against the metallic silver paint that the previous owner so wisely chose.

Inside it's just as stylishly put together as the bigger Audis with that elegant yet modern look that Audi do so well and many others just can't pull off. There is no hint that Audi have tried to save money by using cheaper fittings, though they may have made economies of scale by transplanting many A4 and A6 interior parts into the A3.

The seats have a strange eye-deceiving double check with differing backs to squabs which take a while to adjust your eyes to.

 


The steering wheel though, is lovely. Air bag or not, this one is not spoilt by the safety device and the small thick rimmed item proudly displays a large Auto Union badge to reinforce it's nature.

 

Audis are not about gratuitous extras that are neither use nor ornament 99% of the time, what they do is make them usefully better. Check out the illuminated vanity mirror or the door bins which extend out for extra capacity or the ever-so-sweet cup holders.

Electrically, all the usual bits are powered - sunroof, heated mirrors, windows and all, glide about with the touch of a button.

Seating position is taken care of by multi adjustable sports seat with adjustable steering column to tailor the position just right.

 

Originally you had fuel injection (huh?), 16valves (huh??), turbo (huh???), now how about 20 valve fuel injected Turbo?  So that's Golf GTi 20V Turbo to be precise. 
No, it's the Audi A3 engine!

The venerable VAG 1.8 Turbo motor provides 150 smooth bhp to power along this relatively small car. Hyper tech it may be but in this, the sports model of the A3 range, it does not appear to provide the mid range grunt that so makes the Golf GTi sparkle. Whether that’s down to minor tweaking of the engine management system or the traction control I don’t know. It would be interesting to see the A3 engine graphed on a dyno and compared to a Golf GTi and see whether it really is just the same.


Still, the top end feels like 150bhp and it's smooth and lag free from low down to the red line. The gearbox is the usual Audi slick - the ratios nicely judged and blends well with the urgent motor to help you get a fair old shift-on when required. The 6-speed gearbox would be nice but you honestly don’t miss an extra gear in this combination.

Whilst still being fuss free and vice-less in normal driving, 8.1 seconds sprint to 60 and the 135mph top end shows that it’s not exactly lacking in power. Audi do away with useless gauges like the turbo boost so many would be hard pressed to tell that there is a turbo under the curvy bonnet.

The clutch is the usual Audi super light effort that makes you wonder how it can hold so much power. 

Fully independent suspension does a reasonable job of gobbling up the bumps although it would still prefer smoother surfaces than those we are becoming accustomed to. 

The power steering makes light work of the fat low profile tyres. The same tyres give outstanding grip when pushed hard and you would have to be going very hard to begin under-steering on normal roads. Audi steering doesn’t offer the most feedback in the world and this is no different; despite the rubbers' huge grip it feels a little inert. Still, most of the time you can just point it in the right direction and it will hold it's line nicely and change direction without losing body composure.

I can’t say I felt the traction control (unless it was the lack of mid range) the 225 rubbers make it fairly superfluous on dry roads. In the wet it might well be different as the big rubber can become more of a liability then with their big but light footprint.

Brakes are excellent and not half as grabby as the many variants of A4 I have driven.

 

Alarm, immobiliser, deadlock, central locking, VIN , locking fuel cap and wheel nuts all provide deterrents against theft.

Pre-tensioned front seat belts, side impact bars, a plethora of air bags and discs all round with ABS, traction control adjustable halogen headlights and fog lamps provide the elements of safety expected from a modern car.

A 4 star crash rating is still not to be sniffed at either, should the worst come to pass.

 

Apart from the disappointment of the less than dramatic mid range, this really is a sweet little car. It's very easy to drive, which seem to be an Audi trait and leads to the accusation that it may be a bit of a woman’s car.

But that is not really fair. The A3 manages to toe a nice line between easy to drive practicality on a day-to-day basis and enough oomph to make those special occasions worthwhile and enjoyable.

It doesn’t really have a very hard sharp edge to its nature which is perhaps reflected by the relatively low Group 14 insurance.

As a practical proposition it’s not too bad - rear space is a bit limited although the boot is usefully sized when extended. Like the Audi Avant, though, there is a slight suspicion that it is a triumph of style over total practicality, but that's okay by me. Front space is more than good enough and that’s what probably gets the most usage any way.

It's quiet when cruising with only tyre rumble really discernible and, with good stability to boot, should make a good motorway mile eater for such a small car.

The dash clocks are nothing special but then Audi dashes are pretty good any way. I do like the row of switches across the centre console with it's triangular red warning light. I also like the copious amounts of ventilation that Audi build in and their digital display heating air con controls which allow you to tune it just-so, rather than just about.

All in all, it's typically Audi in that you can get a similarly sized, perfectly practical, reliable car with just as many gadgets much cheaper and it will probably be dynamically the equal of the Audi. It's just that Audi does it with a trifle more style, subtlety and panache.

For a compact car it feels larger inside than out. On the road it feels solid and planted like a much bigger car than it really is. Even the boot is surprisingly spacious,  as it should be for a purportedly family car. Tools and multi-play CD system are stored in compartments leaving the boot area clean and clinical.

The only disappointment is that it feels a little too well-developed and in rubbing off all the rough edges VW have maybe sanitized it just a touch too much.  It's pretty hard as it is but, to be honest, I was expecting a slightly more raw experience. Whether that's good or bad depends on you. 

Main dealer VW servicing can be a little pricey but VWs rarely break so it's swings and roundabouts.

As an aside, my friend with a SEAT was surprised, nay shocked, by his servicing bill. 

Audis are renowned as expensive and it would be a real shame if all you Skoda buyers get stung in the same way as well. It would be interesting to compare prices for a basic service to a common power plant for the VW-owned brands.

In summation, it is a Golf so it's totally practical and boringly reliable and it goes like the wind.  So, apart from the sinister insurance implications of the badge, what more could you really want?


 

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UK Car Road Test Audi A3 Turbo Sport 2000

UK Car Road Test Keywords: Hatchback SportsA3 Turbo Sport