The Audi A3 1.6 TDI, with the help of Start/Stop technology, emits just 99 g/km CO2, which is very impressive for a premium-badged car.
However this A3 is only available as a three-door, and only in entry-level ‘Standard’ trim. It shares the same 1.6 TDI engine as other A3 models (the 1.6-litre common rail diesel replaces the old pumpe duse unit in the previous 1.9 TDIe A3) but it has a higher final drive ratio, and comes with recuperation, which temporarily stores braking energy in the battery, the idea being that this assists the process of driving off and acceleration.
The A3 TDI also has a reduced ride height, underbody revisions to reduce drag, and 16-inch steel wheels with tall, thin, low rolling resistance tyres. This wheel and tyre combination in particular means that compared to other A3 models, the 99 g/km A3 looks decidedly ordinary.
The 1.6 TDI engine, with just 104 bhp, doesn’t have much power (bear in mind that the same bodyshell is propelled by 261 bhp in the S3), so this 1.6 offers adequate rather than sparkling performance, but it’s on a par with other sub-100 g/km models.
As with many cars that are ‘tuned’ to be green, pick-up is slow at low revs, but apart from that, in terms of driveability there are no real drawbacks considering its low emissions. The combination of low power and front-wheel drive doesn’t result in the most exciting of driving experiences, but the A3 is smooth and refined once on the move.
The ride is relatively firm, but not uncomfortable, and the handling fits in with the character of the rest of the A3; it’s fit for purpose but not exciting. The steering completes this familiar Audi package, being light and without much feel.
One particular benefit of the economy is that once you’ve filled up the 55-litre tank with fuel, you can drive for miles and miles before needing to refill it.
And of course with 99 g/km CO2, there’s no road tax to pay, and benefit in kind for company car drivers is just 13%. So this A3 will result in low running costs.
Did we enjoy the official 74.3 mpg? No. During mixed real-life driving we achieved an average of 55 mpg. Longer runs could extract 60 mpg.
The key feature that makes the official emissions so low is the Start/Stop system. This is supposed to switch the engine off if the vehicle is stationary and no gear is engaged. However the A3 was very reluctant to perform this trick during its time with us, and much time was spent at traffic lights with the engine running.
At least this provides the opportunity to appreciate the quality feel of the A3’s interior; although, along with the exterior, it’s more about being sensible than demonstrating particular design flair.
The A3 has a good-sized boot, however access to the rear seats is poor through its two doors, so ultimately it’s not that practical. However it does have good Isofix connectors for child seats, including on the front passenger seat, that are easy to slot into compared to some cars.
Because the 99 g/km A3 is based on the ‘Standard’ spec, the level of equipment is poor, although it does come with electronic stability control and electronic brakeforce distribution.
The A3 1.6 TDI costs £18,315. The pearl effect paint is an extra £500, and then there were a host of other options on the test car, including Bluetooth (£385), dual-zone climate control (£375), and four-spoke multi-function steering wheel (£355); with all the options, the total price of the car came to £20,550. This is a lot of money for a relatively small car that looks very ordinary.
And that’s the issue. Does the Audi A3 1.6 TDI have any of the excitement genes of the legendary quattro? No. Does it have the design genes of the stunning R8? No. It would be nice to think that car makers will soon be giving us low emission cars that are also refined and more visually appealing, and that in particular Audi will soon find a way to offer a 99 g/km A3 with a better-looking set of wheels and tyres.
So the Audi A3 1.6 TDI gets a Green Car Guide rating of 7 out of 10. It scores well for a car of this class having sub-100 g/km CO2 emissions, but it loses marks for not having that special feeling that Audi is so capable of injecting into so many of its other models.
The combination of a premium badge and sub-100 g/km is compelling. In addition, the A3 lives up to the premium tag with top-notch build quality and refinement. The fact that the sub-100 g/km model is only available in three-door spec does limit the practicality, and Standard trim limits the toys, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The question is, would you choose this over its close family member, the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion? We’d say that the Golf is more refined, it drives better and looks better, and is a similar price.
The original Audi A3 1.9 TDIe was one of the first of a new breed of smart executive cars that was fuel-efficient, dipping under the significant 121 g/km threshold. The ubiquitous 1.9 Pumpe Duse engine has now been replaced with a more conventional 1.6 common rail diesel engine. The Audi maintains its appeal whilst delivering excellent fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions. The A3 is a quality junior executive car, with the German appeal that company car drivers will aspire to choosing having driven the volume models. The retail market will also welcome the A3 as a sound purchase with good driveability and well-engineered mechanicals.
Consumer Transport Manager
Energy Saving Trust