THE A3 TDI e is a remarkable car. It demonstrates you can use minimal fuel and still drive a practical car. At various stages of the week-long test, the A3 was fun. At other times it was frustrating. The fun bits included cruising along trying to see how little fuel it could use.
Of course, the car was best on the highway, using about 3.8 litres/100km on a few runs.
It would use about 4.5-5.0 litres/100km around town if you opened the throttle a bit.
The A3 also was used to help move house, and as many boxes as possible were crammed in. The Audi swallowed a lot of cargo, including a double bass (which is quite a feat).
An efficient hybrid would not be able to carry nearly as much thanks to the battery pack in the boot.
It all sounds good so far, but there are drawbacks.
First, the engine is not the latest or greatest and, combined with wider gear ratios, it can take a while to get going.
When the turbocharger spins up it goes hard, but until then nothing much is going on.
It has a narrow power band so you will have to change gears early and often.
It is also easy to stall at low speeds. It happened several times.
The engine is loud at idle and the test car had a rhythmic sound that was annoying.
There are no complaints about the comfortable ride and the sporty handling, which strike the perfect balance between an involving drive and an acceptable ride. You do tend to notice a fair bit of noise from those low-resistance tyres on most surfaces, too.
The interior is basic, but the dashboard still looks as if it belongs in a premium car.
There is a lot of safety gear and a reasonable number of features, including dual-zone climate control. But why isn’t cruise control standard on such an expensive small car?
If you want a prestige car with a small carbon footprint, the A3 TDI e is worth looking at. From a purely financial perspective, the money you save on fuel costs won’t come close to the premium you pay over similar models from non-prestige brands.
Buying an efficient Citroen C4 diesel at $29,990 or even the larger Skoda Octavia diesel from $29,990 (with the same engine as the A3 TDI e) is more sensible but they don’t have the same cachet as an Audi.
THE BOTTOM LINE
GOOD practicality and great economy, but compromised engine and gearbox spoil the drive.